Crabby Office Lady: Ready to Help, Like It or Not

Crabby Office Lady

REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 21, 2003 — You know her. We all do. She’s in every business office, government agency or school administration building. She grumbles good mornings from behind a coffee cup and reading glasses. She’s quick with a disapproving word if anyone breaches office protocol, and is always the first to complain that the heat isn’t high enough during the winter.

She is the Crabby Office Lady, and you can’t live without her.

That’s because, despite the surly stares and annoying comments, one thing holds true: she knows everything. She knows where the paper clips are stored. She knows the number of the plumber who fixed that leak in the sink six months ago. She can tell you from memory the birthdays, pet names, and favorite colors of the office manager AND her spouse. And, best of all, she knows computer applications like nobody’s business.

Early last year, Microsoft’s Office User Assistance team assigned Annik Stahl, a writer and producer for the Office Tools on the Web site, to write a column that would help Office users get more from their software. The assignment led to the birth of a pseudonymous character, the Crabby Office Lady. The ultimate “power user,” Crabby does her best to answer customer questions in her columns, which cover everything from e-mail etiquette to creating PivotTables in Excel. In the process, she has become a popular feature on the Web site, generating hundreds of e-mail responses monthly.

PressPass asked Stahl if it was possible to speak directly with the Crabby Office Lady . She was annoyed at us for bothering her, but grudgingly accommodated.

PressPass: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Let’s begin at the beginning. How did you become an Office guru?

Crabby: Guru, shmuru — do something often enough for long enough and it’s like you were born doing it. What customers may not understand is that we at Microsoft — and that includes me — use Office every day all day. Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, FrontPage, whatever. I mean, it’s not like I’m a 21-year-old model selling anti-aging cream to aging baby boomers. I need the Office products, I use the Office products, and this puts me in a very good position to help people who also use it.

PressPass: How long have you been writing your column, and what prompted you to begin writing it?

Crabby: The first column went live in March last year. I realized that our customers were not only having a wee bit of trouble finding the help they needed, but they were also getting whiny about it and frankly, I’d had just about enough. I mean, developers all around me design all these amazing products that can do almost anything except change a tire and make a souffl
but, for some reason, people who are not software developers sometimes seem to be afraid to step outside their own bank of knowledge. I realized that I could take customers by the hand and lead them to a more productive and satisfying work-life.

In a way, I feel a bit like Julie McCoy, the cruise director character on the old TV series,
“The Love Boat.”
Of course she was a bit more perky than I tend to be, but our jobs are similar: take advantage of all this boat has to offer. Or, stay in your room, empty the mini-bar, and mope.

PressPass: What kind of people read your columns?

Crabby: From the mail I’ve received, I’ve heard from schoolteachers, Marine sergeants, students, professors, corporate trainers, university administrators, doctors and nurses, attorneys, researchers, retail salespeople, store owners, travel agents, executives, computer administrators, and other crabby office people who thought only they knew what crabbiness was.

PressPass: How do you decide what to write your columns about?

Crabby: I’m pretty much given free rein about what I want to write about, but a lot of my inspiration comes from customers. I also get ideas from the way my colleagues and I use Office products. We have the luxury of yelling down the hall if we can’t figure something out, but most users don’t have that. I also listen to what my friends and family members have to say about Office products (and sometimes I get an earful). It’s sometimes easy to forget what the customer is experiencing. Regardless of whether, say, a new version of Word has a spanking new feature that will help customers lead more productive lives, if they don’t know about it, it’s useless. It’s my job to evangelize what’s new, why you might need it, and how to use it. And when you’re reaching millions of people a week, that really IS evangelizing.

PressPass: I understand that some customers send you messages and have even proposed marriage. Is that true?

Crabby: I did receive several marriage proposals, and also some very kind messages from customers who obviously were dying for a heart-to-heart connection (and who also had way too much time on their hands). Now that new versions of Office products are on their way, we’re looking into a Crabby Communities group so that all my readers can get help from each other as well as me.

PressPass: What are some of the more common things users don’t know about Office products?

Crabby: One word: customizing. People don’t realize that once you install Office products, you can make them even more useful by making them your own. I want users to make a toolbar that has all their favorite buttons on it! And while they’re at it, they can create their own buttons! I want them to make templates, create corporate themes, make logos, decide for themselves how Outlook opens! I want them to know that they can have multiple contact lists, paste the way they want with tags, even Smart Tags, change the default printer settings!

In other words I want them to nest and get comfortable.

PressPass: Are the people you help grateful?

Crabby: Grateful. Hmmm. Let’s see. Here are a few random comments I’ve received:

“You are funny! I just wanted to thank you for having excellent humor, and well designed reading for this World of Data we live in, and complicated how-to’s. I am laughing and learning. What a concept!!!”

“Wow! This column is very informative especially for some of those old timers who have forgotten what the abbreviations mean and how to do simple tasks. It is quite amazing how a little humor can make you acknowledge your flaws. By the way beautiful pic and count me in on the marriage proposals.”

“You ain’t crabby — you’re lovely …..if you run for President, you get my vote!!!”

“I loved your article on customizing templates. I work for a convenience store and have used templates for special inventory forms for users during each shift and my boss thinks I am a genius that I can take his idea and create a form for us to use. I learned a few new tricks from your article. Thanks”

“I liked your ideas on template customization. And you don’t sound at all crabby. I think you’re a closet do-gooder :-)”

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