Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Microsoft Sticks to Call-Back Only, Continues Free Server Down


Brevity is the soul of wit, and all that.

But there's a difference between being brief and being terse.

Microsoft stopped taking comments on the SBS blog due to the number of comments giving "feedback" on the new policy of callback-only support.

Then, yesterday afternoon, they posted a very short response.

Microsoft allowed seven comments. The next day, they responded to two comments with two sentences:

    This business change includes Business Critical Partner Support yet does not change any of the benefits of that program. Business Critical cases continue to be offered at no charge to our partners, the only change is that we will call you back once you call into 1-800-936-4900 to create the incident.

(see the original post.

And they responded to one other comment:

    "Callback really sucks in a lot of situations. The problem Michael touches on, plus if I am calling then I want to work on the problem now and not when it is convenient for some tech to call me back. If someone calls with a CritSit will they be given a live transfer?"

    with this response:

    A Critical Situation (CritSit) is a Premier offering ( and not a Professional support level offering. This business change is only for Professional SBS level customers, all Professional level SBS incidents will be handled on a call-back basis.



Shut up.

Be happy.

Wait for your callback.

The Good News, as Susan puts it, is that free support has not been eliminated.

So, you know that post about Microsoft's free server down support is like the emergency room on the Internet? Yeah. Forget that. Microsoft will continue to bleed unmeasurable amounts of money.

That's good for you.

But callback still sucks.

- - - - -

First, let's look at the original announcement. Why are we doing this?

  1. To eliminate your hold time on the telephone

  2. To collect the problem description and route the incident to the correct engineer

  3. To prepare you for online incident submission @

The future is one in which you will not talk to a human being until you receive a callback regarding your incident.


Second, what does your average call to Microsoft Support look like? Pick one:

1) Very relaxed and casual. Nothing urgent here. Just wanted to chat about a couple of things.

2) Generally relaxed. I have a problem, but it can wait.

3) Gnawing, annoying, issue. It's been going on for months. Would be nice if you could look at it.

4) I have a problem. It only affects a few people. But it needs some attention.

5) I have a serious problem. The company is losing money and they're all looking at me to fix it.

6) I have a serious problem. OMG. Everything's down. I need help NOW.

7) This is an absolute emergency. Everything's down. Absolutely no one can get anything done until this problem is solved.

Microsoft gets all these calls. But not from the SMB community.

At the small end of the spectrum, SBSC's and others who support SBS Server only call Microsoft's Professional Support in examples 5, 6, and 7.

Picture the last few calls to MS. The client is paying you a goodly sum to sit there, with a phone against your ear, until the business is back in business.

You don't call when Gwen in Finance can't get the animated gif to make the bears dance in her Outlook background.

You don't call when one user can't log on.

You don't call when one person has a corrupted profile.

You call when the company is down because the Exchange store won't mount, or some error keeps the entire server from booting.

Small business consultants call Microsoft Support during critical emergencies.

You don't have an $8,000 contract that lets you skip past the incompetent first-tier technical support.

Your boss isn't paying you to flirt on the phone.

You call Microsoft Support when your client is paying you big bugs to stick your phone to your ear and talk to the "miracle workers" at Microsoft until the business is back in business.

Have you ever created a "server down" incident with Microsoft?

First, you must agree that you will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, non-stop.

Second, you agree that you will be at the computer. You won't leave a 5pm. You won't go home. You will be at that computer 24x7 until the problem is resolved. No potty breaks. No meals.

You will do absolutely nothing except sit by your phone and wait for the gods of Microsoft to contact you.

If you go to the bathroom, the deal's off.

So, how does the new policy work, exactly?

YOU have to sit by your phone completely attentive. You know not the day or the hour. But when The gods at Microsoft call, you will be chastened and ready.

I'm sorry. In the real world, when Microsoft calls back, you and your staff have moved on to something else. You are not sitting around on the clock doing absolutely nothing, waiting for Microsoft to call back.

Second, please do not forget that nothing else is changing.

--> The first-level of technical support will be completely incompetent. Yesterday they couldn't even spell SBS. Today they are Microsofts' first-tier support.

--> So, some completely incompetent tech, who has only one tool in his box, will call you back.

--> You will waste an hour of your life running the Internet Connection Wizard. An hour you will never get back.

--> And, if you live long enough, you will get escalated to Dallas.

--> Which is good

--> Because they're freakin' awesome

--> and the good folks in Dallas will call you back sometime now and 2099.

- - - - -

In the meantime, back in the real world, what are you doing?

Your client is down. You're onsite. Are you casually walking through the office chatting with people? "Hey, I've got some time on my hands. Waiting for Microsoft." No. Not so much.

Are you off the clock?

No. You can't leave. You can't go somewhere else and make money. So, billable or non-billable, your time is allocated to this client.

Think about when you've been called back by MS. Is "the next day" good for you?

- - - - -

Some people think I'm off base here. What about you?

Does this sound like a move in the right direction? Is callback-only support good?

I welcome your comments.


  1. Karl,

    You are beating a dead horse with an empty bag of money.

    We've gone through this a billion times. Most SBS sales are not partner initiated, most support calls therefore don't come from the competent IT solution providers but from DIYers and hobbyists that clicked Next in the wrong direction few too many times.

    Want to be taken seriously with a serious problem - pay $8K for support. Want to be treated like everyone else, wait for them to call you.

    You talk about raising your prices for stuff ALL the time, well, they are taking your advice my man. Charge them more for the books next time or don't let them in on the secret :)

    P.S. If you want me to see if they need extra help in my new career let me know. I'm sure someone writes those scripts :)

  2. The horse is dead when I say it's dead!

    Raising the bar does not mean that everyone has to either be on the 10th floor or do something else for a living.

    I'm sorry to disagree, but not so sorry that I'll change my mind.

    There are competent technicians who are not willing to pay $8K to talk to competent support.

    You're not either a DIYer or a $million+ company. Most people are in the middle.

    I don't deny that our industry has more than its share of hobbyists, but the world isn't just black and white.

  3. Sorry Karl but you're tilting at windmills.

    You've known for a long, long time that PSS is woeful. So why would you even bother to persist dealing with them?

    What you're highlighting is that the SMB IT provider marketplace is as price sensitive as their clients. So go run Untangle, SME Server, Ubuntu LTS, CentOS, etc and take the money you're making and put it into the insurance budget for calling someone with a clue when it all turns to crap.

    If you're running an MS monoculture then you have to expect that it will occasionally spectacularly blow up. This is where you get to prove that you're employing the right techs or outsourcing to the right techs. This is where your insurance budget comes into play.

    PSS is only useful for getting hotfixes. That's it. That's as much as Microsoft is prepared to offer us all for the amount of money we pay for our license. If you don't like it stop purchasing the licenses.

    Really, the absolute crapness of PSS is why there's an SBS/SMB community and why people like Susan et al blog - to make up for the lack of support offered up by Microsoft.

    My final thought is that the yawning chasm between PSS and MS Premier is something the SBSC PALs should be focusing on. If it's as big a problem as you state.

  4. Chris, you're right. But . . . this incident doesn't exist in a vacuum.

    Microsoft wants us to be "trusted advisors" to our clients and "partners" to them.

    Working with Microsoft is never smooth. But to announce this kind of ridiculous change while all the attention is over at the Worldwide Partner Lovefest is just a bit much.

    We work with a lot of vendors, and we make changes slowly.

    But we do make changes . . .

  5. No, this incident exists because Microsoft is aware that there is a problem but they either don't know what the problem really is, or they know exactly what the problem is and are giving the appearance of doing something about it without really doing anything to address the root cause.

    They probably don't know how to come out to the SMB space and say "you're not paying enough, cough up for MS Premier".

    And we are "trusted advisors" to our clients, with Microsoft being one part of the solution stack. And being a Microsoft "partner" has always been on their terms and always will be.

  6. Karl,

    To some degree you are right.

    But, to some degree Vlad is right.

    In our 5+ years of being in business, we have had 3 business critical situations that we needed to call in on because there was absolutely nothing available to us anywhere on the problems we were facing.

    In all three cases we were very fortunate to have been dealing with people who knew exactly what they needed to bring things back.

    I do believe that having a more SMB/SBSC oriented contract at $4-5K a year would be reasonable for us. I would pay it to get access to Texas.

    This would also virtually eliminate the Next button clickers mentioned by Vlad.

    $8K is a little much for insurance at our level of operation which is a 1 man shop with a couple of part time contractors. And there are a lot of us out there.

    A company doing enough business to support a couple of full time techs should see the $8K as a reasonable insurance cost ... IMNSHO.

    Another aspect of this situation when it comes to paying for that support from Microsoft:
    Those of us who have structured our businesses around a managed services model, or a hybrid of it as we have, will be in a better position to pay that cost. Break/Fix I.T businesses will lose out here.

    I do believe that charging out the support from Microsoft is a sound business decision on their part.


  7. Anonymous8:41 AM

    Just called into MS Critical Down support and found out the bad news. This is our first call probably this year (Maybe two years now.)

    This is completely unacceptable in my eyes. First you have to be a partner to get access to this line. So right there, that SHOULD eliminate a good number of problem callers (Should. . .)

    The supervisor I spoke with said this is to allow the engineer time to research the problem and have a better understanding before he calls me back. So my one line, "Users can not login to the SBS server" gives him all the information he needs to research the problem and have a solution for me? Sure.

    I think ALMOST every time I've called critical support (Probably 5 times in as many years), I've had good success. Oh well. . . So much for my good partner relationship.


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