What’s Hot in Consumer Tech Support; And Why It Is Bad for Your Brand
I have been amazed by the growth of 3rd party providers of support for home office and SMB, such as Support.com, Plumchoice and SupportSpace. These companies target consumers with a message that is music to their ears: we’ll fix your problem, no matter what it is. It doesn’t matter if it is your computer, an application, the operating system, your peripherals or drivers, your home network, or your ISV, one phone number fixes it all for a very reasonable price. In addition to break/fix, they also offer menus of services such as network setup, security/virus protection, upgrades, backups, apps training, and some also have an option for in-home assistance. I even did a webcast recently with HCL, who is launching a business (HCL Touch) offering these services to consumers and SMBs in India.
I was talking to a PC manufacturer recently who said, “I sure hope these guys are successful, because they take support volume away from me.” I agree, in the short term this is a win:win:win. Customers get one stop shopping for multivendor support issues with no delays, transfers, or call backs. PC manufacturers receive less inbound support volume. The 3rd party providers have discovered a reliable source of revenue. So what’s the problem?
My concern is that when a customer calls the PC manufacturer with a problem, it is an excellent opportunity for brand reinforcement and upsell/cross-sell. If the equipment or software is out of date, or a new version/model just became available, pitching an upgrade as a fix to the problem can be very attractive to consumers–and profitable for the company. With inbound tech support agents now carrying a quota, upsell/cross-sell has become a natural part of the support interaction. And even if new revenue isn’t on the table, if you are angry and frustrated about a product, it helps to have a level head talk you down and make you feel good about the brand once again.
So what happens when that angry, frustrated consumer calls the 3rd party support company and says, “I’m sick to death of this piece of junk. What do you recommend I replace it with?” The 3rd party agents are not loyal to your brand and will likely steer the customer to a different company, perhaps along with a comment like, “Yeah, those machines are crap. Don’t get another one.” Suddenly deflecting that call doesn’t feel like such a bargain, does it?
I have reached out to contacts at a few of these 3rd party providers, and it seems there are no formal policies (yet) about product recommendations. However, the providers reported that they are already being asked for recommendations, by consumers and businesses. I suspect that as these firms become better known, they will earn a reputation as neutral third party experts (not unlike analyst firms), and their recommendations will carry a great deal of weight.
Let the lobbying begin.
I’d be interested in your views. How big an issue is the brand and upsell in these exchanges? Or am I worrying about nothing? Please add a comment or shoot me an email–I will respond to all. And as always, thanks for reading!