Verizon announced a new line of products this week that provide three different tiers of technical support to help customers better handle the wide array of devices and issues they face in the ever-more-confusing digital world.
The first product is the most intriguing. For $10 per month a customer gets technical support for virtually any device connected to their home network such as printers, smart locks, smart lighting, security systems and smart thermostats. Unlike the Comcast smart home product where customers only get Comcast-approved IoT devices, a Verizon customers can buy devices anywhere and still get support from Verizon in connecting or troubleshooting connections to such devices.
The technical support also comes with other useful features. Verizon will help you isolate and remove computer viruses and malware. They’ll help you with complicated tasks such as transferring photos, files or personal settings between computers. They also will provide up to 5 PC tune-ups per year that will run diagnostic tests and maximize computer performance. Maybe most important of all, joining the service puts customers at the top of the queue for call to technical support (which I guess means longer wait times for customers who don’t buy the service).
A second tier at $15 per month adds LifeLock Select, the identity protection service as well as McAfee Security and Safe Family – a suite of virus protection and parental control software. The last tier, priced at $30 per month adds an insurance plan for smart devices in the home other than smartphones or computers. It will cover smart TVs, tablets, smart thermostats and other IoT devices, and Verizon will repair or replace broken devices. This top plan also adds LastPass, a password management tool. The product doesn’t include any in-home assistance, although that is available through Verizon partners.
This is not a new product and there are numerous companies offering online technical support such as 24/7 Techies, AskPCExperts, Bask and Best Buy’s Geek Squad. Several of these services also offer a first-tier plan for $9.99 per month.
I also know a number of smaller US telcos and ISPs that offer something similar. Many of these companies operate in geographically isolated areas where there is no Best Buy or other outlet for technical services and support. Some of my clients sell monthly subscriptions similar to Verizon’s base fee. Others operate a physical store location where customers can get computer repair services.
I think every small company I’ve talked to who offers something like this tells me that they are lucky if the operation breaks even. But they all maintain the service because it distinguishes them from competitors and builds tremendous customer loyalty. Most are happy if their technical support effort breaks even.
I’m sure Verizon has done the math and believes they can make money at this – and they probably can. A company of their size can keep call queues full so that technicians have little or no down time. I’m sure Verizon is also counting on the fact that most customers will buy this service and only use it sporadically. A customer who really uses the service will cost Verizon more than the $10 fee.
The biggest issue that anybody who offers this kind of service faces is keeping a competent technical staff to support customer calls. Many employees who take this kind of job view it as a stepping stone to a better paying technical career, so there is usually high turnover of staff.
It’s an intriguing business line for ISPs to consider, particularly those in more remote markets. Our home networks are getting increasingly confusing. Sometimes just getting a printer to work right can eat up hours of time and figuring out more complicated devices can be maddening. As long as you recognize that you won’t get rich doing this it’s an interesting way to create personal relationships with customers while providing an invaluable service to customers that will differentiate you from the competition – unless your competition is Verizon.