Open Letter to Mr. Satya Nadella – Redmond, we have a problem…!

Dear Mr. Satya Nadella,

Customer Service is a popular and important topic, and it is interesting to see how the experiences of the actual customers does or does not match with the quality of their service that companies try to convey. What I have learned over the years is that there is a very significant gap between how customers view customer service and how companies do so, and that gap is interestingly enough (almost) identical to the different views and perspectives in User Experience.

Allow me to explain you my findings. Companies tend to focus on the positive aspects from their own perspective. Things like how many service requests have been solved and for example the volumes of service requests per product release are clear examples of information to show how good a company appears to be doing. From the perspective of that company, of course. Customers however have an entirely different view and do not really care about a metrics of closing service requests or response times. All they care about is if they actually received the service they needed and if the issues they encountered were actually solved.

As an industry we have created Service Level Agreements to manage the flow and responsibilities of providing customer support and industry wide accepted frameworks like ITIL are designed to deliver high quality services. Despite all these efforts there is still an enormous risk that the perception of the received services differs between the customers and the companies.

Long ago I spoke about one of the hidden risks at a MSDN event. The risk of SLA Ping Pong, where service employees bounce a service request within the limits of the SLA’s to make everything look fantastic without actually solving the issue for the customer. I also addressed misreporting, sleeping service requests, organized handovers up and down the organization, and similar ‘games’ which leave customers behind in total frustration despite hitting all targets in the company’s SLA metric and scoreboards. These risks become of course even bigger when an organization, like for example Microsoft did, would decide to outsource the first level(s) of customer support.

By now you might wonder why I am writing you this because I assume that you believe that this will not apply to the organization you lead. I regret to have to inform you that all this and more applies to Microsoft and the customer services has reached new all-time lows. Since now more than 3 months I am witnessing all these issues I have addressed and there is no end in sight.

Completely unqualified Support Ambassadors employed by service providers, who at best have average user knowledge for the applications they pretend to provide customer service for. Some of them placing calls from internet cafes with so much background noise that it is close to impossible to understand what they say. In one case I could hear the barista call the next order ready for pickup…

A service request that is bouncing back and forth between these Support Ambassadors and so-called Technical Leads from the same vendor who in most cases do nothing other than repeating the same steps as the Support Ambassadors, mostly still at average user knowledge level. SLA Ping Pong by again requesting a service call time window just at the moment when the SLA response window would end. And it is not that they would actually do something to solve the issue. Unfortunately, they just attempt to buy time by repeating the same steps. Making screenshots from the same settings. Sending the same self-service link which I have received 21 times by now. An important detail is that the same Ambassadors confirm that the self-service link does not solve the issue, which however does not prevent them from sending it again. You might have guessed it, they do so just around the time when the SLA response window would expire…

Bad enough? It gets worse! It is not uncommon that the Service Ambassadors request a time slot for a service call and then simply does not call. It is also not uncommon that they simply do not respond at all for days or sometimes even a full week. They found a smart loophole in your SLA’s. Putting the service request in the basket of their technical lead buys time, and when the technical lead then places it back in the basket of the Ambassador the whole SLA ping pong circus starts from the beginning. Another Ping Pong strategy is transferring a service request between departments, and when it is then handed back to the first available first level service provider, the service request is handled by, and I quote the last Service Ambassador, someone who “neither has access to the service request history nor is allowed to use information from other service vendors” [sic].

This could of course be an isolated incident and just my bad luck that my service request is bouncing through unqualified Service Ambassadors from low-cost unqualified vendors for more than 3 months now. Unfortunately, this is not the case. A search for the problem description reveals that thousands of people are experiencing the same issue and the vast majority of them are stuck with the Support Ambassadors who simply have no clue about the products they are supposed to provide services for. Your products!

Not so long ago I wrote an article about the positive experience of working 20+ years with your products, a working relationship based on respect and quality. Are we going to end this relationship because your organization prefers cheap unqualified external service providers who are either not able or not willing to provide quality service to your customers?

Besides the fact that I am still not able to use your products after more than 3 months, I am also not willing to recommend your products and services to my customers at this moment. Not because your products and services are not good, I still love them personally and professionally. Simply because your organization has implemented a defect service organization!

Don’t kill your market potential by betting on bad service as a cost saving!

With kind regards from a formerly satisfied Microsoft customer and partner,

Dr. ir Johannes Drooghaag

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