CompUSA's Paid Support Goes Online

The new service, Dialatech.com, is an extension of CompUSA's existing Dial-a-Tech telephone support system. In addition to the phone service, you can now look for help on the Web, chat with a techie, or e-mail your question to someone who might have an answer. The Web lookup service is free and open to everyone, but the other Dialatech.com services require payment: a 120-day subscription costs $US49.95.

With the free Web service, you get what you pay for. In fact, you get considerably less than you would from other free sites. All Dialatech.com offers is a directory of other companies' support pages. You drill down to a page for your particular product--say, a Dell Dimension computer or Microsoft Office--and get a list of links to other pages, mostly on the vendor's site. The search engine is simple and not particularly helpful.

The subscriber-only Chat option has the closest feeling to a phone call: You're one-on-one with a technician. Of course, a phone call doesn't require special software, as does Chat. And it's very special software indeed; the technician can take over your keyboard and mouse. Scary, but useful.

Difficulty Getting Through

My own experience with the Chat feature wasn't great. I had difficulty getting through, and the technician suggested reformatting the hard drive and reinstalling Windows as the solution to a relatively simple problem. When I complained, he walked me through an easier fix.

E-mail seems like the simplest way to get help. You type your question, hit the Send button, and wait for a response. But how long do you wait? CompUSA promises a maximum wait of 24 hours. Sixty-five hours after I posted a question, I've received no response.

Perhaps these problems stem from the fact that the service is new. When I tried Dial-a-Tech's well-established, toll-free telephone service, I got through in less than a minute, and got courteous, accurate help. The techie didn't have the answer right away, but I held for only a couple of minutes while he figured it out.

Once upon a time, such telephone technical support was free. But today, $US150 per year is a good price for having someone you can call when your computer isn't working. But if you want to get help over the Internet, save your money and go elsewhere.

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