Apparently, Microsoft takes this Office 365 support thing seriously

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.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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