HP Expands Its Online Support Services Offerings

HP is rolling out its HP Support Center platform, which gives customers more options when looking for technical support on the Web.

Hewlett-Packard is rolling out the first offering in an aggressive plan to expand the technical support services it can offer on the Web.

HP on May 24 announced the HP Support Center platform, an evolution of the company's Always on Support offering. HP Support Center is designed to give commercial customers online access to the information, people and technology they need, and represents a way for those users to personalize their support experience, according to Sue Barsamian, senior vice president and general manager of technology services support at HP.

It's also in response to the nature of today's always-on, constantly-connected world, where customers need their problems or questions addressed as soon as possible. Traditionally, that has meant using call centers or getting visits from field engineers. Now they will have a better online support experience, Barsamian said in an interview with eWEEK.

"Our commercial and enterprise customers have increasing expectations of what they can do on the Web," she said. "They want very fast and immediate access to the relevant tools, relevant people [and] relevant information."

HP has been investing in its Web services capabilities for more than a year, Barsamian said. The HP Support Center platform and related offerings are the first steps in a roadmap the company has in mind for its Web-based offerings.

A key part of the new platform is an online portal through which IT administrators gain access to the HP Always On community, where they can work with IT professionals, give their knowledge and exchange best practices. They also can search for the appropriate information or products they need, access a step-by-step troubleshooting tool and find the best support documents.

HP also offers a mobile support app that offers users instant technical support through their mobile devices. Barsamian said HP is the first vendor to offer such an app, which is expected to be available this summer in app stores for devices running HP's webOS, Apple's iOS 4 and Google's Android mobile OS. Support for other mobile platforms is planned, she said.

Customers also can get online support process management for such tasks as troubleshooting problems, managing contracts and warranties, and connecting online with HP experts. HP has integrated the processes with its call center infrastructure for a convergence of service delivery models. More capabilities will be added in the future. The process management offering will roll out in the second half of the year, Barsamian said.

HP officials are confident in the HP Support Center capabilities, Barsamian said. In pilot testing in Asia, the vendor saw an 18 percent increase in customer satisfaction in the Web support they received, and a 30 percent increase in resolving customer support requests on the first try, she said.

The rollout of the HP Support Center comes at a time when the company is putting a particular focus on its services business. CEO Leo Apotheker said during a conference call to announce its quarterly earnings May 17 that the company is revamping the leadership of its services unit and adding more people to the effort. Apotheker said HP will hire a new executive vice president for the services business, which he said for too long has focused on low-margin services-such as computer repairs-while paying too little attention to higher-margin services and consulting, including application services.

"We have not yet shifted our services business to higher-value, higher-margin and higher-growth categories," Apotheker said at the time. "We have over-executed operationally and under-invested strategically."

Recent high-profile executive exits from HP included two services executives: Tom Iannotti, who had led the services business, is retiring, while Gary Budzinski, who headed HP's computer maintenance, also is leaving HP. The other executive was Marius Haas, senior vice president and general manager of HP's networking business.

Analysts agreed that HP needed to refocus its services efforts.

"HP Services saw gradual improvement in its higher value-added services' sales in 1Q11," Technology Business Research analyst Beau Skonieczny said in a May 17 research note. "However, it will need to be more aggressive to support profitable top-line expansion."