Apparently, Microsoft takes this Office 365 support thing seriously

Apparently, Microsoft takes this Office 365 support thing seriously

Summary: I cannot over-emphasize how important good support is, especially when you can no longer lay your own hands on the server. I also can't over-emphasize how impressed I've become with Microsoft's support for Office 365.

TOPICS: Microsoft

I recently migrated my email from a small Exchange hosting provider that is having some growing pains to Office 365. Rather than choosing one of the small business plans, I chose the Office 365 Midsize Business plan for $15/mo per user.

Quick note: In a later article, I'll discuss why I chose Office 365 over, for example, Google Apps.

With only two users (my wife and me), we are far from a midsize business, but the level of complexity of what I do often puts my projects into the enterprise category when it comes to the level of problem-solving required.

I chose the Midsize Business plan over the Small Business Premium (also $15/mo) because a Microsoft representative told me that the Midsize Business support team was part of Enterprise support and was more equipped for handling complex problems.

They certainly stepped up this week.

Like most of my projects, I had special needs, and I needed to ask for support. On three separate occasions over the past few week, I called Office 365 tech support. The situations combined used almost five hours of their time on the phone.

Despite my complaint about the hold music, most of those support hours weren't spent on hold. Most of that time with Microsoft's support team was spent problem solving.

For a total payment on my part of thirty bucks a month.

The first problem shouldn't have happened. I was migrating an MX record, and for some reason, Microsoft's Exchange server couldn't tell it had been moved, even though every other system on the Internet could read the changed record.

For that call, I spent about ten minutes on hold waiting for a technician and then, intermittently, as he tried to figure out the problem, another hour or so holding. By the time he'd checked everything out, called in some help, and determined that what was happening shouldn't be happening, we'd spent a good ninety minutes on the phone.

He left by telling me he'd have it fixed, and sent me an email with his contact information. I went to sleep that night worried, because "we'll fix it, don't worry" usually means "call back another ten times."

When I got up at 8am Sunday morning, that problem was solved. Fixed. Done.

My next support call, now that I was able to successfully get mail into and out of the system, was because I needed to do some very funky customization with how we manage email addresses.

Don't worry about the details, just understand that the nature of my work requires my email to operate with a variety of identities that work in very specific ways — something I know Exchange can do, but not something that it does in Office 365 out of the box.

I made myself another big cup of coffee and called back in. After a few rounds trying to explain what it was I was doing, the tech support representative was still a bit baffled. I agreed to share my desktop, showed her some examples of what I needed to accomplish, she grunted once or twice, and then perfectly repeated back to me the spec of what I wanted to do.

Then I was put on hold for a few minutes.

When she came back, she said, "The consensus here is we're not sure it will work, but we've got some ideas."

How often do you hear that from a phone-based support service? How cool is that?

A few more minutes (well, about a half hour) went buy and suddenly, the rep (Valerie was her name) was shooting me PowerShell script lines, command after command.

I'd paste them into the PowerShell command window, try them, look at the result, Valerie would briefly mute herself (sometimes before and after you could hear her co-workers mumbling in the background), and come back with another line of code.

It became clear to me that there were at least three people hovering over Valerie's screen, making suggestions about parameters for PowerShell command line.

How cool is that? How often do you get that from a first-tier phone-based support?

By the time we got things working, and I hung up the phone, my phone read 1:46, which meant I'd been on the call for just shy of two hours.

My third, and so far final support call was due to a bit of a mistake I'd made.

All week, I'd been running a process that would migrate approximately a half million email messages from our old mailboxes to the new ones.

In the middle of this transfer, as part of setting up Exchange and the Office 365 environment, I'd changed our login accounts to something closer to what we were long used to with our previous providers. This change also was in line with how we wanted our default, outgoing email addresses to look when anyone got mail from either of us.

That account change, however, broke the transfer. We'd moved about 75 percent of the messages, and if I had to start over with the new account login settings names, I'd have to go into the Office 365 mail store, delete all of the already-transfered messages, and start over. Not fun.

What I wanted to be able to do was change my Exchange login, but keep how our outgoing email messages were displayed. I know enough about how Exchange works to try a few things, but none worked properly. So I called support again.

This time the support rep was Arifa. Once again, it took a few minutes for her to come up to speed with the idea that I really did want to muck with my login settings, and how I wanted that to impact my overall mail environment.

For the record, at no point in this process did Arifa ask me why I'd want to do such a daft thing, or tell me that such weird tweaks to their account management weren't supported. She just went quiet for a minute, thought about it, and asked if she could share my desktop to show me what to do.

It took us about 30 minutes to tweak Exchange, run some tests, and verify it would work. I asked if she'd mind staying on the line while I did the same tweaks to my wife's account, and she agreed, walking me through the whole thing again.

I hung up, and a few hours later, I got an email from her, complete with marked-up, step-by-step instructions on how to do the whole process on my own.

My experience with Microsoft's Office 365 support over the last week has been nothing short of astonishing.

I'll summarize with a few bullet points:

  • Each question was answered, completely, and each problem was solved
  • At no point was I asked to justify myself or my request, nor was I told "we don't support that"
  • For each request, the tech support person took a little while to think through the problem, and then was willing to work through and solve it, or get help to find a solution
  • In each case, the tech support person actually listened to what I needed and tried to understand my needs; at no point did I get the feeling any of them were trying to reply to my needs with canned responses
  • They each took a LOT of time, especially since I'm paying just thirty bucks a month
  • In one case, they went so deep into the issue that they brought in a bunch of people to work on the problem, dynamically, and come up with PowerShell commands to solve the problem
  • Each support person has given me direct contact information, so if I have a question, I can email or call them (that person, specifically) back

I cannot over-emphasize how important good support is, especially when you can no longer lay your own hands on the server. I also can't over-emphasize how impressed I've become with Microsoft's support for Office 365.

If they keep up this quality of support over the long-term, they've sure as heck got my business.

Wow. Just wow.

Topic: Microsoft


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Very nice article....

    I am on O365, albeit with a home account versus the business account that you have. I am a developer and have thought about upgrading my account and shutting down/decommissioning my Exchange VM's. Reading about your experiences has encouraged me.

    Thanks again.
    • warning

      I had a problem with O365 (Home Premium) and the Office support team said it was a Windows problem. It wasn't but the Windows team was nice enough to open a support ticket for me. The Windows team thankfully solved my issue (and closed the ticket) even though it was purely a O365 issue. I hate it when people pass the buck. Anyhoo, I'm happy.
      • $30 a month for the two of you.

        In order to work with office 365 you pay $15 per user. So there is two of you. That works out to $360 per year for two people. To write documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and shared with others. When the majority of this can be done with other services from Google free.
  • How cool is that?

    Just as cool as anywhere else where there is support.

    One thing is different though. Other places, they already know how to provide Internet services. Microsoft just discovers all of this again.. Let's hope the initial investment in resources will not last short time and others that move just like you, won't find themselves receiving canned responses.

    Let's also not forget, that you actually purchased the "Enterprise" service, unlike many others of "your size". If you serve enterprise customers, and you ever tell them "do it my way" you are likely to see them go elsewhere.

    Good that Microsoft finally are embracing Internet technology -- that will teach them a lot of new things and they will behave better -- for the good of everyone.
  • Yup, that's right...

    Your experience mirrors my own going back over 20 years dealing with Microsoft. Although it helps to ask the right questions, and also realize when you need to tell them to bump you over to someone else that actually knows what's going on, they rarely "give up".

    Whereas the OEM PC makers, or a Staples or Best Buy, would simply solve every problem you have with a reinstallation of Windows or something "easy" (for them) like that, with Microsoft they will remote control your screen, and if they can't solve it, they get actual software engineers to help them solve it. Then they always call back, and ask how they did etc. etc.

    Apple is known for support, but Microsoft should also be more known for support. Another example of the outstanding support one gets from MS is Xbox phone support. Xbox support staff, speaks English, (sorry it matters), and boy do they know their stuff. It's kind of sad that it seems like MS does not want to advertise how good there support is, so they don't have to take so many calls.

    Those Microsoft stores cannot come fast enough, I am not an average consumer, I am very technically oriented, but I think a lot of these companies underestimate how much comfort a consumer takes in being able to call someone to remove their confusion.

    • Appleis known for support ... up to a point.

      First, Apple's machines are built by Apple with very few variations from model to model.

      Second, if their "geniuses" cannot fix it, they will REPLACE it! This is excellent customer service! But, if you don't live near an Apple Store, good luck getting anyone to talk to you on the phone.

      If e-mail is not good enough, you're sending your hardware away for problem resolution.
      M Wagner
  • Excellent support for Azure as well.

    They provided me first class support for an Azure problem I had.
  • Headline! Microsoft provides support for their products!

    You just have to bear with them until they figure out how their systems work!

  • $30 per month buys a lot of support

    The service is one of Microsofts main future income streams. Of course they give good support. They'd be suicidal not to.

    Not sure they really needed a full page ad for that; will ZDnet take a page to tell me the Pope is Catholic? I don't want to know what bears do in the woods ...
  • While I would still rate their support as well above average, it's got issu

    I'd still rate their support above average, but it's got some serious issues. The fact that they asked you to do powerscript is one of them. The whole POINT of "cloud" is that everyone becomes an end user. You put in a request and THEY do the powerscript, and troubleshoot it if it goes kabloey.

    There's way to much "here, let me show you how to do it" on their end. Understand, they're just web searching half the time and are often winging it. On more than one occasion I've had them send me links to Microsoft support forums with incomplete answers that didn't apply, but contained the search terms.

    Example - Phone wouldn't sync - First proposed solution "Factory Reset phone". After explaining that the problem occurred across multiple phones and tablets, the answer was "Factory Reset Phone". After explaining that Outlook Web Access couldn't bring up the phone management options, the answer was "Factory Reset the Phone". I finally installed the required software to directly access the server, deleted the corrupted phone configuration, and was then able to connect and sync without problem. Afterwards they still insisted that it wasn't a server issue, and that the best and appropriate answer was to factory reset the phone. (The phone had zero to do with the problem.)

    Example - Client is ready to upgrade from Exchange Email ($4 a month) to Small Business Premium ($15 a month). It CANNOT BE DONE. Exchange email only is an "Enterprise" item, so the whole account is categorized, PERMANENTLY, as an enterprise. No way to "downgrade" to a SMB account. I have to spend my Saturday creating a new account, redoing all the MX and such, re configuring Outlook, migrating all 12 accounts with a couple hundred gigs of email over, etc... because Microsoft can't change a setting.

    For SMB's I think Office365 and the "cloud" in general is a net gain. For Enterprise? No. You give up way to much control, whether it's pricing (subscription pricing is hostage pricing), ensuring that you can address problems quickly and easily, or that a full warrant rather than a "courtesy request" is required for the government to access your data, I just don't see "the cloud" being preferable for a large organization with the resources to hire internal IT staff.
    Timothy Poplaski
    • This is great

      Timothy gets a flag because he ain't got his nose up MS's butt. WOW.
  • office 365 home premium

    I also have had a great experience with office 365 support. Outlook kept doing strange things, after talking with a tech for about 30 minutes, I was told that I needed the next tier of support and was asked for the best time for them to call. They called within the asked for window and solved the registry problem within 10 minutes. I thought WOW. It was another software that was causing the conflict, and after removing it everything works fine. I was very impressed with how thorough all of the Microsoft techs were and how knowledgeable they were about a new product.
  • I haven't had done support with 365, but

    in my past experiences MS has always provided great support. I will likely make the jump to home edition soon. For the price and size of my family it makes sense to pay $100 per year for 5 computers. I know there are cheaper solutions, but those solutions don't come with Microsoft Office!
  • Great Article

    This was great. You should try to get MS to buy this article from you as a testimony thing. They've got a bunch of testimony things on the 365 website. I am really surprised about this level of service. My experience with MS tech support has been way better than everyone says their support with MS is, but this sound like the best you can possibly get. To all the people that are saying that "of course their offering good service; they have to or else it will fail": Are you just jealous that apple doesn't have this level of tech support? This is amazing support no matter how you look at it.
  • Undoubtedly, because you signed up for ...

    ... the Mid-sized Business Plan, you were automatically referred to Tier-2 support, but still ...

    I have never hadto deal with anything as complex as you describe but I have to tell you that I have always had excellent response from Microsoft support and all they ever knew about me was that I was en end-user with more than a little experience with Windows. Once I made my first contact by phone, they immediately asked me to start a chat session. It took four hours to find the problem (which yours truly should have figured out much sooner).

    At the end of the call, the Microsoft representative (at a call center on the other side of the planet) thanked me. The next day, I received a very nice e-mail from Microsoft asking me how I felt about my service. They were concerned that IT TOOK THEM so long to identify the problem (which I should have spotted two hours earlier). A more pleasant support experience I have never had.

    On previous calls to Microsoft about lesser matters, the support person was very supportive and trusting of my honesty when I could very easily have been lying to them regarding what I wanted to so.

    In contrast, I have had terrible experiences with NetGear technical support - the result of which was an unresolved problem, and my having no intention of ever buying a product from them again! I ended up with a useless device which could not be returned to the dealer because I trusted support when they sent me a replacement device which also didn't work.

    Microsoft is the best when it comes to customer support!
    M Wagner
  • Good to hear their support is still going well

    I once had to call on Microsoft for an issue with Windows Vista on a desktop. I called the support number spoke to a nice tech and we tried some things. After about an hour he had to look into the issue further and said he would email me with more ideas. What followed was a full week of going back and fourth with him via email until he was able to resolve my issue. It was a driver issue and power management with going to sleep settings. He could have at any time said, sorry it wont work, but he did not. And I was just a consumer not a business or enterprise customer. I am glad to hear that their support is still good and they really do try to support you and your requests.
  • Reading This Article Made Me Nauseous

    As a software engineer, I do not have time to spend hours on the phone with support for something like Microsoft Office. I would rather the engineers at Microsoft spend more effort on actually creating a quality product that makes sense to the user instead of making me feel like I am at the doctor's office. It's simply more efficient (and less expensive) for everyone involved
    Le Chaud Lapin
    • Will happen when you write a code without a bug!!!

      Can you do that genius? I don't think you have ANY experience in coding!!!
  • Are we talking about saem Office 365 support?

    Oh - you were migrating your MX records, huh? We you told by support that having multiple MX hosts with same priority "creates bottleneck" in mail delivery? I was... Seriously - i even poited them to hotmail MX records (dozen of mail exchangers with same priority) - didn't convince them at all: "You should not have multiple MX records with same priority - it creates bottleneck!"
  • How can I get this type of support?

    How can I get this type of support for Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10 bugs? I am really getting frustrated with all the issues I am having. The Q & A forums are worthless. Too many people on them are lurkers that don't have a clue about customer needs. However, they do know how to insult us for being stupid. I shouldn't have to Google my questions to get workable solutions.