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PC leaders make pact to help consumers

Austin, Texas-based start-up Motive is set to unveil a round of agreements with Compaq, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, boosting use of the company's help-desk software inside corporations.

Chances are you have never heard of Motive Communications, but you might start using its software in the near future.

The Austin, Texas-based start-up, which specializes in Web-based help-desk software and PC diagnostic tools, is expected to unveil a round of agreements with Compaq Computer, Dell Computer and Hewlett-Packard that will lead to the increased use of the company's software inside corporations.

Under the terms of three separate deals, each PC manufacturer will begin to market MotiveNet Server to its business and corporate customers, according to people familiar with the company's plans. The software system is designed to resolve questions inexpensively by providing information and other self-help tools on Web sites, although it also allows customers to contact live customer support teams.

Both Compaq and Dell have already incorporated some of Motive's software on their Web sites to help customers figure out problems with their computers. Corporations typically have been reluctant to allow employees to use these sites for help, however, because it has involved allowing outsiders--namely, technicians at Dell or Compaq--inside company fire walls.

By installing a subset of the help-desk systems, business customers should be able to cut down the number of computer-related problems that require outside technicians.

The computer makers will benefit as well. Resolving customer problems by phone can cost $15 to $30 per incident, said Gary Cotshott, vice president of services at Dell. Sending a technician can cost up to $100 to $150. On average, incident costs range between $32 and $54 per incident, and these have to be borne by Dell or a disgruntled customer.

By contrast, by using Web diagnostic tools, costs per incident can be reduced to averages of between $21 and $38, he stated. Motive also gains by becoming the front line of tech support for three of the largest PC companies.

Dell, which also will invest in Motive, has been using the software in conjunction with its consumer PCs. So far, most have gravitated to the Web-based form of technical support. "People get used to the technology and change their approach," he said.