Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Kurt Scherf sat down with Anthony Rodio, the chief operating officer for support.com for a conversation about how remote support services can complement retailers’ core consumer electronics sales business. Retailers, Scherf notes, are being called upon in growing numbers to provide advice and support to their customers as the consumer electronics purchase process is becoming more complicated. The complexity of consumer electronics products – and in particular home networking equipment – can be a drain on the bottom line. Scherf noted that retailers and home networking equipment vendors still report high return rates for products such as wireless networks (about 30%), even though analysis shows that the vast majority of returned products have no defect at all!

There is a significant opportunity to add support features on top of a consumer electronics sale, said Scherf. Data from Parks Associates’ surveys indicates that high percentages of consumers purchase extended warranties for CE devices such as home computers. There are also significant percentages of consumers who purchase installation and configuration services when they purchase consumer electronics.

Support.com came out of SupportSoft, a company that develops support software and solutions for service providers. Anthony Rodio indicated that support.com’s launch was aided by consumer data from Parks Associates’ 2006 consumer survey Managing the Digital Home: Installation and Support Services. This study indicated to support.com that consumers are willing to pay for a variety of support services, including remote support for their home computers and home networks.

The market for support services is about to grow significantly, Rodio said, as evidenced by what large U.S. retailers like Best Buy and Circuit City have established. Geek Squad earned $2 billion in 2007, which has given many international retailers impetus for examining their own support businesses. Support.com is working with Saturn and Tech Guys, which are large European retailers. The company works with retailers to allow them to brand their services.

Rodio says that working with both service providers and retailers provides some interesting insight into the differences between how these entities deploy and market support services. He indicates that retailers have a marketing advantage for support services, as service providers often have a difficult time charging for their support services. The opportunity is significant for retailers, he noted, as they can not only deploy remote support services to generate profit, but also to eventually reduce truck rolls. Rodio says that the remote support aspect of home IT support services will be critical, as retailers cannot sustain profitability with a large amount of truck roll services.

In terms of major differences in deploying remote support services in the U.S. versus Europe, Rodio says that supporting customers from multiple countries and different languages is a key challenge. He also notes that labor laws and a culture that is less PC-centric than the U.S. will also mean a different approach in Europe.

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