Dell updates consumer IT services

Dell will expand its lineup of consumer IT services with security tips and installation assistance on products other than PCs.

Dell will expand its lineup of consumer IT services with security tips and installation assistance on products other than PCs.

The company has created a new Dell Solutions Center web page (www.dell4me.com/solutionscenter) which allows customers to purchase services such as wireless network installation and configuration, data migration or help desk services.

Consumers are starting to show interest in setting up digital homes with wireless networks zipping video content downloaded over high-speed connections to PCs and displays around the home, said Mike George, general manager of Dell's US consumer business.

However, those same customers are often lost when it comes to actually getting those products out of the boxes and running smoothly, he said.

At the same time, Dell has noticed an increasing number of support calls for non-hardware problems such as spyware removal, George said.

Dell currently helps customers solve those problems if the person who takes the call is familiar with a remedy, but issues such as spyware are not specifically covered by the limited warranty that comes with Dell products, said Jess Blackburn, a Dell spokesman.

With the new Dell Help Desk, customers can place calls 24 hours a day for assistance on fixing an infected computer or setting up a wireless network, George said.

This service will cost $189 (£103) for a one-year plan, or a minimum of $39 per call. The expanded Help Desk service will cost $149 with the purchase of a PC.

The Help Desk service will cover many popular third-party hardware and software products, such as Linksys wireless networking gear or McAfee's Personal Firewall software, George said.

Dell will also offer in-home installation and repair services for products other than PCs through the Dell Solutions Center. The company will contract with technicians that can make house calls to set up plasma televisions, install wireless networks or troubleshoot balky printers, George said.

Wireless networks can be up and running for a starting price of $159.

Customers can also purchase high-speed internet access through a variety of providers on the website, George said. The company is offering rebates on installation for a limited time, he said.

Dell's competitors in the retail space are all looking at adding service options or have already done so, said Stephen Baker, director of industry analysis at NPD Techworld.

Services such as home installation and configuration allow PC companies to reduce product returns by frustrated customers, helping to "keep products that are sold stay sold", he said.

However, PC customers have not been willing to spend extra money on warranties they may never need, Baker said. Prices of PCs have declined steadily in recent years, but the prices of services have not, he said.

"The essential problem for people trying to deliver computer services is that the cost of the service seems out of whack with the cost of the product," Baker said. "It's the right thing to do, because at a minimum it makes the customer feel like you're trying to solve their problems, but services [for consumers] have been a real tough sell."

A recent survey of PC customer satisfaction placed Dell second in overall customer satisfaction, behind Apple Computer but ahead of Gateway and Hewlett-Packard.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service

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