Disaster Recovery

Providing home user support

Although there are a lot of similarities, supporting those in an office environment is vastly different than supporting home users. Here are some things to consider when providing support for home users.

Although there are a lot of similarities, supporting those in an office environment is vastly different than supporting home users. Here are some things to consider when providing support for home users.

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I've offered very limited support to home users over the years (or decades), but the past few months has found me providing more and more support help to people in their homes. In fact, I'm beginning to think that there's a huge opportunity in providing support to home users, and it could actually result in a win-win scenario for both parties. What follows are my thoughts on getting the best results - for both the user and the person providing such support.

Be somewhat selective: Without going into a lot of detail (let your imagination run wild), there might be certain types of users who should be avoided. While it might be less practical for a walk-in store or an outfit like Geek Squad to turn down support requests, for someone doing it on his own, it's not only possible, but often times preferable to be selective. You don't want to end up beating your head against the wall, so to speak, dealing with issues that cause nothing but pain, or put yourself in a position to get blamed for every user misstep, or be hounded after a support call, and so on. Getting compensated (a subset of being selective): And then there's the matter of getting fairly compensated. Two things that would be best to avoid: dealing with those who want to negotiate with your fee, and avoiding those who are a higher risk of failing to pay anything at all.

How can you tactfully evaluate where a person might fall on the selective scale? The answer might be found in the next point.

Start with an initial evaluation: Always start with a predefined initial evaluation, which may or may not include any particular issue or problem the user is having. For a set fee and a specific time commitment (perhaps one-half to one hour), go through a predefined evaluation check list of the user's computer, peripherals, applications, networking devices and speed, and so on, and document (and evaluate) everything as completely and thoroughly as possible. This step alone might possibly identify any problems the user is having anyway. If they're not willing to do this, then it's easy to turn down the support request. If they are willing to do this, then you have the benefit of establishing the basis for providing good future support. The worst case scenario is that you discover a circumstance that you'd rather not take any further, in which case you can spend minimal time and simply walk away and cut your losses. Best case scenario is that you've established a basis and set the stage for providing good support in the future - which is what both parties really want. Insist on having a backup system in place: One item on my initial evaluation check list is to determine the backup procedures the user has in place. The last thing you want is to lose data - whether it's your fault or not. In most cases for home users, this is probably nothing at all, although some people might have subscribed to an on-line backup service, while others might have a separate backup device, usually an internal or external hard drive or perhaps a few flash drives or floppy disks in a desk drawer. The key is to make sure the user is responsible, in some form, for backing up the data. This is also an opportunity to sell an additional hour, or so, of your time to implement data backup procedures - something that will definitely benefit both parties. Be prepared to offer an updated computer system: If your initial evaluation discovers that newer application demands are being expected from an older and out-of-date hardware platform, be prepared to sell and install a new system. In the business environment, I always updated my minimum computer requirements every six months, or so, and I had a system specification designed for current demands. This could be somewhat flexible, depending on the home user's specific needs, but to have a basic alternative system to upgrade an outdated one would also be something that could benefit both parties. Be patient and listen - really listen: Listening to what a person says is one thing, but determining what a person really means, or what that person intends to say, is another. Repeat back what was said, but perhaps in another way. It should go without saying, but being friendly, respectful, polite, and non-judgmental is vital. Establishing a rapport of mutual respect and understanding will go miles and miles towards establishing and maintaining a successful support relationship. Emphasize that you’re not available 24-7-365: This might be a judgment call, but for most home users, I wouldn't want to be at their every beck and call. Responding to e-mail or voice mail support requests (at my convenience) is better than answering my cell phone (at their convenience) any time of day or night.

In short, I believe that there is a huge opportunity in supporting home users. But for one providing the support, being selective and focused is the key to being successful.

Those are a few (but not necessarily all) of my thoughts on supporting the home computer user. Please share your comments, suggestions, and additions.

17 comments
MartyL
MartyL

I support home users almost exclusively. I checked around to see what the market was like before I started about 12 years ago, and periodically check again to see what's going on with small shops and "services" at the larger retailers. I don't resell hardware or software, so I'm free to tell my customers the truth ? as I see it ? with respect to their use of either. I let them know up front that there will be a fee for examining their system to determine what's wrong and whether I can fix it, and I apply that fee to the get-it-fixed fee if I end up staying to fix what I find to be wrong. If I have to take it home and bring it back, that's an additional (small) fee. I try to explain, as straightforwardly as possible, why I recommend AV software, firewalls and anti-spyware programs. The session isn't over until I explain what backup is and what it's for. If, on a subsequent visit, they're beset by viruses ?again - and lost files that weren't backed up ? again - I explain that's why some of what I'm doing is so much like what I did last time. You should know that most of my customers are low-income, fixed-income, seniors on retirement/Social Security and Do No want or need bigger/faster/newer. They need what worked last week to work this week. They need to get those pictures of their grandchildren that are attached to emails. They need to print their vacation pictures without having to trust the dope at the pix-to-CD kiosk at the mall. They don't need a $300 video card so they can see all the bone fragments flying in their shooter game and they don't need to run Exchange and their own PBX on a server under the stairs. Once in a while, a customer knows what's up and wants a new system set up and/or a couple of pieces of equipment at their office tuned up, too. If that's the case, I let them know I can handle networks, wireless, print servers, hubs, switches, routers and so forth. I'd just as soon support a dozen or so small businesses or clinics or whatever, but I don't need all the business in town ? I get by fine serving the population that everybody else ignores. And I'm glad you mentioned Geek Squad ? God bless 'em. I get to clean up after those goofballs every time they get to a customer before I do. Then, of course, I'm the one who's called next time. Must be something about their business model ? maybe it's a scale model. Friends and family? I support exactly four for free. Everybody else pays full rate. Neighbors get no slack whatsoever, except I will barter with some of them.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

As long as the finance depatment help balance my home finances, HR help out with my personal affairs and facilities mend my house....no problem.

DMambo
DMambo

I think servicing friends and family can be a little touchy. OK, I'll take care of my sister's system for free. And my cousin lives just down the street. And I've known these neighbors for 10 years. And it's a nice thing to help out my wife's co-worker.... You get the idea. Where does it end? I've been thinking about offering home support on a more formal basis, but how can I begin to charge those people who've had free service for the past 5 years? As for working in someone's home, unless it's a quick fix, I take their system to my house. Although that can raise questions of how long I actually worked on the problem.

santeewelding
santeewelding

At the outset, appearing on scene in robe, sandals, and with staff. Set the agenda. Otherwise, should you appear at my door, you would have little or no problems with me, given what you set out.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Sound like you have positioned yourself well for the pandemonium to come.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Was that [b]Cheap Work[/b] never pays. If you do something you either charge the Full Going Rate or do it for nothing. If you undercharge it's going to come and Bite you in the A$$ in a very big way that's going to hurt and cause lots of Ill Feelings. The only serious complaint that I have ever had about the work that I do was many years ago when I was the State Service Manager for a Sewing Machine Company and got a machine in that the Hubby had attacked with a 1/2 inch Drill to [i]Fix.[/i] The repair involved changing lots of expensive parts that where going to take a long time to get. So I offered to replace the destroyed bits with either Paint Damaged bits replaced Under Warranty previously or parts of Complete Assemblies that had not been used but where not an Individual Spare Part. The result was that a Job Quoted well in excess of 1K came in at under $200.00 and I used parts that had been paint damaged or otherwise broken by dealers during Training Courses, hence the parts from Complete Assemblies not used. Or in the case of a Smashed Foot Control Cover one that a dealer had used the wrong screw in and lifted a 1/16 inch bit out of the cover where the screw had gone through. It was not electrically dangerous but it was noticeable. The result was after being picked up 3 weeks after leaving it instead of the quoted 8 months to get the parts the State Manager got a Phone Call with the owner complaining about the Quality of the work. Her attitude was that the Repair was [b]Too Cheap[/b] so it wasn't done right and it was done to quickly. I never actually understood the complaint as I did speak to her to get her to accept the fact that I would use Second Hand Parts that may be Paint Damaged but where available in the country and these would be provided Free or she could wait till the Parts came in from the Manufacturer. This was a 6 Month wait for bits to be made after ordering and then add in Freight Time by Ship as they would be included with our Regular Order. The end result was that I replaced a $35.00 Foot Control Cover and charged her $150.00 and she was happy. That was what she insisted on paying. ;) So if you do something for nothing they can not complain that you overcharged them but they will blame you for everything that does go wrong latter, or charge them the [b]Full Price[/b] of the Job which will have them complaining but at least you got paid for your Time and Effort in the beginning. Doing [b]Cheap Work[/b] always hurts you no matter how you tried to help the individual. OH and try charging for any work that the [b]Wife[/b] organized for you to do as a Favor and see just how much pain you end up suffering. :D Col

highlander718
highlander718

but do you have such a big pool of clients for you to afford doing all this stuff and being so selective ?

MartyL
MartyL

A major characteristic of my particular population of users is the range of systems - I've got some Vista, but also a lot of XP and a surprising amount of W98 and WinME. Not to mention - but I will anyway - more than half my customers are dial-up users. Oh, and one who abruptly bolted and went directly from XP to Mac/Snow Leopard - and just figured I'd be right there to help out. I've still got a couple of Adam Osborne's books that I refer to from time to time.

DMambo
DMambo

Col, you are right, wife referred work is ALWAYS free. The 3 hours spent on someone's system is way less painful than the 2 years of complaints of how I overcharged them by asking for 30 bucks. But to be fair, when someone I know complains about their health or questions their medical treatment, I get wifey on the phone to them for a consultation. So she takes on a lot of "new patients" referred by me.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

I can fully understand the wish to act this way. In my experience most Home Users want to play games and they expect the systems to just work without any User Intervention at all. They fail to comprehend that the Windows OS is crap and you need to load a AV product, Scan for Malware, [b]Backup[/b] or anything else that is Standard Procedure to any Business. They seem to think that [b]It's Windows It's Perfect[/b] which the OS most certainly is not and that the Hardware is [b]Unbreakable.[/b] They should be able to install whatever they like never Backup their Data and then when it breaks not pay for the fix. If you do not do the above as a Minimum you will end up with the same reputation as companies like Geek Squad. Where as if you do the above the majority of people you do not take on will think you are Expensive, have a God Complex, and are the worst person on the face of the planet for refusing to do their work for them. Either way you loose but at least with the latter you get paid for the time you have wasted doing the work required tot he same standard that a Business would Demand. It's not that I have a low opinion of Domestic Work just that it is different to Commercial Work and they require different sorts of people to perform them. I walked into a place that Geek Squad had spent 4 hours at didn't get the thing working and charged $300.00 for their time. It took me 15 minutes to calm the woman down and convince her that I wasn't there just for the money, another 20 Minutes to listen to what the actual problem was and 3 minutes to fix it. To me this was just a standard way to install something that was not followed by someone who should have known better, but maybe they didn't know any better. Anyway they spent most of their time dealing with the customer and made her happier than I would have expected in charging for time without doing anything productive. Some people are good at doing things like that but I'm defiantly not one of those people and I'm happy to continue doing Commercial Work and leaving the domestic stuff as [b]Special Favors[/b] to People who work for the companies that I service and friends who always tell me to charge the [b]Going Rate[/b] which I have no idea of what it is as I don't work that cheaply. Domestic Customers can not afford to pay Professional Rates for their work. Try to explain to someone why it costs 56K to recover data off a dead HDD when their entire computer only cost $800.00. They seem to think that the initial cost of the Hardware/Software combination in some way implies that the Data Stored on it should be cheaper to recover than the original Purchase Price of the computer. I have yet to have any domestic Customer willing to pay a $900.00 Quote Fee for recovering Lost Data off a dead HDD let alone actually giving the Go Ahead to take the dead drive to a Data Recovery Company to actually do the work. These are different customers and need to be dealt with differently. Fortunately for me I'm not a [b]People Person[/b] so Domestic Work is out of the question for me. And that suits me completely. Col

MartyL
MartyL

I'm guessing it's not with a drum scanner and a high-end intaglio setup.

pdr5407
pdr5407

I have serviced many home computers and networks this past year. I agree with this article in that it helps to be selective and to evaluate the machines at least for 30 minutes to further understand the problem. Also, this time should be included in the service charge because it does take knowledge and diagnostic skills to troubleshoot a strange Windows error. Sometimes I think that some calls are designed to be a challenge or puzzle for the tech to figure out, or that may have no positive solution. This is where you use your product knowledge to sell the customer a new and updated desktop, laptop, or component that will fix the problem.

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