A number of retail chains are now offering live in-store technicians who can assist customers with problems relating to computers and other high-tech devices and help them make informed product solutions.
According to Fred King, vice president of sales and marketing for PlumChoice, the PlumChoice Safelink Retail offering gives retailers a virtual option to provide that type of customer assistance.
"Safelink is a service platform with multiple ways of being extended," King said. "Safelink Retail is an in-store extension that allows customers to go to a kiosk, pick up a phone, or chat over a computer and figure out how to select the right service for a technical issue at hand."
King said Safelink Retail, announced April 14 at GartnerVision, in Orlando, Fla., can also offer financial benefits to retailers.
"It allows the retailer to add a technical resource in the store without hiring a full-time person," he said.
King said the typical store has hundreds of different product cards from various manufacturers, and Safelink Retail provides customers with an easy way to obtain the right service, make a purchase and go home.
"It gets technology working in an optimal way," he said.
For the past seven years, King said PlumChoice has offered consumers online technical diagnostic services directly to their PCs, and now they can obtain the same type of service when they go shopping.
"It's a new way for customers to get help right when they walk into a retail location," he said.
PlumChoice has more than 300 technicians who are all based, trained and certified in the United States, King said.
"People get concerned about [a business consisting of] two guys in a garage," he said. "We're certainly not that."
Vahe Katros, president of retail consultancy Vahe Katros Consulting, said providing pre-purchase support to customers could be a customer service differentiator, but it could also potentially pose some risks.
"Outsourcing service after the sale is one thing, but using a service company to help customers before the purchase is brave," Katros said. "If the service side of the company identifies a product weakness, are they going to tell the presales side? If they did, I'd be thrilled as a customer. It would be a real brand attribute."
However, Katros said that "anyone who takes on this service had better be intimate with the kinds of things the customers are asking and the kinds of answers they are being given, since it is now understood that anyone who interacts with customers is a key source of experiential insights."
Dan Berthiaume covers the retail space for eWEEK. For more industry news, check out eWEEK.com's Retail Site.