It seems that supporting home users could provide a huge market for IT pros, but most would prefer to focus their attention on the business user. What are some pros and cons of supporting home users, what are some of the pitfalls to avoid, and what would be the right way to do it?
Over the past month or so, I've received a couple of e-mails from IT support pros asking me if I have ever supported home users, and if I had any pearls of wisdom for them in that regard. From my perspective, the only wisdom I could provide, at least initially, was to avoid it like the plague. These two, however, apparently have their sights set on breaking into that niche market. One of them wanted to make a small business out of it, and the other simply saw it as a means to provide some temporary income, after an untimely layoff, while seeking more permanent employment.
I couldn't provide much in the way of suggestions to them, at least not how to make a real go of it. I've only treaded on those grounds a few times, and it's always been more trouble than it's worth. Actually, since I never charged anyone for it, the worth came in the form of doing a favor for a friend or acquaintance. I did share an experience that illustrated what kinds of things they might be faced with, and I described how a conversation went while trying to help someone over the phone.
It seems that when she sent something to her printer, the text was exceptionally large, and the whole thing wouldn't print on the sheet of paper. It started happening, she said, when someone made her desktop icons bigger. I assumed, after quizzing her a bit, that the bigger icons was a result of someone changing the display resolution. But I couldn't think of a connection to a printing problem. Anyway, I went on to ask her what application she was printing from. She asked, "Application? What's an application"? I explained that an application was a program like Word or Excel from which she would send the print job. "Oh," she said, "I'm using Windows. "
Okay, as far as I'm concerned, nuff said. Those are the kinds of things I'd just prefer not to deal with — even for big bucks. I suppose short of a house call, establishing a remote connection would be the way to go. But still, a lot of home users just aren't savvy enough to even have a conversation with. I suppose I don't like holding someone's hand or explaining every little detail every step along the computing way. It simply wastes too much time getting to the root of a problem, and then when you try to explain something to them for future reference, you know how little they might understand by seeing that glazed-over look in their eyes. And then, of course, when the next thing goes wrong, it must have been something you did. Well, thanks, but no thanks. I think I'd rather hang wallpaper.
I know there are outfits that do it, places like the Geek Squad, but since I've not had any direct contact with them, I can't comment one way or the other on how well they might do. And I do know a guy who's been doing it for a long time, but only if people bring their computers into his shop — and that's not the bulk of his business; most of his customers are small business users. If I ever did it, I think I'd want to have a shop and avoid going into a person's home. But still, that leaves a huge void that could be filled. I've often thought that providing support to home users could be a huge market, but its path is paved with pitfalls that are both difficult to overcome and would require just the right kind of person. I suppose that's why I've never done it — I just don't want to deal with those pitfalls.
Since I don't have a lot of experience in that regard, I didn't give these two much help in the way of an answer. But I did tell them that I might write a blog piece on the subject, and if I did, I'd send them a link to the ensuing discussion. So how about it? I'll ask you the same thing they asked me? Do you have any pearls of wisdom for someone looking to break into that ever-difficult home user support market?