In an ideal world, competent technical support would come for free with the purchase of a computer. In reality, it doesn't always work that way. Regardless of what vendor or service provider you buy from, you have probably experienced elaborate voicemail systems and long waits on hold that you'd swear are designed to make you want to give up in frustration.
Gateway is betting that small businesses will be willing to pay a small annual fee to avoid the hassle. With the ink barely dry in the headlines about closing its retail stores, the Poway, Calif.-based systems maker today announced a plan that it says will make small business, government and institutions users forget about their automated, menu-driven telephone support nightmares.
The details of the Gateway Priority Access premium support system sound as ambitious as they do promising. The company reports that for $39 a year (or $99 for three years) users receive expedited phone technical support and parts replacement services from Gateway technicians who act as a single point of contact until the support issue is resolved.
Gateway claims that Priority Access customers will never have to wait more than 30 seconds before being connected with a live technician. "SMBs don't have an IT staff and they don't have time to wait," said Dan Ludwick, vice president of support services at Gateway. "They don't have time to wade through phone menus."
Gateway reports that if it fails to meet its service-level commitments, customers can cancel Gateway Priority Access and receive a prorated refund for the service plan. "We've all seen expedited services — Gold and Platinum plans. What you see is the idea that you can step to the front of the line. That's relatively easy to do," Ludwick said. "What they don't do is guarantee a waiting time."
Ludwick said that each Priority Access customer gets a personalized identification number. "We know who they are and we have a record of past calls. For troubleshooting calls, 80 percent of the time we'll solve the problem. The other 20 percent we'll dispatch a field service rep to rectify it the next business day." Ludwick was referring to a service level guarantee for next-business-day parts replacement and on-site installation and repair.
Ludwick described the new support service as solving a wide variety of "everyday problems," which includes problems with both the system and software — "everything from Microsoft Windows to hard drive problems."
What happens when the technician can't answer the question? Ludwick said the Gateway support techs have direct access to hardware and software partners. "If we aren't able to solve the problem, we don't just send them to the suppliers. They are VIP customers and we don't let go until we know they are in good hands."
Other Support Options
For larger customers, Gateway announced in August the Gateway Professional Services plan, which is designed to provide the support and implementation services required to build enterprise-class project management solutions for the mid-market. The service, the company reports, is backed by more than 5,000 trained and certified experts through a partnership with IBM Global Services.
Gateway also offers free telephone and Web-based support. Ludwick said that Gateway is able to solve about 65 percent of customer service issues using Web-based information, e-mail and live chat.
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