Your Own Private Help Desk

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. 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 Based in Gurgaon, India, it provides support to Wal-Mart (WMT) PC buyers and sells its services through, (AMZN), and elsewhere on the Web.

If the thought of turning control over to someone you never met half a world away fills you with terror, it shouldn't. The techs are certified by Microsoft (MSFT), Cisco Systems (CSCO), and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), and the company seems to take ample steps to keep customers' data secure. But iYogi has rough spots, and costs mount if you let the company sell you add-ons.

Three Bloomberg journalists, myself included, signed up separately for the service, which costs $139.99 for one year. I tried several times to register 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. Finally I used the live-chat feature on the home page to seek help. I eventually reached an iYogi representative by phone who 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. (He gave up after two or three tries.) The company later blamed the registration errors on a new fraud-prevention system.

When I phoned again that evening, a polite and professional technician 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 tech my computer was running slowly and gave him permission to take over. Then I sat back and observed.

The process went smoothly—with one exception. When I noticed he was downloading and installing an anti-spyware program, I interrupted to say I already had such software. He acknowledged my message, then attempted to install it two more times. Each time, I stopped the process. He desisted only when I sent a stern message saying I didn't consent to the download.

My two colleagues had similarly ragged experiences. One was trying to get his Windows PC to connect to an Apple wireless router. He too was subjected to entreaties to extend the length of service and, in his case, buy 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, where a tech got things working.

My other colleague ran into the same difficulties I did when she tried to sign up for the service—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 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—something she could have accomplished on her own.

The iYogi technicians are as patient and polite as they can be, considering they're dealing with customers who already are agitated. But they really should cool it on pushing the two-year extended plan. First, show me you can provide value. Then we'll talk.

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