March 27, 2007 spout

The Microsoft Sells” Department

So, I’m sitting in my office pair programming with Geoff Kizer when my phone rings. It says Microsoft” on the display, so I figure it’s one of my brethren.


An angry voice replies, I’m calling you because your technical support sucks and I’m tired of being put on hold!”

I’m sorry? Are you a Microsoft employee?”

No! I’m a *customer*! I’m trying to use Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit and it doesn’t work!”

Oh.” Now I’m reaching way, way back into my distant technical phone support past. First, defuse the anger by empathizing with the customer. Well, on behalf of the 70,000 Microsoft employees, I’d like to apologize.” That was a little over the top — have to dial it down a bit next time…

Second, try to take things back a step and establish a rapport with the customer. My name is Chris. What’s yours?”

Calming down a bit, John.”

OK, John. I can’t claim to know everything there is to know about Vista, but I’ll answer your questions if I can.”

How do I get the icons to be smaller on the desktop? No matter what the resolution is, they’re always huge! I want them to be small like on XP!”

Are you at your computer now?”


OK. I know you can change the icon size on the desktop. Let you look around a little.” At this point, I’m opening up the Personalize control panel, finding nothing about desktop icon size. I used the cool narrow-as-you-type Help. Nothing about icon size (although I can change the icons themselves). Now I’m cursing Vista myself. I don’t see it here,” I admit to John.

At this point, I look up and notice I’ve gathered a crowd outside my office, including my boss and his boss, all laughing because a) dealing with angry customers is not the most fun job in the world and b) they’re glad it isn’t them.

At this point, Mr. Kizer reaches over to my computer, right-clicks on my desktop and shows me the context menu option that actually changes the icon size, which I share with John, making sure he’s happy with this solution before moving on.

And move on we did. John has one more problem, which I repeat back to him to make sure I’ve gotten it right, emphasize with him and try to help him reproduce it. When we can’t, I send him an email, asking for some additional data when he is able to reproduce the problem so that I can follow up with a fix, apologizing again for the trouble he’s had today, both with Vista and with tech support.

After about 15 minutes, John thanked me and asked me if I was in Sales or Support.

No. I’m a developer,” which was close enough to true for your average person.

He then told me how he got to my phone in the first place. Apparently, he had called the main number and was tired of being put on hold by our support, so he told our voice-recognition system that he wanted to speak to Sales,” I’m guessing to give them a piece of his mind. That day, Sells” was enough of a match to Sales” and suddenly, I’m the one talking to John.

At no point during this call did I consider sending John somewhere else for help. He’d already been through our support and didn’t like it. I can’t make people purchase Microsoft products. I can’t make people like Microsoft products. However, that one day with that one customer, I was going to do my best to help one customer to not hate Microsoft. Sometimes that’s all you can do and I was proud to do it.