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Customer Service (or lack thereof) at Microsoft and beyond

We’re out at the USDA Small Business Innovation Research commercialization training workshop and one of the presenters said,

“You as a small business owner, have a great advantage over the larger companies. You think they have an advantage but you’re wrong. Customer service in this country is TERRIBLE. You only need to not suck to be better than the large companies.”

Thinking about an experience I had with Budget Rental Car lately, I found myself nodding in agreement. In short, I waited two hours in the parking lot despite having a pre-paid reservation. They had rented the same car to two people. Then, after I mentioned on twitter and my blog that I never wanted do business with them again, to make up, they sent me a $25 off coupon on my next visit. I’m going to give it to somebody I don’t like so they can have a terrible experience too.

This week was another experience, this time with Microsoft.

1.  Last night, I got on the Microsoft site and asked using the chat whether the upgrade from Windows 8.1 to 8.1 pro was a download with a DVD as a back-up. I was told, “Yes”, so I bought it.

2. I never got the download key, so I called the number for the Microsoft store tonight and was told that there was no download, you needed a DVD to install Windows 8.1 Pro. Since I am using a Mac with boot camp and it has no optical drive, I was very unhappy to hear that. I asked was there no way at all to install from an iso file. I was told, “No. It can only be done with a DVD”. Since we had installed it in the first place from an iso file, I asked “Are you sure?”  He transferred me to someone in technical support.

3. The nice man in technical support told me that it was possible to order a download but that would mean that I would need to go back to the Microsoft store, cancel my original order and pay $49 for a download. This was what I wanted to hear, but he said if the DVD that I had ordered based on incorrect information (see 1) had already shipped, I would need to pay the $49 then ship back the DVD to get my $99 back. I was very unhappy about this. It isn’t that I don’t have an extra $49 but it didn’t seem right that I should take MY time to fix their mistake. If you check our home page, you will see that it says “The Julia Group is a group of three companies” – you will notice that none of the three are ‘selling illegally acquired Microsoft upgrade licenses” but I guess they decided one can never be too sure.

4. Back to the Microsoft store where the next man tells me that the third man was incorrect, that yes, there is a way to upgrade via download but first you need find another computer – he actually said, “Go to the library or something” and burn the downloaded files to DVD and then make an iso file from that. That made no sense to me at all and I asked him several times, “Are you sure.” He said he was positive and there was no point in talking to anyone else because they would just tell me the same thing. By this point, I was highly skeptical of THAT. As Maria, who was now rolling on the next bed in the hotel room laughing commented, “Being this bad takes effort!”  [It would have been better if he admitted, ” I’m just fucking with you, I have no idea.” Apparently, at Microsoft, honesty is not the best policy.]

5. At my insistence, I was transferred to a supervisor who initially told me that there was no way to upgrade other than using a DVD, that the second person was correct. So, now, I have gotten the same story from two people, and three different stories from two other people, HOWEVER ….

6. Amazingly, story #5 and story #6 were from the same person who five minutes later, after I ran down stories #1 through #4 said, well, he had just said that spontaneously but on further reflection, the box that was coming in the mail did not have a DVD (despite the fact that my order says (DVD ENGLISH) and includes only an activation key. He says that I can do the following (UPDATE: THIS TURNED OUT TO BE INCORRECT).

A. Click on the windows screen in the bottom left corner

B. Hover over the bottom right corner. A menu will come up on the right side.

C. Select the icon for settings (it’s the bottom one)

D. Click change PC settings

E. In the menu that comes up on the right, select the last option PC info

That will allow you to enter an updated activation key and that will update my computer to Windows 8.1 Pro.

After all of this, Gentleman #5 and #6 asked me,

“Have I solved your problem?”

I told him “I don’t know!”  He sounded believable, but so did person #3, so I guess I will find out when I get home.

The upshot of all of this is that I am feeling very optimistic about 7 Generation Games, our newest start-up. There is no way our customer service can be worse than Microsoft, and they are making money by the boatload.


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  1. I can’t remember the last time I used a premade DVD to install Windows. Sometimes I’ve used the downloaded ISO file, sometimes I’ve burned the ISO to a DVD.

    Microsoft’s customer support is abysmal, and the online help is next to useless. It’s easier to Google a few keywords and find someone who has blogged about the same problem you’re having. Seriously, type the exact error message into the search box, and none of the top five or ten links go to Microsoft support.

    I run a very small software company. I do the programming, I do the accounting, I do the customer support, and I sweep the floors. When someone calls support, they get me. If I can’t help them on the spot, I ask them to email me a file, and I figure it out. Often I will develop a step-by-step protocol for them to customize my product’s output. I think most people who come to me for support are surprised that (a) I answered the phone myself, and (b) I actually was able to help.

    I have this strange idea that I want my users to be able to actually use my software, in fact, that they should like to use my software. The folks in Redmond have forgotten this attitude.

  2. Great post. I so much agree on the small company advantage.

    If you ever decide you need Office 365 with Excel 2013 with a working copy of Powerpivot (!) then be prepared for confusion which is at least an order of magnitude worse than your simple upgrade of Windows 8.1.

  3. Typical experience, Microsoft cs does suck. I had bought a family pack(3 license) Windows 7 upgrade, and had to go through cs every time I upgraded a computer because it always claimed the licenses were incorrect. The last computer I upgraded took about six hours over a three day span as I spoke with and explained the situation to customer service, tech support, random departments of unknown origin.. all of them told me that what I was trying to do was impossible. I explained each time I told it was impossible that this was a three pack of upgrade licenses and I knew it was not impossible since I had done it twice before.
    They all suggested doing what the box instructions said specifically Not to do. Eventually I stumbled across the one person that knew what to do and I was done within five minutes of getting him on the phone. I am thankful that batch of upgrades is done, but dread the next time when it will be a different problem.

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