March 13 (Bloomberg) -- It’s late at night, and technology is tormenting you. Something’s wrong with your computer. Blood pressure climbing, you try your PC maker’s tech support, or maybe Microsoft’s. They say the glitch has nothing to do with their stuff -- it’s somebody else’s problem. Yours. What to do?
For many, the answer is a 24/7 online-support service, whose technicians take control of your computer remotely and try to fix what ails it. One of the best known is iYogi. Based in Gurgaon, India, it has attracted funding from international investors such as Canaan Partners and Draper Fisher Jurvetson, provides set-up support to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. PC buyers and is available through Walmart.com, Amazon.com Inc. and on the Web.
If the thought of turning control of your computer over to a stranger half a world away fills you with terror, it shouldn’t. IYogi says its techs are certified by the likes of Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., and the company seems to take ample steps to keep customers’ data secure.
But even allowing for the fact that many of its customers are by definition already frustrated before they ever contact iYogi, the service still has a number of rough spots, and costs can mount if you let the company sell you add-ons.
To test iYogi, I and two other Bloomberg journalists, all with legitimate computer-related issues, signed up separately for a year of support, which costs $139.99.
Registration wasn’t easy. I tried several times to sign up online, using three different computers on three different networks. Each time, my registration was kicked back with an error message telling me it was an invalid transaction.
I eventually reached an iYogi representative by phone who, to my surprise, already had some of my personal information as a result of my seemingly unsuccessful efforts. The company later blamed the sign-up difficulties on a new fraud-prevention system it has installed.
The representative transferred me to an automated system to take my credit-card information -- but not before subjecting me to a hard sell on a two-year plan for an extra $100. After several tries, I finally convinced him that I wanted to stick with one year only.
That evening, when I tried to make contact via iYogi’s real-time-chat feature, I received a message that no one was available to help me, and that I should instead “contact us at the Toll Free Number mentioned on this page.” Only problem was, there was no number on the page.
Polite and Professional
Once I found the number and reached a human, he was polite and professional. He walked me through the process of downloading and installing iYogi’s support software, which includes tools for seeking help via real-time-chat and requesting a telephone callback.
I told the technician that my computer was running slowly, and granted permission for him to take over. At his suggestion, I then disconnected the call, sat back and watched as my cursor danced around the screen under his control.
In general, the process went smoothly, with one notable exception. When I noticed iYogi was downloading and installing an anti-spyware program, I stopped the process and sent the tech a text message saying I didn’t want it, since my computer already had Symantec Corp. software I was satisfied with. He acknowledged my message -- then attempted to install it two more times anyway.
Each time, I stopped the process. It took a sternly worded text from me that I wouldn’t consent to the download before the message finally seemed to get through.
My two colleagues had even more ragged experiences with iYogi. One was trying to get a new Windows laptop to connect to an Apple Inc. wireless router. He too was subjected to entreaties to extend the length of service and add unneeded virus-protection software for $100. Then the tech wanted a number he said was printed on the router (it wasn’t) and attempted, unsuccessfully, to reach Apple. After an hour, my colleague gave up and called Apple himself, where a tech got things working.
My other colleague ran into the same technical difficulties I did when she tried to sign up -- and suffered the same hard sell for the extended plan, which she took. Once she finally got set up, the technician was unable to help her because she couldn’t find her original Windows XP disks.
Her subsequent callback, as her computer slipped from barely functional into meltdown, triggered a five-hour marathon that included several disconnected telephone calls, multiple reboots, miscommunication, apologies from iYogi and, in the end, a Windows reinstallation that restored her computer to working order but cost her the data on her hard drive. “I probably could have erased everything and re-installed Windows without this service,” she concluded.
The iYogi technicians are as patient and polite as they can be, considering the agitated customers and high-stress context they often have to deal with. But the service needs to improve. A good place to start would be to cool it on pushing the two-year extended plan so hard. First, show me you can provide value. Then we’ll talk.
Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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