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Solution to Digital Home Customer Care Issue

Total U.S. consumer spending for home technical support services will reach nearly $1 billion by the end of 2011, according to the Parks Associates report entitled "Digital Home Services: Carriers, Retailers, and the Consumer."

This new market study predicts that remote or on-site technical support services for home computers and networks will grow from approximately $450 million in 2007 to $977 million by year-end 2011. Simultaneously, in-home services for the installation and configuration of new PCs will generate revenues exceeding $700 million by year-end 2011.

"Consumers have been very consistent in expressing both their frustration with the complexity of today's digital home products and services and their willingness to seek professional assistance to solve these issues," said Kurt Scherf, Parks Associates' vice president and principal analyst. "Customer service and support are not just critical challenges for retailers, manufacturers, and service providers to overcome but also significant revenue-generating opportunities for forward-thinking companies."

Scherf has identified eight elements critical to delivering end-to-end digital home support. These key requirements for building enhanced customer support include developing robust solutions to simplify CPE and hardware installation, improving service provision, automating troubleshooting services, building metrics-gathering solutions, and enhancing help desk support systems, which could include the development of dynamic knowledge databases and other operation support system (OSS) features.

I believe that broadband service subscribers, and users of associated home networking devices, are essentially being asked to pay for personalized support that in part is required because products and services are launched with poorly designed user interfaces. While there has been much discussion about the "consumer experience" in the evolving digital home sector, little progress has been made on addressing the known "human factors" related design issues.

Frankly, it's challenging to be an advocate of "simplicity, by design" in an industry that prides itself on being technology-centric. While technology and engineering innovation is a key ingredient in developing new digital home products and services, this emphasis must be balanced with an appreciation for human factors and inherent usability.

Granted, initially it can cost more to design and deliver products and services that are usable by mainstream consumers. However, that investment will pay dividends in the long-term by reducing the need for technical support that's required to overcome and solve the configuration and application problems of overly-complex products or services.

Charging consumers a fee to resolve known usability design problems isn't just a revenue opportunity, it's more like the Achilles' heel of a short-sighted company that's very vulnerable to being displaced by a savvy competitor who makes the "removing complexity" issue a higher priority.

Once again, for those who doubt the validity of my assessment, may I suggest that you contact any one the consumer electronics companies who had a significant market share in the MP3 player segment -- before Apple launched the iPod and iTunes solution. Point taken?

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