And now, finally, someone's trying to bring those geeks back to the companies that could really use them. MinuteFix looks, at first, much like SupportSpace, a company that pays product experts to provide support to users. MinuteFix does that as well, but its real business model is to sell its service directly to the consumer product companies. It's competing with outsource service companies such as SlashSupport (which provides Vonage's support, for example).
MinuteFix certifies product experts around the world and pools them together into distributed call centers. The cost to companies is the same as for offshore-based support, but the support personnel are now local to the caller (in the same country, at least), sharing not just their language but cultural sensitivities. Plus, hopefully, their knowledge of the products they are supporting comes from enthusiasm and experience, not from a script.
MinuteFix certifies its support providers by testing them on customer service skills, language skills, and any relevant knowledge specific to their clients (similar to how oDesk certifies its providers). Ongoing quality is maintained through post-call caller satisfaction scoring (if a tech doesn't score well, he or she will stop getting calls). Also, the support techs have a channel they can use to communicate with each other during calls, even though they're not sitting near each other. CEO Diego Orjuela told me that techs can make $15 to $20 an hour when they are online taking calls. All the techs on MinuteFix connect via Skype. MinuteFix techs don't get access to sensitive data like billing records, but the company does integrate at least partially with its customers systems so its techs can do a bit more than just talk customers through issues.
Assuming the company gets its technology right, it has two big challenges: Getting good techs and getting customers. To the former, Orjuela told me that advertising on Craigslist has been highly successful, and that he's terminated some ads early since he's been overloaded with qualified candidates.
To the second point, getting customers, he's aware that Volkswagen is not likely to be one of his first customers. He's starting, instead, with the low-hanging fruit: He's going for companies that understand the power of community. His first relationship is with Skype: MinuteFix is the preferred partner in the IT division of Skype Prime; MinuteFix-certified provders earn more than if they are unaffiliated.
Orjuela also pitches more than just enthusiastic techs to his potential customers. His solution makes it easier for companies to set up support teams in different languages or timezones than using traditional call-center-based outsourcing.
MinuteFix is, basically, ChaCha with potential big-money customers. It will be difficult, though, for Orjuela to sell the service, since he'll be going up against the traditional centralized support model and entrenched sales relationships. But that's smart: He's not trying to invent a business model from whole cloth, like so many Web 2.0 start-ups. Instead, he's aiming Web 2.0 concepts at an established and lucrative market, where there are customers paying big bucks already and leaving their customers, to a large extent, unsatisfied. This is a good business model.