Q&A: Guido Häring Offers a View Into Microsoft Customer Service and Support
One of the least well-known of Microsoft’s business units, Microsoft Customer Service and Support comprises an army of skilled support technicians capable of resolving the most challenging problems that Microsoft customers can come up with.
Düsseldorf, Germany, 25 July 2007 — One of the largest support networks in the industry, Microsoft Customer Service and Support (CSS) helps nearly 1 billion customers around the world each year. The organisation is responsible for providing the product groups with customer feedback, proactively improving customer’s IT infrastructure by carrying out regular risk assessment reviews and making sure customers are able to receive support in their local language wherever possible.
In Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), Microsoft responds to 600,000 unique requests for technical support, fields 21 million phone calls and provides approximately 130 million customers with online technical information and real-time support.
These are big numbers. And yet, for playing such a key role at Microsoft, the group is one of the least well known. The EMEA Press Centre spoke with Guido Häring, general manager of CSS for EMEA, to find out what this group is all about.
EMEA Press Centre: Let’s start with the basics. What does Customer Service and Support do?
EPC: How technically skilled is a support engineer expected to be, typically?
We need technically skilled staff with good listening skills to make that happen.
You just can’t provide good support without a huge investment in education. Our average investment in training is approximately 240 hours per year per employee, across the board, and a new employee may have up to 800 hours per year to receive the right level of certification to provide support. In preparing for Windows Vista alone, thousands of support engineers participated in training sessions ranging anywhere from a week to up to a month.
EPC: Language must be a major consideration in the EMEA region.
In November last year we added Polish, Czech, Hungarian and Slovakian languages for Xbox support, as demand in these markets was growing very fast. So far feedback from customers has been very positive.
Currently we are adding Macedonian and Ukrainian as native languages for Customer Service and Technical Support in Central and Eastern Europe. The next step is to add Hebrew to the native language support for small and medium-sized businesses.
Language is not the only thing, though. Cultural awareness — soft skills — are absolutely crucial to customer satisfaction.
For example, I recall one incident where a British customer didn’t get the resolution he wanted during the support call, and said ‘Thank you very much’. The support person, not understanding the caller’s sarcasm, took it as a compliment and did not escalate to the next level That’s the kind of thing I mean by cultural awareness, and this is a really important part of the training our support people receive to ensure that our customers receive the right local support.
EPC: What can a customer expect when they call Microsoft technical support?
From a consumer perspective, we actually re-launched our consumer support with Windows Vista and 2007 Office and now give unlimited free support in the first 90 days for retail products. Before, our customers received two free support incidents with their product. We undertook research that told us 99 per cent of customer problems call in the first 90 days while people set up their software. After 90 days most customers don’t need support. So, we changed our approach and customers are telling us this option is much better.
Consumer customers calling our support line will be connected with a customer representative who will help resolve the issue as quickly as possible. More than 85 per cent of the issues are solved within one call. Should the issue prove to be more complex, we work with the customer by bringing in specific expertise to help find a solution.
It is different for enterprises. Take a systems manager of a mission-critical IT environment in Lithuania, for example. They’ll get a choice of whether they want to speak with a local support engineer in Lithuanian who has more general technical knowledge, or with the ultimate technical expert. Should this be a problem which is more complex or which we have not seen before we will send the incident up to our global team of escalation engineers who would provide support in English. And of course if we could not resolve the issue over the phone for an enterprise customer, we would send an engineer onsite to their premises.
EPC: How did CSS prepare for the launch of Windows Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange 2007?
Because of our high level of engagement with customers, we are in many respects the eyes and ears of the product groups, and have a very significant influence on product development. Data from all our customer interactions is captured and analysed, and if patterns are discovered they are sent to the product group. Then there is a review process, through which we review customer feedback together with senior executives in the product groups — sometimes up to the vice president level.
During the Windows Vista beta, we supported 21,000 customers over the phone and e-mail, and worked with the product groups to include this customer feedback in the final release. In addition, we helped the product groups to integrate several new features, including Easy Assist and the Microsoft Support Diagnostic Tool. Both of these are making remote assistance and the collection of diagnostic data much easier during troubleshooting.
Personally, it’s exciting being able to directly inject customer feedback into products. I get great satisfaction from looking at a function in a new product and thinking ”We did that, CSS contributed”. It’s a good feeling.
EPC: Is Customer Service and Support a profit-making part of the company?
EPC: How happy are people with the support they receive from Microsoft, and how do satisfaction levels compare with those of other technology companies?
One of my former roles was in quality management, so I am conscious of saying only what I can prove. We have made continual improvements over time and our services are consistently getting better. For example, in customer service we are currently exceeding our customer satisfaction target levels.
We have a major initiative at Microsoft that we call Customer-Focused Culture, the essence of which is putting customers at the centre of everything we do. We noticed, years ago, that classic call-centre metrics such as the number of cases closed and call times were driving behaviours that don’t necessarily support a positive customer experience. For example, if a support technician is measured on the number of customer cases closed, he or she will naturally avoid taking on the difficult questions, even if he or she is the best person on earth to answer that — because it will bring down his numbers. We therefore decided to evaluate our people differently, based on customer-focused behaviours observed by their managers.
EPC: The company recently opened a new support centre in Bucharest — what was the reasoning behind this?
EPC: What are the goals for CSS over the next several years?
For example, over the past few years we invested heavily in preventing problems from occurring for our enterprise customers. The Microsoft Exchange Server Risk Assessment and Health Check programmes are proactive risk assessment reviews designed for Microsoft Premier Support customers in an effort to help them operate their environments more effectively.
Another focus is delivery. We have seen a big increase in the number of customers who want to get the answer online instead of calling us. You’ll see more online services from us over the next few years.