Friday, July 04, 2008

Microsoft's Emergency Room Reform Policy

(For links to the key Microsoft Support announcements, see the previous post.)

First, let me be very clear about one thing: Microsoft does not owe anyone free technical support unless there's a problem with their code.

Having said that, Microsoft does owe its channel partners some explanation for a dramatic change in direction and the removal of a long-standing benefit.

It all started "back in the day" with the SBS Two Free Incidents program. If you bought SBS, you used to get two free support calls from Microsoft over the course of the lifetime of a box. While it was intended to be a support program, it became educational. It allowed people who got "stuck" to learn the SBS Way by calling the pro's and getting some guidance.

That was a great program because it educated I.T. consultants on running the wizards and doing things the SBS Way.

But the two free incidents program morphed into the Free Server Down policy. The Free Server Down policy allowed an unlimited number of calls to MS Support, as long as you could convince them that the problem was affecting the whole company. Exchange is down? Obviously, that's an emergency. Boss can't open Outlook? You need some fast talking to get that covered.

But consultants did talk fast, and got a whole lot of "free" support for issues that were not really mission critical.

Microsoft's Free Server Down policy became the emergency room on the Internet. And it was just as abused as the emergency room at a hospital. And it bled money like the emergency room at a hospital. Consultants with runny noses took pride in calling Microsoft and not being charged.

Microsoft had to do something.

But they also owe the community an explanation.

I've been poking around on the support sites and blogs for Microsoft. Waiting to hear back on the critical question: Is this the end of free Server Down support?

At first glance, it looks like it.

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At a minimum, shifting to a callback-only model will push a lot of people to other alternatives for technical support.

When the server is having problems -- even non-critical problems -- I want to spend my time working on the fix and not waiting for a callback.

It would also be nice to get some clarity on triage. If I have a low priority problem, and I'm in a queue with 2.7 Million other I.T. consultants, approximately what year will I get a callback? After all the Exchange crises. OK. After all the SQL crises? OK. After all the "EBS is so freakin' complicated" crises? OK.

Please, Microsoft, any fleshing-out of this policy would be greatly appreciated.

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The next question is price:

Is Microsoft's support worth the price?

$99 email support from someone whose native tongue is not my own. I'm thinking . . . no.

$259 phone support. Hmmmm . . . what else can I get for $259?

$515 after hours support. WTF? In a globally connected 24x7 world, when is after hours? 3PM Eastern Time is after hours? Business hours are 14:00 to 2:00 in GMT.

Why does this remind me of phone companies charging long distance when it's no longer relevant?

And who do we get for $259 or $515? Does this mean we'll get straight to the super heros in Dallas? No. You'll get a callback, eventually, from the least qualified technician on earth: Microsoft India. You'll still have to fend off their incompetence as you work your way up the food chain to someone who has actually seen SBS before you placed your call.

The basic plan works like this:

1) You call MS Support. Give them a credit card. Explain your problem.

2) Some kind of triage takes place.

3) SBS. Assigned to a technician we'll call Cousin Larry.

4) Cousin Larry loads a virtual machine with SBS. Now he can honestly say he's seen the product before he talks to you.

5) Cousin Larry is handed Eriq Neale's SBS2003 book to flip through.

6) Eventually, you get a call back. With luck, you're still in the I.T. industry.

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We haven't used Microsoft's tech support for SBS in more than a year. The support we got was horrible, and they have a blatant disregard for issues of privacy.

So we've been paying for tech support already. We're just not paying Microsoft.

Side Bar: Spectacular Indian Tech Support

Let me introduce Zenith Infotech.

How Do I Get the Most Out of Zenith Infotech

Zenith vs. Microsoft

Indian Tech Support Kicks Booty

Zenith charges $37.50 per server, per month. That covers all maintenance. "Maintenance" means whatever it takes to move from not working to working.

Oh, and they're competent!

For $259 I can get six months worth of support and have lunch money left over.

For $515 I can get more than a year of support for one server and have breakfast, lunch, and dinner money left over.

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Microsoft is intentionally making technical support more expensive.

There are alternatives. But most technicians are going to turn to the manufacturer (MS) for support.

Microsoft does not owe its channel partners free technical support. But when they make major changes in their support system, they should be aware of the effect this will have on their partners. More information would be nice.

1 comment:

  1. I think you've hit the nail ded on when you describe the fiasco of going through support and the quality.

    I also think that it was accurate in describing the IT industry as an abusive group of runny nosed individuals that abused the system.

    I've had to Call Microsoft less than 4 times in 10 years for a critical down scenario, each time it was worth the call for them and us. Of those I've been fortunate enough to just use my incident pack as a Microsoft Partner, but I have always also sold my customers on the level of commitment Microsoft had behind us partners with the critical down support.

    I'm sad to think that I will start to exclude this in my marketing to clients as a reason to pick both a) the partner over a non partner and b) Microsoft over the Red Hat Linux because of the commitment to support their product working all the time no matter what at no additional cost.

    Keith Benedict
    Working World - Worry Free IT
    Brantford, Ontario, Canada


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