Sears customers jumping online in search of technical support for their PCs are not being linked with the Illinois-based retailer, but rather, Vancouver outsourcer

The two companies on Wednesday announced an agreement that sees providing online tech support for owners of Sears, Roebuck and Co. computers for up to five years. Sears Canada Inc. is not involved in the agreement.

Financial terms of the deal were not released.

As of Monday, Sears computer customers logging onto have been met with’s MyHelpDesk system. The system’s help services include e-mail, chat and desktop-sharing abilities that allow users to have their systems diagnosed and repaired through the Internet.

“The first-contact resolution is much higher because you can get to the nub of the problem,” said Joanne Charley, vice president of marketing for

While telephone-based technical support allows computer users to better express their computer problems, Charley suggested casual users are more prone to misdiagnosis than IT professionals, who can look into and correct conflicts in the user’s system through the MyHelpDesk system.

Charley said Sears and engaged in trials before launching the program to see how customers would react to an online-centric tech support system. Sears asked customers in the telephone queue for technical support if they would be receptive to receiving support online.

“They had an overwhelming support for online,” Charley said. Neither Charley nor Sears opted to release the trial’s exact metrics.

Prior to the agreement with, Sears offered technical support by telephone only. Sears will continue to run its own phone-based tech support service for customers who are without Internet access or unable to boot up their computers, said Ray Mahaffey, project manager for Sears product repair services.

Wednesday’s announcement marks Sears’ first foray into consumer PC support outsourcing, an increasingly popular practice among businesses in Canada and the United States.

“It certainly is a growing market,” said Rob Colraine, director of infrastructure deployment and support services for IDC Canada. “It’s one of the first things people outsource.”

“I don’t think companies can afford their own help desk. It’s more economical to outsource.”

Charley added that by outsourcing tech support, a company like Sears can focus on their core business of retailing. Outsourcing also carries the promise of round-the-clock service, which is rarely possible or economical for a company to provide on its own.

“It puts support under (the customer’s) control.” Mahaffey said. “It’s literally available 24/7 to them.”

Inking a deal with a large foreign company is not new for In fact, most of the’s outsourcing contracts, including those with British Telecommunications PLC, Altavista and a number of United States-based ISPs, have come from outside Canada. The one exception is Burnaby, B.C.-based Telus Corp., which announced an outsourcing deal with a year ago.

“Software companies are getting more into e-support services, (and) Canadians tend to go with major vendors,” like Compaq Computer Corp. and International Business Machines Corp., Colraine said. American companies, he added, tend to be more interested in specialized services like’s MyHelpDesk, which Sears’ Mahaffey called unique.

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