Need tech support but don't have the resources or desire to hire and manage an IT department? Online tech support is for you.
Also referred to as remote IT support, online tech support services are more affordable — and sometimes more effective — than setting up shop in-house. Whether a company is having computer, networking or security issues, online tech support providers can remotely do anything that an in-house IT department can do. [Read related article: The Top Online Tech Support Services]
Using online tech support services, a small business can have access to an entire IT team, without actually having to invest the time and expense of hiring one.
"Online tech support is a small business' best friend because it allows them to receive enterprise-class support and service at a small business price," said Tim Singleton, owner and president at Strive Technology Consulting.
And unlike IT departments that have a backlog of tasks, or calling tech support companies that send on-site technicians, online tech support services provide immediate IT support, even if remote.
"Since IT companies can do more work remotely, they spend less time traveling and more time fixing problems," Singleton said. "This means a single technician can support more end users. With a whole team of techs supporting dozens of companies, each small business has access to an entire computer support team."
Online tech support services also give small businesses access to IT experts that can readily and effectively solve a wide range of IT issues.
"If a business is working with a quality service provider, they are getting access to an entire organization of experts at every level that can assist them with whatever arises," said Glenn Mores, president at MicroData, a 20-year-old Massachusetts-based IT outsourcing company.
Technicians at online tech support services will also have the necessary industry training and certifications, giving them an edge in knowing the "best practices" for providing reliable and cost-effective IT solutions, he said.
In comparison, if a small business were to take the in-house route, their IT support capabilities would likely be extremely limited.
"Even if the organization had an internal IT resource, it's just one person who is usually a generalist and that means inevitable significant holes in their knowledge base," Mores said.
Online tech support providers also have advanced support resources that are typically not available to small business IT departments.
"When a business calls for online tech support, a quality service provider will have hundreds of thousands of dollars of hardware and software tools that can be used to quickly and efficiently resolve issues," Mores said.
An added benefit is that online tech support providers offer additional services that would otherwise be well outside the small business budget.
"Most IT companies like this will also offer other services, such as proactive PC maintenance, network maintenance and a high level of technology guidance that most small business would never be able to afford," Singleton said.
Additionally, some providers do more than just solve IT problems — they also analyze them to spot trends and keep a pulse on issues businesses will likely face.
One such company, Xvand Technology Corp., a Houston-based IT and remote PC support provider, has a three-tiered team of IT support technicians who handle calls and emails for a host of IT issues, then use that data to provide additional resources to their clients.
"We regularly analyze these incoming calls," said Yehuda Cagen, director of client services at Xvand. "One month, we recognized a disproportionate number of calls regarding Microsoft Outlook. As a result, we created free Outlook seminars to our client-base and saw a significant drop in call volume related to this issue. We've also set up a website with a series of solutions to what we find to be 'common problems.'"
Furthermore, the remote IT support industry is growing and will have plenty more to offer small businesses as it matures.
"Like anything out there, remote IT support can be good or bad, but the potential is there — and there are many companies living up to this potential — to give small businesses a better IT experience than they could have ever afforded in the past," Singleton said. "I believe this route is a better solution than hiring a full-time IT staff of one or two because of the depth of experience and services that a professional team can offer."
Bob Makarowski, who has been teaching software and hardware courses at New York's Baruch College for more than 20 years, said that given the cost benefits of online tech support, the trend is not likely to diminish.
As your online tech support needs grow, Makarowski provided the following tips on how you can get the most out of online tech support services:
- Before contacting online support, document your problem, noting the correct time, place, form and event. When did the error occur? What program and feature were you using? What were the steps you were performing when the problem occurred? "I got this error flashing at me" will require more time from the support analyst than "My status bar has the message 'Incorrect data type for operator.'" Precise language is key.
- At the beginning of your help call, inform the support analyst of any time constraints you are subject to. If your business is on a hard deadline to get a project or transaction completed, the analyst may be able to offer you a fast band-aid to get you back up and running while they investigate more permanent solutions offline.
- During your workweek, document small annoyances as well as the large show-stoppers. When you use your time with the analyst to handle any larger issues, you can also work on resolving the laundry list of nuisances you've accumulated.