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Monday, August 25, 2008

Major Phone Company Offers In-Home Tech Assistance

AT&T, taking aim at Best Buy's Geek Squad and other tech services, has launched a 50-state in-home support service for computers, TVs, broadband, wireless and more.

Prices start at just $69 — and you don't have to be an AT&T customer to use the service. Called "AT&T ConnecTech," the new service is not available to businesses.

The service, about nine months in development, grew out of a recognition that life for tech consumers is becoming increasingly complicated as new, even more sophisticated devices and services are introduced, says Carmen Nava, AT&T's senior vice president of consumer marketing operations.

"The home has become a very complex place," she says.

ConnecTech services run the gamut from hanging flat-screen TVs and installing wall-mounted speakers to setting up home computer networks. It also offers remote PC and phone support for digital products, including digital cameras and MP3 players.

Matt Davis, a research director at IDC, says AT&T's timing is good. "This wave of complexity is occurring" as new, converged services hit the market, he says. Many consumers, he says, "are not prepared to handle that." As a result, he says, AT&T "has got to take care of them."

AT&T's decision to offer the service in all 50 states will force the carrier to work with a vast network of outside contractors. Managing those relationships, while making sure customers get AT&T-quality support, could prove challenging, Davis says.

Still, Davis thinks ConnecTech is a smart move that could yield a bounty of payback in the form of consumer loyalty.

Profit is a motivator, but not as much as you might think, he says. The tech-support market currently generates several billion dollars a year in revenue: impressive, Davis says, but hardly a make-or-break number for AT&T, which rakes in about $120 billion annually.

"At its core, (ConnecTech) is a play to cement their relationship with customers and … up-sell" other products and services, Davis says.

Nava doesn't disagree. "Up until now, our (customer support) only went so far," she says.

As for the possibility of driving profits, Nava says that's a given. "Yes, we think we can make money. We wouldn't be doing it if we couldn't."

By Leslie Cauley
USA Today; August 22, 2008