A Half-Cocked Rant About Microsoft Customer Service

I don’t talk about my job all that often here on the site, but a big part of what I do on an everyday basis is customer service. It’s hearing from customers who have problems. Some of these problems we’ve never experienced before and we are trying to make intelligent decisions on how to best help them while being realistic about what’s possible. This isn’t always easy as people often want a lot, but through the powers of common sense, we’ve managed to balance the needs of the customer and the realities of our company. How do we do this? Simple: we empower the people who interact with our customers to make intelligent decisions. It’s risky and sometimes someone (including myself) gives too much or offers too little. But overall, common sense and care has prevailed over excessive process and standards (although having just enough of both of those is essential as well).

So what does this have to do with Microsoft? Well, my wife is a teacher. For the sake of consistency and to make constant file sharing quick and easy, she decided to go against her Apple geek of a husband’s wishes and purchase Microsoft Word. Now, it’s commonly known that you can’t just buy Microft Word. You’re required to buy the entire office suite. I think we can all agree that an additional $127.49 (the current price of the Office suite) isn’t ideal. Especially when you consider just how into our own pocket she will need to go to properly equip her classroom this year. But my wife wanted to make things easy for herself beacuse she has enough to worry about on a daily basis. So we accepted this fate and off she went to purchase the application.

Just before she hit the buy button, it occurred to her that Microsoft must offer an educator discount. They did and off she went to talk to with one of Microsoft’s super-friendly live chat representatives. And was met with… well, I’ll just let you read the exchange…

Microsoft Educator Discount.pdf (1 page)

So, with a Schools.nyc.gov email account and a .org email account on the same domain as her school’s website (which she clearly must have created on her own to get a more affordable copy of Word), the customer service rep was required to assume that she could not possibly be a real teacher… Well, that’s not fair. I’m sure the rep was smart enough to determine that my wife actually was a teacher, she just wasn’t empowered to do anything about it.

So, where am I going with this? A few places. First, if you supervise a customer service department, make sure you allow your representatives to use both their brain and their heart when helping your customers. If you’re not sure they know how to do this, work with them or hire better people. You’ll lose a few dollars, but you’ll gain more customers than any ad campaign you can conjure. There is no better marketing than care and service. And if your products are capable of helping teachers, especially those in NYC where budgets are painfully thin and salaries comically low, make it easy to help them.

If I’m being honest, I’m just pissed and needed to share this somewhere. Coincidentally, my web-friend, Thanh Pham, happened to mention the 25 books that the “Most Successful Microsoft Leaders Read and Do”. I think the exchange sums things up quite nicely:

Twitter / Infopreneurkid: @MSchechter haha so it happens ...

And just in case you were curious (and since I’m a fanboy and all…), Apple has never made it anything less than painless for my wife to get a better price on items for her classroom, regardless of her email address.

  • http://twitter.com/GregGehr Greg Gehr

    academicsuperstore.com – you can fax in your ID to get authorized, if you even need to. Same academic price.

  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    That is as backward as backward getting gets. :)

    While I understand the .edu comment (in the UK, you’d need an ac.uk address), educational systems don’t all follow that route. MS needs to get up-to-date, otherwise they’ll be losing a major chunk of business.

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      It really is. I get the .edu thing as a baseline, but for the love of all things holy a .GOV email and an email with the same domain as a school website should have engaged common sense.

      • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

        PS – Break up your paragraphs, man! :)

        • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

          I know… I suck at adding headers… I’d make a terrible blogger.

  • http://spinsucks.com Gini Dietrich

    Taking the emotion out of this, have you really read the exchange? That’s not a person on the other end. Who says you’re welcome in response to “that’s too bad”?

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      I’m trying, it’s hard. I know how much we spend already each year to support her classroom. But yes, the responses at the end said it all. I’ve had to say no to customers before, but never like that.

      • http://spinsucks.com Gini Dietrich

        I don’t think there is a person behind this. Is it possible to create “chats” via algorithms and keywords? “Do you have anymore (sp) questions for me?” This isn’t a human being…or it’s not someone whose first language is English. It’s not very hard to see. schools.nyc.gov and figure it’s an educator. And, if it’s still questionable, there is this thing called Google where she can quickly look. Or maybe Microsoft hasn’t heard of Google.

    • tomandyourmom

      I think the “You’re welcome” was in reply to the “Thanks anyway”, no?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Vera-Comment/100002347335999 Vera Comment

      a call center monkey overseas who can do nothing but follow a script and whose primary language isn’t English.

      I’ve had similar conversations while SPEAKING. not chat. “Steve”- with the thickest Indian accent I’ve ever heard, and I work with a ton of Indians.

      • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

        I’ve had plenty of amazing CS experiences with overseas representatives. I think this way more to do with how the reps are empowered than where or who they are.

  • Paul

    You’re being hyperbolic over this.

    She should try asking the tech department at work. Every school I’ve taught at has had a supplier for academic purchasers. I bought a full-featured copy of Mac Office last month for $10. Last year, I bought a Windows 7 upgrade for $15. It’s there. Ask around instead of lashing out.

    • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

      Or MS could just recognize times change and not all institutions use the .edu domain.

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      I won’t argue the hyperbole, but I also still think this is a crappy, unempowered CS department. My wife has enough on her mind trying to get her classroom ready. You’re right that there are better ways that we could have gone about this. I still don’t think this is how it should have been handled.

      • Paul

        Call up the IT department. They’re definitely around 12 months out of the year. Ask if the school has a discount for teachers. They’ll probably tell you about a specific supplier.

        The .edu thing is a red herring. .edu accounts are colleges and universities only, so Microsoft has chosen to limit the discount to them.

        • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

          There’s just one guy, who also has other responsibilities (we’re talking an NYC city public school here) but I will ask her to do that. I believe she did, which is why she was on her own here. As for the .edu thing, can we at least agree that, if you’re correct, it is messed up that Microsoft wouldn’t offer public city school teachers the same courtesy?

    • http://amyvernon.net/ AmyVernon

      You’re missing the forest for the trees. Customer service should still be empowered to recognize when someone is legit and help them. Or at least give them to someone who can.

  • http://twitter.com/Infopreneurkid Thanh Pham

    I’m studying different parts of MS and they are genius…except in the customer service department. Kind of reminds of another company, Google.

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      There’s no doubt, hell I own stock in the company, but it’s little things like this and some of the bigger things that Patrick Rhone has spoken about that stops them from being what they once were.

  • Dennis Chretien

    A few years ago, I was working with a number of school districts in RI, I had one private school that had to renew their MS license (for everything: Windows, Office, and so on), and the renewal came back at several times the price they’d been paying. When they asked about it, they were told that they weren’t a large district (no, they were a single, private school), so they could no longer obtain the greater discount.

    They contacted people at other private schools in the area, and found that Microsoft had done the same thing to all of them. So, as a group, they approached MS and asked if they could obtain better pricing by licensing as a group (this was now 5-10 schools). MS responded with a better pricing scheme (much closer to what they’d been paying), and then added a note that this pricing was valid for new customers, only. Any school that had previously held a license for MS products was not eligible for this pricing. They would have to pay the price that they’d been quoted previously, or cease using all Microsoft software.

  • Alex

    Hmm my Apple experience is very different. I just bought a rMBP with education discount by walking into a store and saying I am a student. Didn’t ask for ID or anything, just asked which school. I named a school in town. Done.

  • ashegroup

    Should just go with OpenOffice from Apache. It’s free.

  • http://profiles.google.com/erjablow Eric Jablow

    So, don’t use Microsoft Word. I recommend the TeX family of software. TeX, LaTeX, Metafont, and almost all the packages for them are completely free. There are packages for quizzes and exams, and for scientific work, it’s the only game in town. No equation editors, ever!

  • Sharl

    I gave up trying to figure out MS’s website, and bought it from the apple uk edu store, at a discount.