MS staff freed from 'friends and family' IT advice

A Microsoft program to ease the problem of its workers being asked to provide ad-hoc technical advice and assistance outside work has been a success with both them and customers, the company has claimed. The 'Quick Assistance' program -- whereby employees distribute free phone support vouchers to people who take advantage of social situations such as barbeques to seek free tech advice from them -- has been in operation since mid-last year, a spokeswoman said.

A Microsoft program to ease the problem of its workers being asked to provide ad-hoc technical advice and assistance outside work has been a success with both them and customers, the company has claimed.

The 'Quick Assistance' program -- whereby employees distribute free phone support vouchers to people who take advantage of social situations such as barbeques to seek free tech advice from them -- has been in operation since mid-last year, a spokeswoman said.

The vouchers entitle the bearer to a free support call for any currently-supported Microsoft product. Currently Microsoft employees receive three vouchers, although "we will determine later in the fiscal year if more will be sent out," she said.

"The program supplements the advice and help that employees provide, when there is an issue that they can't fix," she said.

The program came about after Microsoft realised it was a common event for anyone using its products to ask the company's employees for help -- on any occasion.

"Employees have embraced the program quickly," said the spokeswoman. "Our employees report that customers are pleased when presented with a card.

"Employees have shared stories about giving the cards to fellow students, service personnel, people on airplanes, in restaurants and at the kids' soccer field".

The spokeswoman noted support provided could even range up to a complete reinstallation of a complex product like the company's Small Business Server.

Despite Quick Assistance's claimed success record, she added it might not be appropriate for all technology companies to follow suit.

"Companies would need to evaluate the approach in the context of their overall programs," the spokeswoman said. "We've found that the program allows employees and customers to grow their knowledge of Microsoft products and gain more from the technology both at home and in the office."