3Com's free Web-based troubleshooting service, announced last week at the Networld trade show in Atlanta, may hold enough answers to save 3Com and its customers substantial time and money on tech support calls. But based on brief testing, 3Com Knowledgebase is unimpressive in its ability to understand plain-English queries or propose convenient solutions to common problems.
Designed to handle tech support questions about the company's modems, network interface cards, hubs, switches, and remote access products, 3Com Knowledgebase is a single repository of all of the company's technical information. It continually grows as 3Com tech support engineers input solutions as service questions come in, according to 3Com spokesperson Tiffany Francis. "Once it's completely populated, it will be the largest system of its kind in the industry," Francis said.
3Com's service shows a general industry trend and is "really just a way for 3Com to save money in delivering phone support", commented Richard Brewer, senior analyst at International Data Corp. "If they can get more people to find a solution on the Web, then fewer people can call them, and they can use their phone engineers to leverage more accounts."
3Com Knowledgebase differs from competing services from Cisco and Bay Networks by not requiring an existing service contract, and by including both troubleshooting and general setup advice in a single reference, according to Francis.
Questions are handled in a decision-tree format resembling Microsoft's Windows Troubleshooter. The service uses drop-down pick lists to narrow down possible problems and to ask if suggested solutions have worked.
In a brief tryout, however, the modem section presented too few alternatives before displaying a screen for contacting 3Com tech support directly. And the question wizard seemed unsophisticated, responding, for example, to "slow connection speed" with the question, "What type of connection issue are you experiencing" and a pick list that included the option "low connect speeds."