Anyone but you again


In this new age of corporate transparency and customer connection at Microsoft there is a thought that crosses the minds of everyone at least once or twice a year. If it doesn’t cross your mind at all over the course of a year then I’d probably tell you that you aren’t talking to enough customers and putting yourself out there enough.


This is the thought that you have when you see a customer complain to a VP publicly on their blog that we don’t do enough for our current customers because (rough translation of a common theme) “one bit of feedback about a small feature I have questions about hasn’t seen a reply… it’s been almost 4 hours! Tell your people they need to care about me”.


It’s the same thought that crosses your mind when a customer includes you on a complaint to another team’s manager to tattle on an employee for not replying within 24 hours to the latest of what has been 20 rants in the last month that had been directed at a particular employee.


Yes, you can be a squeaky wheel and get greased by Microsoft. The VP will dutifully forward your complaint on to the right team, invoke his power, and see that you get a reply. The beaten employee will probably take a deep breath and craft you another reply to your 21st rant.


Yes, we probably deserve some of this overreaction as retribution for years of our “rest and vest” forefathers at Microsoft ignoring you and your concerns, complaints, comments, and questions. Sort of like saying your kids will enjoy the extra layers of sun-block 2000 because polluting was convenient for our generation. It’s a good thing the kids are passionate about being in the sun or they wouldn’t put up with some of it.


The thought is… yes, customers should have some responsibilities. Seth Godin captured the sentiment perfectly with his “bad passenger” scenario yesterday. I’m in a position (since I push people towards customer connection) that I’m forwarded some egregious examples of “bad passengers”. 99.9% of customers are great, but there is that .1% that make you feel like the answer, to that .1%, should be… “you know what… linux sounds like the perfect choice for you.. in fact, I heard that the Linux, Java, and Apache communities seem to be missing their idiot”.


I can’t ask the .1% to stop, but I can ask the 99.9% of you to make sure newly minted customer focused individuals at Microsoft continue to get the positive re-enforcement. Meanwhile we’ll continue to try and by as open, transparent, and respectful as possible to those of you paying our bills. And maybe the encouragement will get a few more engineers out of the closet and the positive cycle will continue. A quick thank you, a link to their first blog post, constructive feedback, etc. Any of that would do.

Comments (19)

  1. JohnGalt says:

    You act as if something has changed @ MS with regards to repsonding to customers… it hasn’t. You push stuff out now, but you’re still not listening. (And your support has gotten way worse since you outsourced it to India, so I would say that the situation has gotten worse, not better!)

    1. Windows Installer is completely busted, and I’ve complained to everyone in the windows installer team about the real problems, and they’re more concerned with adding new features, than fixing what’s broken. The fact is that the stuff that’s broken has no viable work around. The stuff that they’re adding while nice, can be done now yourself. Hence fix the busted stuff that is affecting (and hurting) everyone, including people inside MS.

    2. Vs.net 2005 was released after customers told them not to, and it is so buggy as to be almost unusable on any complex projects. (Again I’ve reported all of these and others are complaining that all of the significant things just get closed on the feedback page instead of being dealt with).

    3. SQL Server 2005 is a pain in the ass to install in SQL Express mode with an application (See #1) and you’re OK with it.

    4. Vista is a dog with a horrible interface that is a contradition at every turn, the Windows Explorer looks and works like someone couldn’t decide to be a mac or actually make a good file explorer and the end result is even worse than Mac, which is saying something, because finder is horrible to use. And the Windows team is apparently OK with that.

    5. You keep releasing betas, and then make it almost impossible for anyone but your inner circle of Beowings and others that pay you millions to get you to listen to be able to respond (i.e. no way of reporting erros online for Vista or Office 2007 unless you’re really forking over the dough to MS with MSDN subscriptions etc. etc. etc. that gets you to anyone unless 50 million people bitch.

    MS needs to stop talking, and start listening. And more, it needs to start getting people in your dev teams that’s sole job is to listen to customers, and learn their businesses and why they’re asking for what they’re asking, and then drive development from that incredible knowledge. Unless you have developers that really understand why they’re writting what they are, you’re going to be in the same mess.

  2. Random Reader says:

    Curious how the title of this post fits perfectly with the first comment to it.

    JohnGalt, no one is going to listen to you if you don’t even bother to listen to them.  Rereading this blog post would be a good start for you.  Learning how to determine where specific complaints belong would be a great next step.  However, the single most effective thing you could do is stop trolling with blatantly false generalizations, assumptions about the personal characters of people you don’t even know, and negative statements empty of actual content.

    In the meantime, Josh, this is a thoughtful post, and I hope certain people take it to heart.

  3. Norman Diamond says:

    > it’s been almost 4 hours!

    Or 4 years, or longer.  And it’s not for a feature, it’s for a bugfix.

    > The beaten employee will probably take a deep breath

    > and craft you another reply to your 21st rant.

    Or craft a 21st copy of a form-letter reply which either ignores the problem, tells lies about what to do, or both.

    > the answer, to that .1%, should be… “you know what…

    > linux sounds like the perfect choice for you..

    If Microsoft would provide refunds to those .1% then the number of complaints from those .1% should drop off enormously.  Yes let those .1% use Linux and get what they paid for.

    I’ve seen enough "won’t fix" replies for the next version of Visual Studio (let alone Visual Studio 2005), I do thank Microsoft for becoming more upfront about it but I’d like a refund for this too.

    However, I don’t think Microsoft’s support has gone downhill since being outsourced to India.  Useful replies are still a minority but they’re more frequent than they used to be.

  4. Another Random Reader says:

    Thanks for the post Josh! I think your estimate of .1% may be low.

    Often the technical people at technology companies are dragged into features and commitments driven by the marketing and sales staff. What marketing publicly states about a product in development and what can actually be delivered within the schedule can be quite different.

    > Windows Installer is completely busted

    and

    > Vs.net 2005 … is so buggy as to be almost unusable on any complex projects.

    and

    > SQL Server 2005 is a pain in the ass to install in SQL Express mode with an application

    It is the responsibility of every customer to objectively view what they are buying or using. If there are bugs in the software or the software doesn’t work as advertised, go somewhere else. Talk with your dollar, not your rants.

    Josh, thanks again for your frankness. It’s promising to optimists and a lightning rod for pessimists.

  5. MSDNArchive says:

    I’m fine with rants as long as they are constructive. I want people to provide a ton of usefull feedback on the feedback center about when and where our products are borken and what specifically needs to be fixed.

  6. ndiamond says:

    When Microsoft customers develop the feeling "Anyone but you again", the reason isn’t Microsoft customers, the reason is Microsoft.  The latest two examples were received today.  As known to users of the English language version of the MSDN Library hosted on the web site of Microsoft US, the online version of the MSDN Library is usually broken in various ways.  Sometimes I have been stupid enough to waste time clicking on the "Contact Us" link at the bottom instead of just posting publicly in newsgroups.

    In today’s examples, Microsoft says that since Microsoft US’s web site hosting the English language version of the MSDN Library was purchased by me outside of North America, I have to pay a support fee to Microsoft Japan in order to ask Microsoft Japan to fix Microsoft US’s breakage.  Twice.  This is almost the same kind of garbage that Microsoft has given in the past for English language Visual Studio and other products contained in MSDN CD/DVD subscriptions, except that today the hosting isn’t even a CD/DVD physically located in Japan.

    I retract my previous statement that useful replies are more frequent than they used to be.  Microsoft is still Microsoft.

    Unfortunately Microsoft isn’t a company where we can really do "Anyone but you again", we can only wish.  I also wish I hadn’t been stupid enough to renew my latest MSDN subscription.

    === Example 1 ===

    From: Microsoft Contact US

    To: Norman Diamond

    Sent: Wednesday, July 05, 2006 6:41 AM

    Subject: RE:’RTCProd=012-438-074′

    Hello,

    Thank you for contacting Microsoft Online Customer Service.

    I apologize for the delay in our response to your issue. Due to an unexpected increase in e-mail requests, our response has been delayed. We appreciate your patience.

    If you are seeking assistance with a Microsoft product that was purchased outside of North America, you may wish to contact your local subsidiary directly for assistance.

    Please note, our Support Professionals are only trained to troubleshoot issues with North American versions of our products whereas the Support Professionals at the local Microsoft subsidiaries are trained to troubleshoot issues with localized versions of our software and can assist you in your own language.

    You can find a directory of Microsoft subsidiaries worldwide at the following Web site:

    http://www.microsoft.com/worldwide

    I hope the above information is helpful.

    Thank you for using Microsoft products and services.

    [censored]

    Microsoft Online Customer Service Representative

    If you have any feedback about your Online Customer Service experience, please e-mail my manager, Biji Balan, at managers@microsoft.com

     

    —–Original Message—–

    From:   Norman Diamond ([censored]@yahoo.co.jp)

    Date:   Sunday, July 02, 2006  10:42 PM

    To:   CS (msconus@microsoft.com)

    Subject:  Can’t see sample code



    顧客提供のシステム プロパティ

    国/地域 Japan



    システム プロパティ

    参照 URL: http://support.microsoft.com/gp/contactusMSDN?sd=msdn

    O/S:  windows nt 5.1

    O/S の言語: ja

    Br:  msie 6.0

    Br 言語: ja,en-us;q=0.5



    ご質問・ご意見

    問題の領域: msdnw

    メッセージ: http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.web.ui.mobilecontrols.phonecall.aspx

    Near top of page:

    > [-] Collapse All   [v] Language Filter : All

    so I think that if there were sample code then it would be shown.

    Near middle of page:

    > [-] Example

    > The following code example demonstrates

    […]

    > Note

    > The following code sample uses

    […]

    I don’t see any code example or code sample though.

    === End of example 1 ===

    === Example 2 ===

    From: Microsoft Contact US

    To: Norman Diamond

    Sent: Wednesday, July 05, 2006 7:57 AM

    Subject: RE:’RTCProd=012-439-617′

    Hello Norman,

    Thank you for contacting Microsoft Online Customer Service.

    I apologize for any delay in our response to your issue. Due to an unexpected increase in requests, our response times may be longer than usual. We appreciate your patience.

    At this time, we are only able to respond using the English language. If you are seeking assistance with a Microsoft product that was purchased outside of North America, you may wish to contact your local subsidiary directly for assistance.

    Please note, our Support Professionals are only trained to troubleshoot issues with North American versions of our products whereas the Support Professionals at the local Microsoft subsidiaries are trained to troubleshoot issues with localized versions of our software and can assist you in your own language.

    You will be best assisted by the subsidiary that specializes in the version. You may contact the Japan subsidiary at  81-3-4332-5300 or visit the following website:

    http://www.microsoft.com/worldwide/phone/contact.aspx?country=Japan

    Norman, I hope the above information is helpful.

    Thank you for using Microsoft products and services.

    [censored]

    Microsoft Online Customer Service Representative

    If you have any feedback about your Online Customer Service experience, please send an e-mail to my manager, Naveen Kolli, at: managers@microsoft.com

    —–Original Message—–

    From:   Norman Diamond ([censored]@yahoo.co.jp)

    Date:   Monday, July 03, 2006  01:10 AM

    To:   CS (msconus@microsoft.com)

    Subject:  MSDN table of contents, again again again



    顧客提供のシステム プロパティ

    国/地域 Japan



    システム プロパティ

    参照 URL: http://support.microsoft.com/gp/contactusMSDN?sd=msdn

    O/S:  windows nt 5.1

    O/S の言語: ja

    Br:  msie 6.0

    Br 言語: ja,en-us;q=0.5



    ご質問・ご意見

    問題の領域: msdnw

    メッセージ: http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/perfmon/base/about_resource_enumeration.asp?frame=true

    "sync toc" highlights table of contents entry "Performance Monitoring" but doesn’t find a section on Resource Enumeration.

    === End of example 2 ===

  7. MSDNArchive says:

    I don’t see anywhere that says you would pay if you called.

  8. Norman Diamond says:

    > I don’t see anywhere that says you would pay if you

    > called.

    Microsoft US’s support pages and Microsoft Japan’s support pages say what the fee is to call.  In Japan it’s 4,200 yen.  A few years ago when I looked at the US page it was US$35.

    A few years ago a Microsoft US employee advised me to phone Microsoft Japan’s support phone number to ask for certain known hotfixes.  I made a list of my product IDs and the Knowledge Base article numbers which I intended to ask for.  Microsoft wouldn’t even let me state the KB article numbers on the phone unless I first opened a paid support incident.

    A few weeks ago when MSDN downloads of some Vista beta stuff were working and MSDN downloads of some Office beta stuff were failing.  The MSDN concierge couldn’t reproduce the problem even after we exchanged screenshots.  The concierge advised me to contact the MSDN Japan office.  The MSDN Japan office couldn’t reproduce the problem and told me if I couldn’t solve it then I should contact Microsoft Japan support (i.e. a paid incident).  Finally I figured out the problem:  BITS (Microsoft Background Intelligent Transfer Service or something like that) could download Vista beta stuff to any hard disk directory, but it could only download Office to an MS-DOS compatible 8.3 directory name on the customer’s hard disk.  I wrote back to the MSDN Japan office, gave details, and explained why I refuse to pay a support fee to report this bug.  The MSDN Japan office thanked me and said they would report the bug internally.  Not once was there any suggestion that I could get out of paying a fee if I had reported the bug properly.

    Some English-language Knowledge Base articles say that support fees can be refunded if a Microsoft engineer determines that a specified hotfix will solve all of the customer’s problems.  So even when the possibility of a refund is stated, the conditions are pretty much impossible.  You know that a ton of other bugs remain unsolved even after a hotfix fixes a few.  I’ve just given you a pretty trivial example of a problem which wasn’t diagnosed by Microsoft’s engineers.  And in Japanese versions of Knowledge Base articles, I haven’t even seen a hint of a possibility that support fees can be refunded when the bugs are Microsoft’s.

  9. MSDNArchive says:

    Norman: As I’ve pointed out numerous times you are NOT charged for reporting a bug against MSFT products. You can ALSO report bugs for free online via the feedback centers.

    If you where or are charged for reporting a bug please let me know the case ID and support engineer you were working with.

  10. Norman Diamond says:

    Thursday, July 06, 2006 4:03 PM by jledgard

    > As I’ve pointed out numerous times you are NOT charged

    > for reporting a bug against MSFT products.

    Yes I’ve seen that pointed out before, by you and others, but when I point out the fine print in MS’s English language KB articles and the entire absence of such assertions in MS’s Japanese pages there has been no followup.

    Plus I don’t think you phoned Microsoft Japan’s support office to try to list KB articles for which you wanted hotfixes.  I did make that phone call when one of your colleagues persuaded me.  Your Japanese colleague doesn’t agree with you a bit.

    > You can ALSO report bugs for free online via the

    > feedback centers.

    Yup, that experiment was worth trying, allowing bug reports on a few products to be submitted for free.   I submitted a few on the old feedback site for Visual Studio.  Your colleagues actually accepted a few of them, and one even sent personal e-mail to inform me that one would change from "resolved – won’t fix" to being reopened.  The quantity of "won’t fix" items is still pretty discouraging though.

    I’ll honour the amount of effort you made in this thread.  For the Visual Studio bug that I found today, I will try to navigate the cumbersome Connect interface to submit a report, and will try to overlook the number of "won’t fix" resolutions that already occured.

    It still doesn’t make up for the garbage response to the MSDN bugs that I reported using "Contact Us" links.  Temporarily Microsoft had improved its quality of responses to those kinds of reports, but it didn’t last.  The two that I quoted from this week show a return to the same old standard that helped provoke so much cynicism.

  11. MSDNArchive says:

    Do you have a case ID you can give me?

    Online feedback: We fixed 80% of the fixable bugs in Whidbey and plan to fix 90% moving forward.  What % would you like us to hit? What specific issues are you frustrated didn’t get fix.  I need hard data and constructive feedback to continue this conversation.  

  12. Norman Diamond says:

    > Do you have a case ID you can give me?

    No, because I refused to open a paid support incident.  Theoretically there is a way to overcome this but I don’t think you’ll like it.

    Warning:  This paragraph is a combination of history and theory, I think you will find it offensive, but I post it because it addresses your request for a case ID.  In a few situations in the past, unrelated to Microsoft, people asserted that amounts of money were small and mistakes didn’t need to be corrected etc., I offered to let them prove how small the amounts were and how unnecessary corrections were by letting them personally repay me, and they were invariably offended by the suggestion.  If you wish to provide a surprising and refreshing exception, we can arrange for a paid support incident to be opened in my name.

    > We fixed 80% of the fixable bugs in Whidbey and plan to

    > fix 90% moving forward.

    Hmm.  I never thought of searching the old feedback site for a category of bug resolved as unfixable, and never saw such a report.  I wonder how big a difference there is between the % of fixable bugs and the % of reported bugs.  Theoretically I also wonder if I would agree with your team’s judgement of what is unfixable, but my current employment status surely doesn’t permit finding the answer.

    Several times your colleagues told me their reason for "won’t fix" was "not compelling" not "not fixable".

    Fortunately there is one big exception.  On about the third go-round for this one, one of your colleagues personally sent e-mail to inform me that this was being revised from "won’t fix" to an effort to fix, regarding the issue which currently requires hand-editing of every .rc file:

    https://connect.microsoft.com/VisualStudio/feedback/ViewFeedback.aspx?FeedbackID=98817

    After a few "won’t fix" resolutions and before the above one was reopened, this one was the end of the line for me with the "won’t fix" resolutions:

    https://connect.microsoft.com/VisualStudio/feedback/ViewFeedback.aspx?FeedbackID=98818

    Subsequently I’ve discovered that Visual Studio doesn’t uniformly break DllMain, so some of my DLLs now get to look like this:

    BOOL APIENTRY DllMain(

    #ifdef UNDER_CE

      HANDLE hModule,

    #else  // WIN32

      HMODULE hModule,

    #endif // CE vs. WIN32

      DWORD  ul_reason_for_call,

      LPVOID lpReserved)

    {

      [….]

    Just for your possible interest, here’s the one that I opened after seeing the effort that you have shown in this discussion:

    https://connect.microsoft.com/VisualStudio/feedback/ViewFeedback.aspx?FeedbackID=158309

  13. MSDNArchive says:

    Thank you for admitting that you are more theory than fact here.  🙂  The FACT is that you would not be charged for "opening" an incident it the cuase turns out to be a bug in the product. If you ever are… feel free to let me know and I’d love to know the details.

    The %s you are looking for wrt the bugs of "fixable" VS reported.  They are pretty close.  Most of the ones that are "reported" but not "fixable" are because they were duplicate entries… ideally the report back from MS would say as such.  Other cases would include something that would induce a breaking change in a platform that would cause pain to customers leveraging the "broken" behavior.  

  14. Norman Diamond says:

    > Thank you for admitting that you are more theory than

    > fact here.  🙂

    Your colleague’s refusal to let me even state the KB numbers of hotfixes until after I would open a paid support incident is still 100% fact.  Your colleague repeated that rule at least twice during that phone call.

    Now maybe your employer would allow a paid support incident to be opened before actually charging.  Sorry to repeat a point which has been invariably offensive in the past, but still:  Will you put up the money for this experiment?

    > Most of the ones that are "reported" but not "fixable"

    > are because they were duplicate entries

    In the old "lab" site I think I saw some entries marked as duplicates rather than being marked as "won’t fix".  When your colleagues told me they decided not to fix bugs, they really told me that they decided not fix them.

  15. ndiamond says:

    Your company’s policy for Vista beta 2 is different in some details but nearly identical in effect.

    I reported several bugs in Vista beta 2 x64 (AMD64) Japanese build 5384.  Some of them were marked by your colleagues as being not reproducible, whose accuracy I really truly doubt very much.  Some of them were responded to by your colleagues with requests for me to try build 5472, but your colleagues didn’t give a URL from which to download build 5472.  MSDN has the July 2006 CTP downloadable in English and one other language but not in Japanese.

    Next come two of the kickers.

    In response to some of my bug reports, e-mail messages say that your colleagues asked for more information.  Which bugs are they asking for information about, and how can I see the contents of their requests, well there is no way.  The messages contained URLs of pages on the Connect site.  The Connect site says that I am not privileged to read my own bug reports, let alone read your colleagues’ requests for additional information.  I asked for help.  Then came the answer.  Last night your company sent three e-mail messages saying that the policy is intentional.  Victims who were silly enough to pay for MSDN subscriptions in order to work free for your company on weekends in order to report bugs to your company, well, these are called public betas.  Your company does not want to fix bugs that we find.  Your company does not even want to let us see your colleagues’ requests for additional information, and this policy is intentional.

    Earlier betas of Vista had an icon on the desktop to download the bug reporting tool.  Page

    http://www.microsoft.com/technet/windowsvista/evaluate/tenthings.mspx

    still says that betas have that icon on the desktop, though of course it’s no longer true.  In page

    http://forums.microsoft.com/TechNet/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=467250&SiteID=17

    one of your colleagues told us how to download the bug reporting tool.  That is what I used in order to submit the bugs mentioned above.  In one bug report I mentioned the absence of the icon.  One of your colleagues marked that as "not reproduceable".  I must admit, some of your company’s lies are still pretty funny.

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