I recently experienced first hand the not-so-new model of customer support via forum – now quite a popular method of dealing with customer support using social media.  Great idea – the company not only gets experts to support them and customers, empowering their expert customers, but also saving the company money! And in theory it is a great idea.

The problem is when a company, like Microsoft, ends up offering only forum support and no longer provides traditional customer support, it does not always work.  I am, as you all know, very comfortable with social media but when it comes to customer support I do still expect to be able to contact a company for help.

Now I have been using Hotmail for years and years, and was very happy with it, especially the linked account functionality that allows me to flip between accounts without having to log in and out. A few weeks ago however this linked functionality suddenly stopped working. For a few days I just presumed it was a glitch – yet another one since the move to Outlook (which has been totally bug filled) however as it did not get resolved I then tried to contact Microsoft support to find out what was happening.  This led me to the forum where I found out that this was an issue that quite a few people were having, and from what I could see, the forum experts were not dealing with this as a bug but as individual problem.  I then tried posting in the forum – and of course sod’s law could not post!  Tried again and managed to post but never got any response.  I then thought I would try to find a support email or support form – and despite my years of digital experience I could not find any form of support email or contact details.

I got increasingly frustrated – I have my work, my personal and my Hope for Romanian Strays account all linked and need to look at them multiple times during the day.  This was turning into a major issue for me, but I could not get any support from Microsoft.  I was doubly frustrated as I actually pay for a premium account (which I now intend on cancelling – what is the point of a premium account if you cannot get support?!).

I then thought I would resort to contacting Microsoft through the only contact details I could find – their social media accounts, in particular Twitter.  Result!!  I got a response very quickly from their support twitter handle asking what the problem was and then suggesting I look in the forum.  Great thought I – this is not overly helpful.  So I responded with the issues I was having and was then sent a link to a support form.  I promptly went off happy at the Twitter response and sent of the form.  24 hours later I got a response – again I was pleased with this until I actually clicked through to the link where I was told that this was their response, they had dealt with me issue and that was that.  The only problem was they had not resolved anything and had not given me any guidance on what I needed to get my problem resolved!!

So I went back to Twitter and shared the response with them.  They then suggested I try the forum again – perhaps signing in using another account.  I did this and tried to find the previous thread and then post on this again.  Once again I could not post and finally the only way I could post was to start a new thread.  You can then probably imagine my relief when after a few days I saw in my inbox that  I had a response.  The response I got however was “It seems your issue has already been escalated in a different thread.  Please check your original thread for any updates regarding your concern and kindly refrain from submitting duplicate threads to avoid confusion and to better assist you resolve your issue.”  but no link to the so-called thread and when I tried to search for it was unable to find it. To use a social media term: WTF?!!!  The whole reason I started  new thread was because I did not see a response on the old thread and could not post on one of the other existing threads.  So naturally I responded to this but also shared this with the Twitter guys.  Again the Twitter guys responded within a hour or so.

By this time I was two weeks in without my linked account functionality and had resorted to forwarding one of my Hotmail accounts to my Gmail account so I could flip between accounts without having to log in and out of Hotmail the whole time.  I was angry with Microsoft.  Really angry.  And I shared this via Twitter and mentioned that I was going to be blogging about this.  The Twitter guys were again really great, very apologetic and thanking me for my patience.  I now was so so angry with Microsoft but at the same time really impressed with their twitter response.   Finally, one day out of the blue, my linked functionality was randomly back.  No response or contact from the Microsoft forum experts or anyone else from Microsoft.

To me this was such a horrid customer support service and for the life of me I cannot understand why an organisation like Microsoft does not offer clear contact for support issues, that is easy to find, and does not only direct you to the forum for support.  The number of people using Microsoft products, who are not digitally savvy and would not have a clue how to deal with the forum must be huge.  We are not yet all digital natives and there is also still an expectation to be able to contact a company for support for a product for which you have paid.  I am appalled that a large organisation like this can provide such dreadful support and be so incredibly poor at communicating.  The only shining star in all of this are their Twitter team who were great.  They were rapid in responding, so best practice social media, human and helpful.  This is exactly what customer support is supposed to be – regardless of channel.  It is great to see a company providing great support like this via social media – but they need to sort out their more “traditional” channels.  Shame on you Microsoft.

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