My computer growls at me. Grrrr. Sometimes, I imagine a little elf inside grumbling at me for waking him up to run the hard drive. I wait for the elf to calm down, or I hit the tower, rattling the little guy enough to shut him up. When nothing appeases him, I'll finally call one of our computer techs to permanently solve the problem. That makes me one of the lucky ones.
Average consumers or business owners generally don't have a convenient techie to aid them in times of need. That's where a growing number of help-desk companies hope to capture a chunk of the tech-support market. While there were nearly 72 million PCs installed in American homes and $150 million generated by support portals in 1999, IDC predicts those numbers will grow to more than 128 million PCs and over $4 billion in 2004.
With about half of all American households owning a PC, The Yankee Group associate analyst Gerard O'Shea says people's frustrations with computers, and thus their need for technical assistance, will likely increase. "As consumers grow more savvy with their experiences with the Internet, the applications are becoming even more complex at a faster rate than we're becoming savvy," O'Shea says.
Today's Web support options include subscription-based services like PCsupport.com, which charges $149.99 per year for 24-hour access to technicians and remote repairs over the Internet, as well as per-use services like ePeople, where businesses select from tens of thousands of service providers.
For as little as $79 a year, customers of San Ramon, California-based Ask Dr. Tech have 24-hour access (via telephone or the Internet) to 700 tech-support agents in a Utah call center. With a two- to three-minute wait time for premier members and a six-minute hold time for standard members, the service is simple and accessible, says president and CEO William Lam. "There are some companies out there focused on providing online help," says Lam, 22. "But what if somebody couldn't get online or their modem wouldn't work or their PC wouldn't boot up? How do they get help then?"