Circuit City Ends 1-800 Telephone Support

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At a time when many companies are beefing up their call center support, computer and electronics retailer Circuit City, Richmond, VA, has decided to phase out its 1-800 telephone customer support for PCs and software.

Callers to the service, known as Answer City help line, now will be directed to hardware and software manufacturers, said Morgan Stewart, a spokesman for Circuit City.

"In taking into account [manufacturers'] improved ability to offer support and the cost-effectiveness to us, [we decided] to send customers to the manufacturers," Stewart said. "This was not an easy decision for us, because our employees are an outstanding group of people, but the fact is, that as an industry, the manufacturers have really stepped up their product assistance and technical support and can now provide up-to-the minute information on their products."

The company will close its call center in Tempe, AZ, resulting in the loss of 200 sales associates jobs. The company will continue to support consumer electronics calls, which will be re-routed to offices in Richmond.

PC sales accounted for 24 percent, or roughly $21 billion of Circuit City's fiscal 1997 sales, Stewart said.

While Stewart would not say that there is a connection between the timing of the shut down and the fact that sales are currently, booming--according to recently released data from Circuit City, sales reached $762.9 million in March 1998, a 17 percent increase over March 1997's sales of $652 million-he did add that "we always evaluate the services that we provide to our customers not only on the basis of whether they are a good service to provide to the customer, but also whether they are cost effective. That was the basis of this decision."

Stewart would not provide details about how the new service will work. "Obviously we have close relationships with our vendors and manufacturers, and having a call center, with well-trained sales associates, was something that we just decided to take on ourselves," he said.

The Answer City service -- applicable to hardware and bundled software -- was free to consumers within 30 days of purchase; after which it was available for a $19.95-per-instance fee.

Computer City, Fort Worth, TX, and CompUSA Inc., Dallas, two of Circuit City's largest competitors, still offer telephone support.

"In fact, we are expanding a lot of our telephone services -- our free services, for those who have purchased a PC from us, and our toll services, for people who own a PC and didn't purchase it from us," said Carol Elfstrom, a spokeswoman for CompUSA.

CompUSA's call service options include a $2.49 per minute 1-900 line for

support questions and a $24.97-per-incident support service.
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