When people ask me about which particular segments of the digital lifestyle market will continue to grow despite our current economic conditions, one area that I continually point out are the digital home tech support services. These can include the retail-based services (best known by Geek Squad), the remote PC support space, warranty services, home network management software, security services (Symantec, McAfee, Radialpoint, F-Secure, etc.), remote management and residential gateway software providers (2Wire, Cisco, Jungo/NDS, etc.) and even pre-purchase/subscription advice services like Retrevo.
There was an interesting article in Smart Money this past week about the tech support market, with some pretty significant numbers provided. I estimate that the remote PC support business in 2008 was already $650 million - just in the U.S.! Others put Geek Squad's business at between $1 and $2 billion!
There are plenty of third-party services that are out there, but I'm really intrigued by what service providers can be doing to add value to basic broadband and television service offerings, increase customer satisfaction, and even build new revenue streams. We've written about the opportunities for service providers to take advantage of the digital home tech support space in several recent reports, notably Enabling Solutions for a Rich Broadband Experience and Networks in the Home: The Global Service Provider Play. We also had an interesting conversation at our CONNECTIONS™ Summit at CES about the evolution of tech support services. Bill Stanley from Telcordia followed up that panel with some responses to additonal questions I asked about how they are working with the service provider industry.
What I find interesting about the way that service providers are approaching the tech support space is that vendors are telling me that their conversations have moved away from the folks who are in charge of the customer support call centers and to the people heading up marketing efforts. I think that this may provide a clue as to how these services are being positioned within the service provider community - more as revenue-generating services than cost-saving efforts. We shouldn't downplay the role that enhanced customer support tools are going to play in helping to reduce call center volume and costs - I think that OPEX savings are going to be a critical element to making the service provider business more efficient. On the other hand, I think that some forward-thinking service providers see a real opportunity to create some new businesses that focus on helping their subscribers deal with the complexities of the digital home.
Starting with BT's Home IT Advisor service, I'm seeing more telcos get into the business of deploying tech support services. The most recent offering is AT&T's ConnecTech service, which has been advertised heavily in Dallas - I seem to hear their radio commercial every morning on my drive to work. ConnecTech is aimed at consumers, whereas their Tech Support 360 provides support for small and medium businesses. Among the services offered ConnecTech are:
* PC and home network installation;
* Computer services and in-home support;
* Television and home theater set-up and consultation; and
* Phone and remote support.
Verizon also has Expert Care is a subscription-based ($14.99/month) service for PC support. They also have put together a number of "Protection Paks" that include insurance/replacement services for consumer electronics, phone, and other home equipment (in the case of a power surge, for example).
Verizon actually cites our numbers about the number of U.S. households that experience a PC-related problem in any given year - 41 million households experiencing issues with Internet security, 20 million+ having problems with home PC hardware and software, etc. Those figures were generated in our 2006 survey Managing the Digital Home: Installation and Support Services. We are about to go to field with our next study on consumers and technical support services: Customer Support in the Digital Home. I'm really interested to see what the consumer demand is for a variety of tech support services.