Microsoft touts support as differentiator for Office 365

Summary:With more vendors venturing into cloud space, Redmond reiterates stance that service standard will be crucial in keeping customers happy and hooked to its upcoming cloud offering.

With Microsoft's Office 365 cloud application gearing up for commercial launch later this year, training support staff to resolve queries and issues will be crucial for Redmond to stay ahead of the cloud game, say company executives.

In an interview Tuesday with ZDNet Asia, Anurag Vij, Microsoft's Asia Pacific and Greater China director for online services support, noted that understanding the needs of different markets is key to providing better technical resolution for customers because there can never be a "one size fits all".

"What we've learnt is that regulations across countries are different, be it telcos or hosted services, what [kind of] data can and cannot leave the country," Vij explained.

Language is another issue the software vendor has had to cope with, he added. Providing support in English is sufficient for most enterprises, but small and midsize businesses (SMBs), especially those in non-English speaking countries, this would not be acceptable, he said.

"For example, in Korea, where support sometimes is outsourced, the accent of the [helpdesk operator] may also not be acceptable [by the locals]," he noted.

With enterprises gearing up their cloud adoption, he added that Microsoft is betting on the level of service support as a competitive "differentiator" in customer retention.

"While it is not easy for larger enterprises to turn on and off [cloud] applications, for SMBs it is certainly doable. One day, they might just stop using a certain application and request that we stop billing them from next month onward," he said.

Vij's message is not new and an iteration of a previous ZDNet Asia report, in which Microsoft's Asia-Pacific general manager of customer service and support, also pointed to service as the company's focus to differentiate itself from the competition.

While Office 365 is still in its beta stage, the IT support veteran was clear about where businesses are headed in terms of cloud adoption. "Enterprises are now going few ways when it comes to online [cloud] services--they might go all in for online, as a completely hosted service, or they may decide to go hybrid where they have on-premise and online [deployment]," he said.

Asked if there were differences in terms of providing support for Office 365 and the company's on-premise products, Vij said workflow remains essentially the same. "For on-premise products, customers call us when they have a problem and if we can't fix it on the phone, we send an engineer onsite, depending on what level of service they have with us," he said.

However, with cloud services, support staff will have to isolate the problem depending on the kind of environment they are operating in--either pure-cloud or hybrid--and then proceed to provide help, he noted. However, if it is an ISP (Internet service provider) or an issue with the host site, there is little Microsoft can do to resolve the issue, said Matt Fingerhut, the software vendor's general manager for consumer and services support.

"For example, if the ISP's network is down, we can't fix it but we would want to know what the issue [so that we can] be accountable," Fingerhut added. "We want to understand the root cause of the problem and that's one way we drive our engineers' focus."

"We intentionally blur the distinction because we think [finger-pointing] is unhelpful to customers. We just want their mail to work," he said.

According to Vij, Microsoft currently has a team of 900 support staff in Asia including Japan, India and China, 25 of whom are trained to handle issues related to Office 365, which is targeted for launch in the first half of 2011.

Topics: Software, Apps, Cloud, CXO

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