Microsoft Hell – Betrayal From An Insider Who Went To Apple

Okay, I get it – it’s like religion... Microsoft worshippers versus Apple zealots. I’ll be hated by many and this post is commercial suicide as I’m sure it will result in me never being engaged by the world’s largest software company. Will they 'black list' and sue me; or will they seek to save me? If only I had the passion of Steve Ballmer; maybe I could keep the faith.

If you've ever wondered about the relevance and power of social media in business to business selling, then read on. Bill Gates is a wonderful human being, a genuine philanthropist, and he has changed the world in many ways through computing along with Thomas Watson, Tim Berners-Lee and Steve Jobs. But much of Microsoft’s software is, for me, from the pits of CX (Customer eXperience) hell. It’s not just that they beta test their software on their customers and endlessly change the user interface for no good reason [in my view]; it’s their inability to provide an acceptable customer experience that is killing them. At the end of this case study I will contrast their hell with my unbelievably consistently spectacular heavenly experience with Apple. What a contrast – ‘Dumb and Dumber customer service’ vs ‘Ninja Samurai customer experience’. Have a laugh with this video before I have my rant and go dark.

I worked for decades at senior levels in the software industry and I know some of its secrets. If you knew the complexity of software coding, the different standards and programming languages, operating system inter-dependencies, the madness of managing the different types of memory, the massive numbers of bugs in all code – you would be in awe of the way your computer actually works when you turn it on. This is why I was so concerned about the Airbus ‘software rules the skies’ philosophy of flight control law and this is why I wrote about what the Air Crash Investigations did not reveal about Flight QF32.

Back to Microsoft. Up until August 2012 I was always supported by an array of IT people working for me in the companies I led. I could log a ticket or phone the internal help desk and they would turn-up at my office door to then tap away working their magic to resolve my problems. I never ran much software or downloaded any non-approved applications – just the SOE (Standard Operating Environment). But when I would ask them about what caused the problem, they would inevitably scratch their head and say: “Not really sure – I haven’t seen that problem before. You’re barely utilizing the machines resources. It should be okay now.’

For most of my life, I begrudgingly endured the 37 minutes of waiting to close down as 43 updates were downloaded when I tried to leave work to go home and see my family. I would tolerate the same crap turning-off and restarting at airports as I traveled for business. I would pay hundreds of dollars to support people to come to my home and reinstall my printer drivers or get my wireless connectivity going again when everything crapped itself after some auto-update ran without me even knowing, mysteriously blowing away the drivers. I would spend hours trying to deal with the insanity of never being able to properly disable Track Changes in Word and the endless alterations to menu structures for everyday office productivity applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I’ve endured losing hours of work because I stupidly did not save before Windows shat itself. I lived with the frustrations of e-mail crashing constantly because of the size of my PST file – no archiving capabilities and good luck easily finding anything later if you did. I even put up with Clippy with his annoying prompts in Office 97.

As the regional leader of software companies that integrated with Microsoft products, I would receive calls and e-mails from furious customers (law firms, massive enterprises and government departments) who would have our integration break due to ‘changes’ within new releases of Microsoft products. We would be expected to fix the problem even though we did not cause it and nothing had changed within the code on our side. I lived through the insanity of Vista and over-empty hype of early releases of SharePoint. Even when Microsoft bought my beloved Skype they managed to introduce mysterious back-end hacks where people’s accounts were compromised and they were forced to lose their credits and create a new Skype ID; all because they could not remember the date they first created their Skype account.

I could have made a long list of bullet-points in PowerPoint… but using bullet-points might have made me want to put a gun in my mouth – it triggers such negative emotion. Microsoft spends so much on marketing, yet customer service [experience] has been resurrected as the new sales strategy. Providing a consistently great customer experience is the most powerful lead generation model. An inability to get it right is the reason for any leaky funnel. Microsoft themselves are the demand generation engine for their competitors and social media is empowering everyday customers in terrifying ways for monolithic brands that are unable to be agile and responsive.

I’m about to tell you why I switched to a competitor and this is free advertising for them. Just in the last 8 weeks I’ve had more than 300,000 reads of my LinkedIn blog and more than 5,000 people follow me in LinkedIn who regularly feature me in Pulse feeds to millions. I have people constantly ask me whether social selling is relevant… if you read this and don't understand; I’m not sure what else to tell you.

The promise of software and IT is so alluring yet the experience often plunges us into the trough of disillusionment. Thank goodness the industry is changing with cloud and software as a service! No wonder Gmail and Google Docs are doing so well. Yes, I tried to download Office 365… that did not work for me either – I must just be stupid. Maybe it was the fact that in this region a telco was the exclusive sales channel – a telco trying to provide a good online experience; think 'the blind leading the deaf'.

Back in 2008 Microsoft ran a global marketing campaign asking: “Where do you want to go today?” When I went out on my own in business in late 2012 I decided to answer the question – straight to an Apple store!

I banished Microsoft from my life wherever possible, my business and household, phones – everything. All I retained was Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

So, what sparked this rant? I’ll give you the short version. My son starts university this year and he bought a new MacBook Pro after I convinced him to ditch the old Windows laptop his school had provided. He wants to Use Word, Excel and PowerPoint in university and we own properly purchased licensing of Office for Mac. But his MacBook Pro does not have a CD drive and I decided to download Office from Microsoft’s website and use the valid license key on the box. It was massively difficult to find a download page on Microsoft’s website because all they seem to cater for is selling to you. But I eventually found support and by some miracle ended-up in live chat with a very good support person. Fast, helpful, brilliant. Wow, Microsoft has changed, I thought. I gave him my license key and he quickly confirmed it was valid and then gave me a link to the download page. I tried to download but the license key was rejected (yes, I triple checked I was keying the correct numbers). Back to support and another chat session. On this occasion it was incredibly frustrating – a dead-end with every request for assistance. Instead of resolution, I was told to phone the support number in business hours the next day or click online and agree to pay almost $50. I’ve had many experiences phoning Microsoft support previously and on every occasion it’s made my head explode.

90 minutes later and with much higher blood pressure, I gave up in disgust after advising the support person that I would be writing this post (don't blame her Microsoft – she did her best). But then I thought: I wonder if I can use the CD drive in our family iMac computer to install the software over wifi to my son’s machine? I turned the iMac on and it booted within seconds. I clicked on Finder in my son’s machine… “Yes!” There was our family iMac appearing in my son’s Macbook. I clicked the icon, then clicked the button to request to use its drive. That request appeared instantly on the iMac screen on the machine beside – I clicked to approve. I then loaded the ‘Office for Mac’ CD and the install happened wirelessly as easily as an Apple product. The license key was accepted and then, as with all Microsoft installs, it did the usual 20 minutes of patches and updates from the Microsoft site. All done.

Microsoft seem committed to repelling me as a customer with poor software design, constantly changing the user interface for no good reason (in my mind), and providing appallingly poor service at every level.

I converted my IT religion in August 2012 after an entire lifetime attending Microsoft church. Incumbency can be powerful for creating loyalty – habits die hard and change is usually avoided. But Microsoft still managed to lose me after decades of loyalty. I was finished with praying to the IT gods for the ‘angel of blue screen death’ to pass over and descend on someone else.

Change always brings fear and uncertainty and before the switch I remember asking a colleague: “I’m thinking of making the switch. I think I’ve had enough of the endless productivity-destroying frustrations of Windows. Can you give me six reasons why the pain of change is worth it – why should I switch?” He said: “You only need one reason, not six.” He closed the lid of his MacBook, lifted it off the desk, the magnetic power connection fell away elegantly and he then said: “I’m ready to go home.” Then he sat back down and opened the lid: “I’m ready to work. You only need one reason mate and that’s it – no endless rebooting and it always just works. The operating system is bullet proof. The better screen and performance is a bonus. You’ll get used to the different navigation.” Thanks Adrian Rudman.

I love being an Apple customer. Any time I’ve had an issue (which is rare) they’ve provide rapid, intelligent, friendly and effective support – online, on the phone, or at a Genius Bar in a store. As an example, I bought a new MacBook Air last year and while I was in Vietnam recently the power supply developed a fault and would not allow me to charge my computer. Yesterday, I walked into the Apple Store in Sydney without an appointment and it was packed – the busiest I’ve seen them. I walked up to level two and was served within 20 seconds. The person directed me up to level 3 where 7 people were lined-up waiting to be directed to the appropriate area. 4 minutes later I was asked to stand in a line. 2 minutes later I was being served. I explained the situation and produced my receipt. The person checked that the unit was indeed not working, completed a simple form on their iPad and spun it around for me to sign on screen. No tricky warranty caveats about chords or power adaptors. 3 minutes later I was walking out of the store and down the street with a brand new free charging unit. Even in the busiest of times I received outstanding customer service – friendly, efficient, superb. The receipt from today is below to show this is a true story.

I wonder if Microsoft will contact me as a result of this post. Will they seek to bring the apostate back into the fold – or will they threaten me for damaging their brand? Will it be a lawyer or a customer experience empathiser who contacts me? My bet is that nobody will bother. I’ll let you know but if it’s a lawyer, I’ll be sending them an invoice for all the hours of my time they’ve wasted over the years with software problems and crappy support.

Lastly, a special mention to Adobe for being second-worst experience on the planet with their software… I swear someone there has a big annual bonus attached to a KPI metric for: Most number of software updates per customer per month. Their annual bonus must be huge! If you write software, please obsess about customer experience rather than jam-packing as many features as possible into every screen and menu. At least watching this video made me smile again.

How can Microsoft save themselves from self-immolation with their loyal customers? Now it’s over to you. 

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: simonbarsinister