REDMOND, Wash., Dec. 5, 2006 — With new Microsoft product launches like the recent one featuring Windows Vista, the past year has been a pivotal one for Microsoft Customer Service and Support (CSS). Aside from helping customers and partners tackle critical tasks ranging from ensuring server availability for an enterprise business to helping consumers connect laptops to wireless networks and mobile devices, CSS is also gearing up to help customers migrate to the new Windows Vista operating system and other products launching this year. To ensure its programs and services deliver great experiences for customers and partners, the organization has shifted into overdrive.
Under the direction of Kathleen Hogan, corporate vice president of Worldwide Customer Service, Support and Customer and Partner Experience (CPE), CSS in the last year has revamped its infrastructure and processes in the effort to improve the quality and supportability of Microsoft products, tailor the support information provided to better meet customers’ needs, enhance its proactive services, improve online support options, and expand its global availability to touch more customers and partners. Bolstering these efforts are the readiness activities led by Microsoft worldwide through training and beta program support, ensuring that employees are ready to help customers and partners use Microsoft’s new technologies.
To learn more about how Microsoft delivers the help customers and partners need now and during the critical product launch period to come, PressPass spoke with Hogan and Rich Kaplan, who joined CSS in May as vice president of Customer Service, Partners and Automation.
PressPass: How are customers’ support needs evolving, and how is CSS responding?
Hogan: People and businesses today are very much living the digital lifestyle at home and at work — everything from keeping abreast of the news, to digital imaging, to shopping and communicating with friends and colleagues online. As a result, our customers’ support needs have grown — their questions are much more complex, often spanning several technologies. And they have a greater desire to go online to get answers that are tailored to their individual needs. This shift applies to all customer segments, and we have seen a significant increase in the number of customers and partners who are going online to search for solutions first, before calling Microsoft.
Microsoft’s CSS organization supports over half a billion customers around the world each year; one of the largest support networks in the industry. This comprises of millions of customers who seek help at the support.microsoft.com Web site, support incidents handled over the phone and onsite support provided for enterprise customers. From these support inquiries, CSS proactively identifies issues and trends evolving with our customers and partners, and we then share that information with product groups across Microsoft so that the company can continually improve the supportability of its products. During the Windows Vista beta program, CSS supported over 20,000 customers and analyzed and submitted thousands of customer suggestions to product development.
Comprising approximately 10 percent of all Windows Vista beta program participants, Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) are key contributors to this feedback loop. An example of the type of change instituted by customer feedback is with Windows installation program, which will have a more user-friendly interface than the text-based XP version. Through the Windows Vista Help and Support page in the start menu, we’ll also provide the latest content for customers based on the top issues identified from support calls and online searches.
PressPass: What is Microsoft’s CSS organization doing specifically to help customers during the launches of products in the coming year?
Hogan: We’re very excited about all of the new product launches this year and are honing our technical skills and processes around support services for Windows Vista. Each major release of Windows in the past has created a worldwide sea change for how our customers use technology at home and at work. With this next wave, we anticipate that actions such as e-mail and Web browsing will be more prevalent, along with multitasking and online collaboration through products such as the 2007 Microsoft Office system and Microsoft Office Groove Server 2007. People routinely chat, share documents, listen to music, look at photos, browse the Web, and read and write email all at the same time. With these new uses of technology comes new customer scenarios to support and CSS is fully prepared to help customers migrate to and use the new operating system.
With our extensive knowledge of customer implementation, we’ve worked very hard to increase the supportability of Windows Vista and other new products together with the product teams. Throughout the organization, we have top talent with deep technical expertise on new products ranging from Zune to Windows Vista. The maturity of our offerings is evolving to provide more personalized options to customers and partners. And we’re enhancing our global delivery model so that we can provide customers and partners with the right expert when they need us.
Our experiences in helping customers with these technologies through beta program support has already generated thousands of inquiries that we’ve added to our knowledge management system and provided to the product teams as part of supportability feedback. So when customers contact Microsoft about Windows Vista, information will be available online through a new Windows Vista Product Support Center on support.microsoft.com, and proactive solutions will be cued in the customer service IVR. Our teams will have the technical and customer service information they need to answer customer and partner questions.
PressPass: What kinds of support features and tools are available?
Hogan: We’ve helped integrate some key features into Windows Vista that enable streamlined self-help support for customers. Additional features and tools are designed to make it easier for support engineers to help customers diagnose and resolve issues when they are in the middle of a support call.
As part of Windows Vista development, we focused on making it much easier for customers to discover new things they can do with the software while helping them more easily maintain the health of their PCs. When accessing Windows Vista Help and Support from the start menu, customers will find current help topics, tips and tricks and answers to the most frequently asked questions.
To help with assisted support scenarios, Easy Assist, a product based on Microsoft Office Live Meeting, enables the support engineer to remotely connect to the customer’s machine, diagnose the problem and help the customer correct it. This type of remote assistance was possible in the past, but it was very difficult to get through customer firewalls to get the necessary diagnostics. With Easy Assist we’ve made that super easy, while maintaining the security of the customer’s setup and providing them with the option to disconnect from the session at any time.
The Microsoft Support Diagnostic Tool (MSDT) is a new tool in Windows Vista that enables customers to run local diagnostics specified by a CSS engineer and to upload results online to CSS for faster analysis to help resolve issues. CSS engineers remotely send the customer a manifest, which, when activated by the customer, automatically downloads problem-specific utilities that will gather a specific set of information about a customer’s PC to help diagnose and ultimately solve the problem. Again, this was something support representatives could do in the past, but they had to walk users through a series of complex steps to get the information and then have them execute complex instructions to fix it. Through tools such as Easy Assist and MSDT, CSS streamlines the support process significantly for customers without leaving so much as a footprint on the customer’s machine.
PressPass: How is CSS being proactive in identifying issues and trends for Microsoft customers?
Hogan: While we’re very aware that we will always need to provide reactive support to customers, we also know that a customer’s favorite support call is the one they never need to make. From a customer perspective, there’s much to be said about proactively identifying support issues and trends to improve the health of our customers’ environments and the quality of our products.
For example, we analyzed customer and partner support incidents related to Exchange Server and found that the majority of the support calls were related to configuration issues. These issues were difficult for customers to identify within their environments, and CSS responded quickly, working with the Exchange product team to create the Exchange Best Practices Analyzer (ExBPA) tool. Based on further implementation analysis and in partnership with the Exchange Server product team and Premier Field Engineering, the Exchange Risk Assessment Program (ExRAP) was established, which incorporates the ExBPA tool. This combination of service delivery program and tools provides best practices to our enterprise customers around how they should implement and optimize Exchange Server.
By stabilizing the Exchange environment, we can help customers to shift their attention from a reactive break-fix mode to focus on proactive solutions and technologies that help to support their business objectives. We’ve found that delivering ExRAP with the ExBPA tool has been proven to reduce critical situations and improve Exchange Server performance. Based on this success, ExBPA and other tools have been integrated into Exchange Server 2007 pre-requisite checking to help customers proactively identify environmental configuration issues before deployment.
With services like this, we can systematically take the voice of the customer directly to the development teams to drive product improvements and ensure supportability for existing and new products, as well as help our customers eliminate problems before they occur. This customer feedback loop is a virtual cycle that guarantees we listen, we care and we respond.
PressPass: What strategies have you developed for enhancing the online support CSS provides?
Hogan: Assisted support via the phone will always be important for our customers, yet most of the customers who come to us try to resolve their issues online first. We’re working to dramatically increase the resolve rates for customers and partners who use online support through targeted content and increased personalization. Almost 80 percent of Microsoft customers who visit our Web site at support.microsoft.com are information workers and home users, so we are working to tailor the experience on that site to these customers; to answers to their questions with a minimum number of steps. For our more technical audiences, we are collaborating with the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) and Microsoft TechNet to enhance the support experience through additional benefits provided by those programs. Overall, we are working very hard to ensure the right level of information gets to the right community of online customers. This capability will be instrumental in helping our customers and partners to install and use new technologies
Kaplan: As we create a personalized experience that is tailored to meet customer and partner needs, we see numerous possibilities for them to leverage information online. Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) are independent technical experts who help users through the technical communities. With more than 3,400 MVPs worldwide, representing over 90 Microsoft technologies, MVPs are an inspiration to helping others in their commitment to actively sharing their real world expertise with users. For customers who want to contact Microsoft for support, different formats for submitting questions are available including online submission forms and text chat. We will continue to invest in online opportunities for customers and partners to find the support they need online.
In addition, the team that drives the strategy for our online support infrastructure has made some incredible progress in personalization for our managed customers through the premier.microsoft.com Web site for Microsoft Premier Customers and has partnered with the Windows Vista, Search and Microsoft Research teams to put in place important foundations for improved diagnostics, search and machine translation. We have the unique opportunity to expand the number of articles available in local languages through machine translation, which has already helped us to provide over 1.6 million Microsoft Knowledge Base articles available online via support.microsoft.com.
PressPass: How are you ensuring that customers around the world have access to engineers who are experts in Microsoft technology to solve their support needs?
Hogan: CSS is an organization that is all about people. We cannot help our customers and partners without having the most talented and dedicated support personnel in the world. Our goal is to maintain and grow an organization that is deep with technical expertise; passionate about customers, partners and technology; and recognized as a source of strategic advantage for Microsoft.
Truly leveraging our global organizational capabilities means we can provide expert support engineering resources to solve the customer’s problem any time, any place and in the quickest way possible. We have terrific engineering talent, and we want to do an even better job of optimizing it for our customers and partners. In preparing for Windows Vista alone, thousands of support engineers participated in training sessions ranging anywhere from a week to up to a month, and advanced training will start after release to further integrate our engineers’ product and customer knowledge. What’s unique about the CSS training programs is how engaged our engineers are in creating the training based on their customer experience and implementation scenarios. The voice of the customer influences everything we do at Microsoft.
As we continue to evolve our offerings and target them so that people can select the right one, we also want to be routing our customers to the engineer best suited to answer their question. If a customer who needs support for Microsoft SQL Server is in Australia, there may be limited SQL support engineers located in the region that are available. However, by expanding the global reach and segmenting according to customer need, we can make it possible for the customer in Australia to tap into not only those SQL engineers in Australia but the hundreds of SQL engineers around the world, one of whom is the right expert in the nature of that customer’s particular issue.
PressPass: What are the goals for Microsoft’s Customer Service and Support over the next several years?
Hogan: Our focus is to provide world-class customer support and to be number one in customer satisfaction. We want to continue to deliver great service to our customers, whether they get that service online, on the phone, in person or through a community of experts.
Through the availability of Windows Vista, Exchange Server 2007 and 2007 Microsoft Office system, Microsoft’s ‘Launch of the Decade,’ we have an opportunity to really deliver the voice of the customer to the product groups and assist in the evolution of our products and technologies as a result. More than ever, technology is crossing over between the business and home, and scenarios are becoming more complex based on all of the options available today. Our goal is to continue to evolve our delivery model, programs, policies and offerings in line with market needs. Ultimately we want strive to hear feedback from our customers and our partners that Customer Service and Support made a real difference in how they are maximizing the use of their technology investments.