Dell is ditching its predefined support model and introducing a more customisable program that can be tailored depending on the products and services support that a customer needs.
The ProSupport portfolio will enable enterprises and small and medium businesses to buy specific support modules to set up and fix hardware and critical applications. The model is not for the consumer market, said Steve Meyer, vice president of global services at Dell.
Dell used to offer the "medal" model for services - platinum, gold, silver and bronze - that bought customers a predefined set of support services. Under the new plan - now available to SMEs and not just large enterprises - customers will be able to buy specific services and a timetable within which issues are addressed, Meyer said.
For example, small businesses with remote offices can buy into services that enable quicker response times and support for point-of-sale software like Microsoft's Small Business Server, Meyer said.
"We're in the process of enhancing capabilities and adding experts and agents in specific areas," like operating systems and storage, said Cary Gumbert, lead product manager for Dell ProSupport.
Dell will also provide advice on software applications including Norton AntiVirus, Microsoft Office, Intuit QuickBooks, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Acrobat. In addition to training its own staff, Dell is partnering with vendors including Microsoft, Oracle and EMC to provide support.
The support services offered will be standard worldwide, Meyer said.
Dell found that customers want a personalised support experience based on who they are, Meyer said. IT professionals at large enterprises may need fewer services compared to small businesses that don't have IT departments, and which may need more hand-holding and rapid response to enable server uptime.
Analysts weren't sure if the new offering is a radical difference from the support model already being offered by Dell. The new support model from Dell is just old wine in a new bottle, said Ron Silliman, principal analyst at Gartner.
"It's not so terribly different from the original model they had. It's a return to that, as the model had gotten away from its strengths," Silliman said.
Wading through a complicated support process, Dell customers didn't always get the support they were seeking, Silliman said. The reorganised decision tree is neater and the modular approach will make it easier to solve problems, he said. The earlier model was a neat package that was incrementally mashed up with messy ideas over time, Silliman said.
"The best way to describe it: when you get a brand-new sweater and see it at the back of the closet three years later, you can see it's fuzzy. Time does those things," Silliman said.
The support model has more global consistency than the earlier model, which is good for global organizations, Silliman said. It also provides an educated approach to support by better understanding the customer, not the hardware, Silliman said.
Understanding customers' needs will ultimately help Dell deliver better services to consumers too, said Kurt Scherf, vice president and principal analyst at Parks Associates. However, while Dell has been criticized for a weak consumer support function, the new support model is targeted only at enterprise customers for now. It is possible that this support model will be delivered to customers in the future, Dell said.
Pricing for support varies based on system and options selected, a Dell spokesman said. For example, in the US, Dell ProSupport for a PowerEdge server starts around $399 (£200) per system for three years of service, and can range up to a few thousand dollars for critical support. Dell ProSupport for Optiplex desktops starts around $79 (£40) per system for three years of service.