Consumer Reports was famously not a fan of supplemental support and extended warranty programs. In fact, they were outspoken about the fact they were generally a waste of money a few years back. The only big exception I recall back then was PCs, because – unlike most consumer electronics that are solid state and unlikely to break – PCs had lots of moving parts and the likelihood of a necessary expensive repair was high.
Since that time, PCs have come down in price and when they moved from rotating media to SSD drives their complexity dropped as well. However, with the proliferation of viruses, ransomware and increased use of 2-in-1 laptops, the risk of a major problem has significantly increased – suggesting a service plan remains a recommended option. In addition, while warranties typically don’t cover you if you break the thing yourself some service plans do and with laptops and cell phones that can be a god send.
This came to mind again last week when I was briefed on Dell’s Premium Support Plus program which recently launched and arguably is the best PC program currently in market for high end hardware.
Let’s talk about why you should consider a PC support offering in general and why Dell, at least for now, likely sets the bar.
I used to do PC market surveys heavily a few years back and it was always somewhat surprising to find that people that were paying for support programs were generally happier than those that didn’t. This was largely because they tended to be treated better by the vendor, the costs of fixing their problem was relatively labor free, and the time they were without their PC when it broke was substantially less.
Support has come a long way since then. These days, rather than spending a ton of time on the phone your PC can be scanned remotely, the problem identified relatively quickly, and having the fix implemented can take hours and minutes instead of days and weeks.
My very first call into PC support was with a Dell support organization years ago and it was kind of funny. You see I knew I had a bad hard drive so I called in to report it. The woman in the support center still had to go through a full script to diagnose the problem and, after about an hour with me on the phone she concluded, yes, that I had a bad hard drive and shipped one out to me. Strangely I didn’t really mind the time because we chatted that entire hour and we likely knew more about each other than I did about many of my co-workers. So, while it was technically a waste of time, I didn’t find it time wasted as I’d enjoyed the engagement.
Most programs cover access to company experts for problem remediation for both included hardware and software – both domestically and internationally. 24/7 coverage and typically mail-in support for a catastrophic problem. Typically, not covered are things like physical damage to the product or anything to do with a virus you may have put on the product (often this is instead covered by the antivirus vendor who was bundled with the offering).
Dell Premium Support Plus
Well things have come a long way in terms of process since then. This support offering only applies to Dell’s Inspiron, XPS, and Alienware premium platforms. If this were another company we might call it “White Glove” support. Going beyond basic support, Premium Support Plus uses predictive software to anticipate problems and suggest fixes before the PC fails, automated removal of viruses and malware, automatic PC performance optimization, and – most importantly – coverage for breakage like drop damage and spill damage. The predictive part of this is big because it cuts down dramatically the time it takes to get your PC fixed, often before you even know you have a problem.
This is interesting because typically the first notice you have if a hard or SSD drive fails is when you can no longer get to your data, but tools to identify an impending drive failure have massively improved over the years. As a result, vendors like Dell can tell you of a coming problem so you can migrate your data off the drive long before that problem becomes a reality.
In addition, Dell reports an average problem resolution time of around 4 minutes which contrasts sharply with other programs that typically average closer to a half hour. What makes the process faster is that it is massively shorter. Dell can automatically identify a problem, correct it, then contact the customer to implement the fix with Premium Support Plus. A more typical problem requires the user to call in, the vendor must validate the service plan, then create the request, subsequently gather the PC health information, then the vendor troubleshoots the problem, ending in a resolution.
While Dell Premium Support Plus likely sets the bar now regarding support programs, they make sense for PCs regardless of who you buy from. They assure you get a better experience, they get your PC back to you in the shortest time possible (or replaced), and, increasingly – as with Dell’s program – they will be able to correct problems before you even know you have them, substantially reducing time and lost work.
In the end PC support programs (and I would include their peers in terms of extended warranties for complex appliances) perform a valid service and the most important benefit remains that you’ll likely be happier with your purchase and the related vendor if you get one.