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WIRTHLIN SURVEY FINDS CHARGING COMPUTER CUSTOMERS FOR TELEPHONE CONSULTATION IS RISKY

 MCLEAN, Va., Dec. 7 /PRNewswire/ -- Computer hardware and software manufacturers who have decided to start charging a fee for telephone consultation must provide better service or risk alienating customers, according to a survey of computer users by The Wirthlin Group.
 Customer satisfaction with the current system -- most of it free -- is soft, and skepticism of fee-based options runs high, the survey found.
 Eighty-three percent of those interviewed said they availed themselves of so-called customer support by phone within the three previous months. But willingness to make such calls drops dramatically when fees of any type are introduced.
 "Anytime you ask customers to start paying for something they've been receiving for free, you'd better be sure you're providing some added value," said Steve Bodhaine, a Wirthlin Group research executive who specializes in the high-tech field. "Mediocre support is tolerated when it's offered for free, but as costs rise, so do customer expectations of quality."
 Of the 83 percent who made customer support calls, 71 percent received the service free, while 15 percent were charged a fee and 12 percent received some combination of free and paid service.
 The majority of these customers are satisfied with the support they receive at present. Total satisfaction runs somewhat higher for software support (86%) than for hardware support (80%). However, current levels of satisfaction are soft. For both software and hardware, almost two-thirds of those who are satisfied say they are only "somewhat satisfied." In addition, 43% of those who paid for support feel they were charged too much for the service they received.
 The number who expect to call for customer support if fees are introduced decreases from 83% to a range of 30% to 59%, depending on various fee options.
 "A decrease in customer support calls can lead to real problems," said Mr. Bodhaine. "Fewer calls for support mean that manufacturers will have less contact with their customers, and as a result a decrease in their ability to understand customers' needs. Customer loyalty can also be expected to decrease as customers have fewer personal contacts with a manufacturer."
 Survey respondents made numerous suggestions as to how customer support might be improved. The top request is that companies provide better trained and more experienced technical personnel to answer customer support calls. Customers would also like to see an increase in the number of technical support personnel available and a decrease in the use of automated phone answering systems.
 There are also requests to shorten the amount of time customers have to wait on the line before speaking with a qualified technician. Respondents suggest that manufacturers make manuals more complete and user friendly so that customers can solve their own problems. Improvements in the user-friendliness of software would also be appreciated.
 Finally, a significant number want customer support to be less expensive than it already is, or to have 800-number service where it does not currently exist.
 The current October survey is part of a quarterly shared-cost Omnibus of 405 respondents conducted by The Wirthlin Group for various high-tech clients. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
 The Wirthlin Group is a McLean, Virginia-based national survey research firm.
 -0- 12/7/93
 /CONTACT: Steve Bodhaine, senior research executive of The Wirthlin Group, 313-583-2733/


CO: Wirthlin Group ST: Virginia IN: CPR SU:

CK -- NY093 -- 1444 12/07/93 16:52 EST
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Date:Dec 7, 1993
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