Windows 7: The Next Generation of Customer Support

For routine computing issues, it’s not always convenient to call a customer support line and talk to a technology professional. Wouldn’t it be nice if the software could fix itself, or at least point to the problem and suggest how you can fix it? Increasingly, it can. And with the launch last week of Windows 7, Microsoft customers are finding a whole new world when it comes to getting software support at their fingertips. Lori Brownell, general manager of Product Quality and Online Support at Microsoft, says support for Windows 7 is a real evolution from previous versions of the flagship operating system.

Traditional live support via the phone, e-mail and chat are still there, but so are a host of resources, many available through a new online forum. There is support through Twitter, a library of software “Fix its” that can solve problems with a single click, and other diagnostic and repair tools available directly through Windows 7 itself.

“Windows XP had little built-in support, and Windows Vista included some diagnostics to assess network connectivity issues,” Brownell says. “But Windows 7 truly reflects broad customer feedback that has enabled us to build a comprehensive set of resources that solve customers’ most pressing problems and even keep them ahead of potential problems. For example, Windows Update searches for updates, like driver updates, automatically.”

Introducing Microsoft Answers, an online support community.
Microsoft Answers is a place for consumers to easily find and share information contributed by peers, technical enthusiasts, Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals and customer support experts. Real people provide real answers to help you get the most from your software. According to Elaina Stergiades of research group IDC, getting customer feedback into the hands of product developers is critical to improving ongoing support delivery.

“Improving product development to include customer feedback from the support experience can greatly enhance the product design process,” Stergiades says. “Incorporating that customer feedback builds supportability across the product suite, which can help improve the support experience for customers.”

Connecting Software Users With Software Makers.
Brownell’s team is tasked with figuring out where customers need help, and putting that help where it can do the most good. She and her team of technical program managers — a mix of former product group members and customer support experts have spent the past couple of years getting ready for Windows 7 by poring over customer feedback from a variety of venues including Windows Error Report logs, top questions in community forums and customer interactions.

“It’s one thing to provide customer data to the product groups,” she says. “It’s another to help them hear it through engineering terms. Now we have the people, processes and tools in place to translate customer feedback into information that our engineering team uses to improve a product.”

From day one, Brownell says, her team worked to communicate customer feedback directly to the Windows design team. As a result, Windows 7 represents the next generation of customer support, making fixes easier and more intuitive, to the point where the software can actually help customers solve problems before they even start.

According to the Forrester Research report, “Customer Service Trumps Price,” published May 15, 2009, such improvements add up to a better experience for customers: “The data is compelling: Consumers care about customer service. Companies can differentiate themselves by upgrading their service experiences throughout the customer life cycle — from acquisition through ongoing customer support (and renewal).”

Support With a Click.
For Windows 7, automated support was a big focus, says Brownell. One big new change is the Windows Action Center, which lets customers access more than 20 automated troubleshooters that are built into the platform. When an issue comes up, Windows 7 is able to identify it, often before the customer even notices.

“These troubleshooters can diagnose and solve the most common problems reported by Windows users, including set-up and compatibility issues, hardware defects and the like,” says Brownell.  As an example, Brownell says that a lack of audio is the No. 1 problem customers report. Causes can vary from having speakers plugged into the wrong jack to bad audio drivers. “If you have incorrectly installed your audio driver, the Windows Action Center can alert you, diagnose the problem and point you to the correct fix, or fix the problem itself,” she says.

Brownell says that having software developers familiar with operating systems on her team is a big advantage in helping find problems and identify those ripe for an automated solution. This concept is behind the Windows Action Center, and is also behind the Fix its that Microsoft began publishing last December.

The idea behind Fix its is to automate the steps provided in Microsoft Knowledge Base technical articles and Windows Error Reporting solutions, so users can click on a button and resolve a given issue automatically. For most people, Fix its are a welcome alternative to wading through technically oriented Knowledge Base articles.



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