Could customer support be Zune's biggest selling point?

Could customer support be Zune's biggest selling point?

Summary: What does Microsoft need to do to show it's able to think like a consumer-electronics company, not just a computer-software one? Are you expecting Microsoft follow its usual pattern and finally get the Zune right by the time it ships Version 3?


Whether yesterday's Zune 2 announcement left you hopeful or underwhelmed, you've got to give Microsoft some credit for taking care of its first-generation Zune customers.

Could customer support be Zune’s biggest selling point?Microsoft is back-porting to its first-generation Zunes all of the new software features it announced for the Zunes coming out in November.

Just like Apple did with its new line of iPods ... Not.

David Morgenstern, one of my ZDNet blogging colleagues with whom I was discussing Microsoft's attempt to take on the iPod said: "So you mean Microsoft is trying to bring a computer-software experience to a consumer-electronics device?" He thought that was a bad idea. Microsoft is trying to shoehorn a PC-centric mentality into a consumer device. Not a good fit....

My take: Yes, if you are Apple (or Microsoft), giving users of older model players access to the new features delivered with new iPod models doesn't make good business sense. You are trying to get folks to shell out more money for new players, not encourage them that their existing players can last a while longer.

Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff was non-plussed by the new Zunes.

"Overall, I think the devices are what Microsoft should have launched with last year. Given the iPhone/iPod Touch and the iTunes Wi-Fi store, they look like they're a full generation behind. I think they'll be non-competitive this year," Rosoff said.

Microsoft has nowhere to go but up, with Zunes. It so far hasn't demonstrated any prowess at outwitting Apple on the design or feature fronts. But might it score points by providing stellar customer support/service -- something Apple has been criticized for not doing with the iPhones and new iPods?

What does Microsoft need to do to show it's able to think like a consumer-electronics company, not just a computer-software one? Are you expecting Microsoft follow its usual pattern and finally get the Zune right by the time it ships Version 3?

(Disclosure, in case anyone was wondering:  I am neither an iPod nor a Zune customer.) 

Topics: Microsoft, Apple, Hardware, Mobility


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • One thing I'll give MS...

    When it comes to customer support they are so helpful and want to make sure you're happy to the point of annoyance.

    Never say "Yes" to the question "Is there anything you'd change with this resolved issue".

    You'll get a barrage of phone calls from Call Center Managers, Call Center employees and 101 emails about satisfaction.
    • I have to agree

      Microsoft contracted out some good support services. They charge you quite hefty amounts but are very quick to refund it if the problem is deemed a Microsoft problem or if they can't help you. They do this with very little hassle too. I was quite impressed the few times I've had to call support and I gave them some stumpers for problems.
    • Dang

      Sure wish I could say that about their software. The price for support is so outrageous that it is all but unusable. 250$ to ask one question related to windows xp (the last time I checked).
    • Every time I have to reactivate Vista, they are nice...

      I wish they'd ask for more details, so I could say "Well, I had upgraded my video driver and nothing else, so that's why activation broke this time."
  • Where's the Surface Computing?

    Surely MS could have integrated that in the new Zune. I agree with the analyst in your article. Zune will be non-competitive.

    Maybe with Zune 3.0...

    (at least they got rid of the brown. who thought that was a good idea at MS?)
    • wahuh?

      Where's the surface? How exactly would you recommend they integrate a big ass table into the zune?
    • Competitive?

      I agree too with the analyst that Zune will be non-competitive this year.

      However, I don't think it has anything to do with the product at all. Apple has successfully managed to make iPods synonymous with mp3 players.

      In this day and age of superficiality and overhype, I simply do not give the average consumer enough credit to trust that they would shop around and settle on a product that is best for them. If they want a music player, they go straight to iPod, no questions asked.
    • Non-competitive?

      Like Apple was in the begining? Didn't it take Apple over 2 1/2 years to get the iPod to take off?
      John Zern
  • Customer Support For Zune Is A Snap

    Especially when you have 100 call center personnel to handle all 25 Zune owners.

    • That's why it's so awesome

      Zune Support is the best.

      Apple's support took forever. And they just made me buy a new one. Meanies.
  • Doesn't matter in the gadget market

    Design, functionality, and coolness drive sales these things.

    Nobody sees a cool new ipod or phone or Zune and says "That's cool! I wonder if they have rockin' tech support also."
    • It does matter, at least to some

      Depending on the person, of course.

      But I know a lot of people that refuse to buy certain products because they had to call customer support and it was in India or something and they couldn't understand a word the tech said. I fired an internet company because they couldn't get their sh*t together and every time I called I was on hold for over 30 minutes EVERY TIME they transferred me. It got old, I lost my cool, fired them and found a company that could do their jobs effectively and in a timely manner.

      And I can totally relate to that. There is very little worse than attempting to describe a problem to and receive and answer from someone who doesn't speak English very well or has a very thick accent.

      That's one of the things that I like about my Gateway, all their US customer service is in the US. The service they provide to other countries is in that other country. Makes sense, doesn't it? To have people who actually speak your language helping you?. I hope that doesn't change now that Acer has bought them.
      • That's true for some products computers. And a few good points
        but cheaper commodity gadgets like MP3 players fall into a different market with a different target demographic (which is younger and more impulsive than the average.)
        It may be true that some people are real consumers in that they weigh every option, price points, compare pie charts and research things like warranty and the fluency of the tech support's english, but I don't think those are the kind of people that affect the kind of mass success that put products like the iPod at the top.

        Don't get me wrong, Good customer support is great but it's not going to drive sales of these kind of products.
  • Finally get the Zune right by ...Version 3

    This is a joke, no? MS usually takes at least ten iterations to get anything right.

    Look at Word, Excel, XP, etc.

    If MSFT is true to form, Zune II will be as poorly conceived, designed and engineered as usual.

    Look at that abortion WinMobile. After six iterations, it is still a piece of scrap.
    Jeremy W
    • Oh COME ON!!!

      I happen to look forward to resetting my phone six times a day and having my bluetooth headset drop a call at random.

      It makes me feel like I'm part of something bigger in this world.
  • It's up to Marketing to make this one competitive...

    From what I have heard, the 80GB version is as good if not better than the iPod classic. And its a little cheaper. Not all of us want to spend so much for tiny capacities that the Touch and iPhone provide.

    Granted you may not like either vendor but Microsoft only really has to compete with Apple in this space.
    • Compare this to the latest Apple figures?

      [i]From what I have heard, the 80GB version is as good if not better than the iPod classic. And its a little cheaper. Not all of us want to spend so much for tiny capacities that the Touch and iPhone provide.[/i]

      Interesting that the iPod Classic is Apple's slowest seller right now, the nano and touch models are flying off the shelves. Looks like complete and utter cluelessness on the part of MS market research. MS best hope to compete is the 80G which few people want to begin with, and their competition to the nano is handicapped by those putrid colors.

      Is Microsoft TRYING to fail?
      • What do you have against the colors?

        You've posted your hatred for these hues on multiple threads.

        I mean, I understand that the muted shades on the iPod are more appealing to you. I get that. I'm of the same thinking, but Apple doesn't make the color I want either, so I can't say I'm thrilled with them either. But, thems the breaks....

        But honestly, Black, Red, Pink, Green.

        These are not horrific color choices (I'll give you the green...not the shade I would have chosen to represent green...but army folk or hunters may enjoy it..).

        They may not be your faves, which is totally okay. Color choice is a personal thing. I get that, and I'm not criticizing, just perplexed. I mean, there are spec reasons to prefer the iPod, the price point issue, sure....but color? I think they did a lot better on this front this time around.

        I'm still pissed that there's no blue of any kind...or purple....but at least there's not a brown one (I don't know what they were thinking on that one).

        But that's just me.
        • Colors? Any Color you want

          [i]but Apple doesn't make the color I want either[/i]

          Home Depot has acrylic spray paint in many colors and lots of masking tape and Xacto blades. What color do you want? Personally, I'm a fan of that nasty Mauve carpet color from the '80s. Ooh, or maybe an Eddie Van Halen "Frankenstein" iPod (If that shows up at Guitar Center, remember, you read it here first).

          And of course, if you call either company's support team, I'm sure that they'll be happy to assist you in your color predicament :-).
          • Kentucky Blue, baby!

            With white trim. If I had my way and could totally customize it, the entire thing would have either the real texture of faux texture of a football.

            Yeah. That would rock so hard.

            But, I'd settle for the just the right shade of blue, and I'm not particularly keen to spray paint one. Good suggestion though. I'm just more likely to make a mess and ruin it than wind up with what I want. :)