Paul Hurley, 36, CEO of Aveo Inc. Aveo, based in Santa Clara, California, makes software that provides "preemptive" tech support.
Hurley thinks that tech support can be more than just a necessary evil. Using the Internet, his company helps users to solve their own technical problems - and companies to reinvent tech support as a marketing tool. Working with distribution partners like Dell and Hewlett-Packard, Aveo arranges to have its Attune software preinstalled on PCs. When a user encounters a potential problem, Aveo's software issues a message, written in plain English, that suggests a fix. "The idea is to stop routine issues from becoming problems and resulting in calls from customers," says Hurley.
Hedging the Bet
Aveo's software also uses the Net to update messages and to facilitate "t-commerce" (technology sales) by detecting routine maintenance issues. If a printer is low on toner, for example, the software informs the user and provides a direct link to an e-commerce partner. If that message results in a sale, Aveo takes a cut. Because such messages strike while the iron is hot, the response rates are impressive — as high as 12%, compared with the 1% or 2% response rate that is standard in direct marketing.
While Aveo's Attune service offers a convincing proposition for manufacturers, winning over consumers (who are often wary of direct marketing) may be more difficult. Aveo's software is completely private, and it shows messages only when there is a maintenance or configuration issue. "You build trust one interaction at a time," Hurley explains. "If our software isn't helping the consumer with every encounter, then we're not doing it right."
Cathy Olofson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and editor in Belmont, Massachusetts. Contact Paul Hurley by email (email@example.com).
A version of this article appeared in the September 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine.