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Tech support comes of age
Facebook friends are fine, but devices rule. Yesterday’s Facebook hullabaloo should be placed in a larger context – not only do they not make a physical product, but your Friends beam at you through a gazillion different and ever-more-mobile devices. Forget Facebook for a second, because it might be just today’s pet rock front end. Let’s mull over those gazillion different devices. Just who will support you, regardless of your age and how tech smart you think you are, as they multiply in your environment like weeds? Who helps you with making these devices work properly with other tablets, computers, and cloud and installed software? The Genius at the bar is a bit vendor-specific, don’t you think? And the IT folks that you know are busy battling enterprise-wide viruses, and there you are at home and on the phone, with your relatives of all ages as they peer helplessly at glowing screens, plaintively intoning that old refrain, “But it worked yesterday!”
Personalized consultation is a national business opportunity. Bet you’ve been wondering what Best Buy was going to do with its shrinking revenue, dwindling store locations, and the cannibalization of face-to-face retail by Amazon. The Geek Squad has been a shining light of their business – growing on the well-founded premise that technology change (TVs, computers, networks and how they connect) is too fast and too complex for, well, nearly everyone. AARP, which is in the discount business, has recognized its members' desperation for tech help – producing a guide in 2010, quite a bit of content on its website, from Facebook how-to advice to articles about caregiving tech. Now AARP and the Geek Squad have partnered to customize and discount by 29% the Geek Squad offering – on phone and in-person -- for the 50+ population, many of whom are local or long-distance caregivers. “For baby boomers experiencing caregiving, technology plays a huge role,” says Lynn Feinberg, senior strategic policy advisor at AARP. “This is a generation that is tech savvy and not afraid to use that knowledge. They will transform the use of technology for caregiving.”
Personalized consultation is also a local business opportunity. The Geek Squad offering reinforced the business opportunity throughout the country for big competitors (Walmart, Staples) as well as regional small businesses to provide local in-home tech troubleshooting and support. But beyond generalized support, some local tech businesses will go farther and specialize in sub-categories that would baffle a Best Buy geek. Consider Joe MacAdams, his caregiver technology support startup written up in the Miami Herald “offering phone and in-person consultation. Good assistive technology, he says, is easy to use, sells at a fair price and can solve problems, from stopping a dementia patient from wandering away to helping a caregiver keep track of medical appointments.”
Tech support will provide both generalist and specialized growth opportunities. The zip-code specific geek generalist is a steady business for as long as (i.e. forever) the bewildered battle mandatory upgrades and forced obsolescence. In addition to general geekdom, specialty tech services will be a growth market in a down economy -- serving older adults, caregivers and families, residents of senior housing, and home care service providers and their clients. As the history of IT software specialization validated, expertise about the customer matters for sales, but expertise in supporting the customer (as in the AARP-Best Buy example) cements relationships long-term.