REDMOND, Wash., April 26, 1999 — On the day Microsoft issued a Y2K fix for its Windows 95 operating system, Marq Youngblood, data processing administrator for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, received an email message from his technical account manager at Microsoft notifying him of the fix. According to Youngblood, such proactive management, a feature of Microsoft’s Premier Support, is not unusual.
“On a regular basis, our dedicated TAM [technical account manager] informs us about issues that might impact our organization, without us having to ask for it,” Youngblood said. “Having pre-emptive, tailored product information distributed as soon as it becomes available is one of the many services from Microsoft support that has allowed us to decrease incidents and downtime.”
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is just one of thousands of organizations that give Microsoft’s Product Support Services (PSS) high marks for technical support and customer service. The Microsoft Premier Support offering targets enterprises, computer manufacturers, Microsoft Certified Solution Providers (MCSPs), and commercial developers that require a managed support relationship. Microsoft Premier Support currently boasts a 97-percent renewal rate from more than 2,600 customers worldwide.
Microsoft today announced the restructuring of PSS to align its support offerings with customer segments, rather than along product lines, so that it can focus on the individual needs of the customer. Based on feedback from customers, PSS has developed a well-defined delivery process that combines Internet technologies, extensive improvements to its support infrastructure, and experienced support professionals.
In addition to Premier Support, customers can choose among Alliance Support, Professional Support and Personal Support. Alliance Support is a customized program for enterprises running on Microsoft platforms in the most demanding technical environments; Professional Support addresses the unique needs of such technical communities as resellers and consultants, IT professionals, software developers, MCSPs and computer manufacturers; andPersonal Support provides home users quick, easy access to technical support.
“Microsoft has achieved phenomenal success by focusing on the individual needs of the customer, as evidenced by the almost 100-percent renewal rate for Premier Support,” said Joe Lindstrom, director of business development for product support at Microsoft. “Executing this strategy via leading-edge Internet technologies will allow us to set the bar for customer satisfaction in the industry.”
Fast, Efficient Incident Resolution Enables Quick Recovery
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services turned to Microsoft’s Premier Support offering three years ago after the organization made rapid and significant changes to its information system. As part of a Child Welfare application rollout in 1995, the department converted from using dumb terminals at its 77 county offices to approximately 90 LANs connected via frame relay. As part of the project, it deployed 1,300 workstations running Microsoft Windows 3.11 and 88 Novell NetWare 4.0 servers. Later that year as part of a field operations applications rollout, the department deployed another 95 Windows NT-based LANs, with 4,000 workstations running Windows 95.
“We suffered some pain when we first attempted to support all these new products,” Youngblood said. “We rolled out Windows 95 less than a month after it first became available, so we really needed Microsoft’s help.”
Youngblood says his organization signed on with Premier Support mainly because it needed the offering’s incident resolution services, which include 24 x 7 incident support from Premier-specific support professionals, with phone and electronic incident submission, Hot Fix Distribution, and multi-vendor coordination.
According to Youngblood, the speed with which PSS responds to the department’s incident reports and the level of expertise he sees in Microsoft support professionals result in few escalations. “Most of our incidents are taken care of immediately. In the few cases when we have to escalate the problem, I’ve been impressed with Microsoft’s process,” he said.
Key to Microsoft’s strategy for achieving the highest level of customer satisfaction in the industry is the use of Internet technologies. Microsoft has re-architected its support infrastructure behind the scenes to deliver quick, effective incident resolution services. Skilled-based routing and multimedia queuing are two technologies Product Support Services employs to get customers to the right engineer as quickly as possible.
In addition, all the different flavors of the company’s support offerings -Alliance Support, Professional Support, Premier Support and Personal Support – provide unlimited access to Microsoft’s Online Support. These sites feature critical problem alerts, regular product newsletters, incident tracking and expert roundtables.
Microsoft also allows its customers to determine the severity of an incident, another incident-resolution feature Youngblood is enthusiastic about. “What may not be severe for one organization can be very severe for another,” Youngblood said. “Microsoft lets us determine how important the problem is, and they’ve always responded accordingly.”
Proactive Services and Account Management Decrease Downtime
While incident resolution was the impetus for turning to Microsoft support, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services quickly discovered it gained even more value from Premier Support’s proactive services, which include supportability reviews and implementation planning and migration from expert professionals.
“Getting consulting capabilities, such as how to plan for and implement Microsoft products, has been a tremendous benefit to us. Nothing compares to having someone who really knows a product walk you through the implementation,” Youngblood said.
In addition to proactive services, account management under the Premier Support offering has also been a great asset for the department. This service provides a designated technical account manager (TAM) who acts as a liaison between Microsoft support and the customer. In addition to conducting orientation and planning sessions with their assigned customers, TAMs also meet regularly with customers and provide frequent status reports, manage the incident escalation process on behalf of the customer, and work with customers to design a service delivery plan.
“Having one person to call for technical issues is a time-saving and energy-saving benefit for us. I don’t have to agonize over the escalation process-our designated TAM does that for me,” said Youngblood. “I’ve never given the Microsoft TAM anything that he didn’t follow up on and resolve quickly.”
The combination of fast, effective incident resolution and proactive account management means the Oklahoma Department of Human Services experiences much less downtime than it used to, according to Youngblood. Not only does the department get up and running more quickly because problems are resolved in less time, but there’s less downtime in general because there are fewer incidents to report. This is because consulting during the planning stage and proactive management after the application rollout greatly reduces the number of problems that arise.
Commercial Developer Also Sings Praises for Premier Support
Prologic Corp., a worldwide provider of client/server core banking systems for the financial services industry, is another longstanding Microsoft support customer that considers Microsoft support unprecedented in the industry.
The Richmond, British Columbia-based company has been using Premier Support for more than five years to reap the benefits of the offering’s incident resolution and proactive services, which are tailored to meet the needs not only of enterprises such as the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, but of commercial developers like Prologic as well.
Prologic uses Premier’s incident resolution services when there’s a critical incident involving the integration between one of its solutions and Microsoft’s products. The company is primarily known for its Ovation banking solution, which runs on Prologic’s PROBE environment. PROBE is designed to integrate with Microsoft technology and is the enabling component of Ovation, among other Prologic solutions.
When incidents arise, Microsoft responsive services work very well, according to Geoff Belair, platform architect at Prologic, but that’s not the main reason the company uses Premier Support. The company also consults with Microsoft field experts proactively for guidance and direction in the development of the core Prologic architecture.
Last year, Prologic programmers spent a week in the labs at Microsoft doing preliminary development work with the Microsoft Management Console. According to Belair, although there is a wealth of information at the Premier Online Support site, Prologic wanted hands-on help from key Microsoft specialists to put together a full working prototype.
“We use Premier Support to obtain an accelerated methodology to an end product. Microsoft augments that service by providing us personalized access to experts in our subject areas,” Belair said. “This level of service is unheard of in the industry. In the past, if we told other companies we wanted to align our products on top of their servers, they’d say, ‘Great, here’s the software development kit.’ ”
Like Youngblood, Belair is impressed with the level of account management provided by Microsoft technical account managers. He says that when he needs to fast-track development, all he needs to do is contact Prologic’s designated TAM, who has a financial services background and complete access to resources within Microsoft. The TAM then lines up Prologic developers with the appropriate experts at Microsoft.
Making the Most of Product Support
Belair’s only lament is that his company hasn’t exploited the Premier Support offering as much as he would like. In the next year, he hopes to use the service more fully. He’s particularly eager to use a “walk-through” service of the Premier offering in which Microsoft provides comments before a developer rolls out a solution.
“This is a tremendous service. Microsoft would work with us initially as it always does to help us evaluate the way we will architect a new solution,” Belair said. “Then we go away and put it together. Afterwards, Microsoft field experts would do a walk-through and provide comments before we roll the solution out to our customers. We’d really like to take advantage of that.”