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June 22, 2010 | last updated December 1, 2011 6:59 am
Portlandbiz

PlumChoice sees success in fixing tech woes

Photo/Robert M. Cook
Photo/Robert M. Cook
Richard Surace, senior vice president of operations for PlumChoice, at the company's Scarborough office

Massachusetts-based tech support company PlumChoice has experienced some rapid growth as of late. The company recently announced plans to hire 350 people in Maine, after opening an office in Scarborough last October that employs more than 100.

The key to the company's growth, says Senior Vice President of Operations Richard Surace, is really understanding its customer base: people whose digital devices drive them nuts.

"Customers are frustrated with their technology," says Surace. "We provide a holistic solution for customers' technology issues."

Surace says the company started when founder Ted Werth got agitated trying to get customer service to help fix his father's laptop. That was in 2001, and Werth realized that customers like himself craved a much better customer service experience when they reach out for help to figure out their PCs, laptops, iPhones and other technological devices.

Since then, the company -- which provides businesses and individuals with one-on-one customer service and tech support plans -- has grown to employ 700 home-based, trained agents across 40 states. It's earned itself a regional reputation -- Werth was named a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2010 Award in New England. PlumChoice is continuing to grow in Maine, thanks to a recent partnership with Southern Maine Community College and the Maine Quality Centers to train and employ 350 Maine residents as home-based agents via a $550,000 grant provided by the state agency.

PlumChoice provides technical support and customer service for telecommunications companies, Internet service providers, equipment manufacturers, retailers and e-commerce businesses. The company can service 450 different software platforms and 1,700 hardware platforms for nearly every technological device, Surace says.

He would not disclose PlumChoice's sales revenue or annual earnings, but did say the company has grown by 75% over the last five years and would have achieved as much as a 400% growth rate if it did not provide tech customer service for Circuit City, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008 and closed its 567 stores in 2009, including its locations in Maine.

Individual customers pay PlumChoice anywhere from $9.95 to $24.95 per month for service for all of their electronics needs, while businesses pay $24.95 to $45 per month. In both cases, customers need not be technical whizzes to get good support when something goes wrong.

"We are not asking the customer to describe their technology problem to us," Surace says. "We go in and find the technology problem." The company's remote online repair and assistance services are available 24/7, and PlumChoice also patented the SAFElink service delivery platform, which helps service providers and other business partners to stay in constant touch with customers. He says the company has a 95% customer satisfaction rate and a 94% first-time fix rate.

The company, which is headquartered in Billerica, Mass., and employs 100 people there, signed a four-year lease with commercial broker Jeff Lord to occupy a two-floor, 27,000-square-foot building in Scarborough. The company hired 125 people to staff the office and is looking to hire 350 home-based agents in Maine by December 2011 who will be certified in either Apple or Microsoft, paid as much as $20-$30 per hour and receive full medical, dental, optical and 401(k) plan benefits. The Scarborough office has enough staff and expertise to support 500 home-based agents in Maine, Surace says.

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