How to complain (and get results)

Thanks to the associate who sent the link this morning to the article in today’s Seattle Times, “Firing of an e-mail? Make sure of your aim,” which offers a look at how an email exchange that lacks clarity can raise someone’s ire. (This in response to my blog posting yesterday on emailing Steve Jobs.)

I have seen my share of letters and emails on various issues and problems (even some notes of appreciation), some that are forwarded to me by execs to be routed to the right people in the product groups. I thought about what goes into a good email or snail mail note.

So here are a few tips I thought of this morning while the kids were happily eating their breakfasts and watching mindless cartoons.

Title your email appropriately. If you’re sending an email, make the subject clear and easy to understand, something like “REQUEST: Problem with Contoso Application” or include important info like “Customer Support: Ref#123456” if you have an open service request. 

Keep it to one page, two at most (front and back). I recently received a letter which was five or six pages and it took a while to piece together what the person was asking for in their message. For email, you want the main issue and message in the first couple of paragraphs (We often say at the office that you need to make your message clear in the first “pane” of the mail window, getting the reader’s attention when they open the mail or see the preview.) If you do go longer than one page, use the back of the sheet as it’s easy to lose stapled or paperclipped pages.

Be clear on who you are, what the problem is, why you’re writing and what you want. One snail mail I forwarded on to one product team was a good example: the first paragraph briefly explained about the person writing the note, the second noted the problem, the third listed out the actions to date and the fourth and final paragraph clearly called out what the customer wanted us to do about it.

Include links or pointers to more information. So many people these days detail the issues they’ve run into and the hurdles they’ve run up against to get some help on their blogs and newsgroups, so take a moment and include an online reference. More and more companies these days have people who monitor the Web and popular newsgroups for feedback, often treating these as online, early warning systems. On MSDN and TechNet, the blogs and the feedback they generate are often good coalmine canaries.

Include the best ways for the company to contact you. If you send an email, many will assume that email is the best way. Be sure to include your email address in the body of your message, as it can sometimes be lost when notes are forwarded or printed. And include your address and phone number.

Sending it off: OK, you’ve written the message, now where do you send it? If you’re looking for help on one of Microsoft’s many products that you purchased for your PC, start your search on, your first stop on getting the help you need with your Microsoft products. Microsoft provides two support requests submitted online (by email or IM chat) or by phone at no charge (see the support page for detail). See also a previous previous blog entry that includes several links to online assistance.

If that doesn’t work, look on MSDN and TechNet for people from the product teams and I’ve found that most if not all are very responsive and welcome feedback via their blogs and online forums. For instance, there’s the Product Solution Center on our Support Site and Office has the Office Discussion Group to “ask questions, share information, or exchange ideas with others, including experts from around the globe.” Xbox has the Xbox online support center and lists out their Top Troubleshooting Articles. I also like Blake’s “Ultimate List” of Microsoft Software and resources: we could certainly benefit by maintaining such a page.

If you feel like you’ve exhausted all avenues, escalate to your last contact’s manager or look for an appropriate contact via the Web: we list out information for our sales offices worldwide, our corporate headquarters and our executives.

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Managing podcasts: Marc Mercuri’s InfoCenter

Microsoft Watch has an article today on Marc Mercuri’s information-aggregator, Information Center, or InfoCenter.  As noted on Marc’s blog, if you haven’t heard of InfoCenter, then it’s worth checking out

From Microsoft Watch:

“Carl Franklin, the CEO of Pwop Productions, who has had a chance to see the product, described InfoCenter as “an RSS aggregator/podcast-enclosure downloader on steroids.”

“Mercuri showed off a prototype of InfoCenter to a handful of individuals at Microsoft’s TechEd conference in June. In July, he unveiled InfoCenter to a broader group, via the “.Net Rocks” radio show. Mercuri is expecting to release for download the latest InfoCenter bits, complete with a newly redesigned interface, around August 9.”

Anything that makes it easier to track and manage podcasts is super, so August 9th can’t come soon enoug. As I was discussing with Richard Sprague yesterday, there’s just way too much to manage these days around mail, blogs, podcasts and websites.

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Link: Geoffrey Moore interview: innovation alone is not enough

Of interest: a new interview in Innovations magazine with Geoffrey Moore (author of Crossing the Chasm and his new book Dealing with Darwin) is available for download here. Moore’s new book takes a look at how innovation alone is not enough… “Innovation also requires an investment strategy that puts your resources where they count, and a people strategy that aligns those resources with the best skills of all your employees.”

An interesting viewpoint in the interview:

Q: How can companies reignite their growth engines?

Moore: “You have to self-fund. But where are you going to get the resources? My view is that you have to extract resources from context to repurpose for core.

“I’ll give you an example. Right now, Microsoft is getting beaten up. Everyone is saying Google is winning the IQ awards, and Microsoft is brain-dead. The reason why Microsoft is in such trouble is they have to put all their resources into their two franchises, Windows and Office. But
Darwin says no. You have to continue to meet the revenue commitments of those context franchises, but you have to do it with fewer resources, so that you can take some resources and spend them on core, on whatever type of innovation will work for you. This is how they did manufacturing at Cisco Systems. They centralized it, they standardized it, they modularized it, they optimized it, and then they outsourced it.”


David Pogue on how great customer service breeds loyalty

Generally, I like what David Pogue has to say. Today in his daily mail he covers “Business 101: Quality Customer Service Breeds Customer Loyalty.” (registration required)

In it, he talks about the experience he had with a popular online electronics retailer, one that I must confess I have never used. (My wife will find that quite alarming, as she thinks I’ve been a customer of just about every major computer and electronics etailer on the web).

What struck me in the column today was not the great price, the web user experience or the fast shipping… Mr. Pogue wrote about something that made a much bigger impact on him: the customer experience he had with the company. He talks about how Crutchfield has a “hyper-service-oriented approach” that has “generated a massive audience of rabid and repeat customers.”


This from today’s article

“Sure enough: when the package arrived, there was Crutchfield’s installation manual, with the company’s “we’re here to help you” toll-free number printed in 60-point type on the first page.

“What are they, nuts!? They are actually *inviting* people to call them for free technical support? Don’t they have any idea how that idea will kill their revenue stream? Haven’t they learned anything from the computer industry?

“Above all, I can’t help wondering why nobody else has questioned the wisdom of the current “go away, customer” attitude that prevails in the penny-pinching computer and software industries.”

There’s part of that last sentence, that software companies have developed a “go away, customer” attitude, that rings true and in some ways is not quite correct. If anything, a number of companies have increased the ways in which you can interact with the company, making it easier than ever before to get help with a software problem. But problems and inconsistencies do still exist. Contrast the above experience with this well-documented and discussed poor example…

“The response was overwhelming. More than 1,000 readers weighed in with comments, many lamenting their own customer service horror stories with the vendor. Ferrari was interviewed on the Today show. Google news lists 32 news accounts of the incident. The recording was downloaded more than 65,000 times from YouTube. Demand was so high that Ferrari’s blog server crashed. You can read his story here.”

I’ve talked about my good OEM support experiences with Dell and examples of how our own OfficeLive team makes the connection with customers during their beta. More on that later, but I wanted to point out that every time we interact with a customer and a partner, we should view these as an opportunity to influence and delight our customers.

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Of interest & Links: FAS’ intern site on Preparing for a disaster

Last year I blogged about being prepared for a disaster. Tonight a reader sent me a link to on boingboing’s entry on the new ReallyReady web site (created by a summer intern at the Federation of American Scientists) which “beats the Department of Homeland Security’s site.”

“The Federation of American Scientists hopes to achieve two purposes with

  • To provide clear and correct information to citizens interested in preparing themselves and their families for an emergency

  • To persuade the Department of Homeland Security to take a serious look at and their policy on the accuracy of information and to make important changes that will help Americans to prepare for terrorist attacks or natural disasters.”

I have to agree: it’s clear, concise and easy to understand. 

There are links to three sep sites: ReallyReady America, ReallyReady Business and ReallyReady Disabilities (self explanatory).

I also like their really useful links:

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