Microsoft Corp. will soon commit to a new policy to give customers “greater clarity and confidence about its support for products through their lifecycles,” CEO Steve Ballmer told customers in a broad memo e-mailed out on Wednesday afternoon.
But Ballmer would not elaborate on the initiative, and a Microsoft spokesman also declined further comment.
The upcoming new policy initiative was mentioned in what is an ongoing series of e-mails to customers from Microsoft executives, including chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates, Ballmer and, from time to time, others.
The memos are designed to address those issues that these executives feel are important to consumers, business, the industry and Microsoft itself. In this latest e-mail, Ballmer focuses on what Microsoft is doing to maintain and deepen customer connections with the Redmond, Wash., software firm.
Error reporting is one of the ways Microsoft is trying to create broader customer connections, he said. Another is through its software update and management services which, according to Ballmer, have “made it easy for customers to keep their software current.”
But this was not the case for many Windows XP users, who complained that the update system caused them problems.
Ballmer also said Microsoft is making changes in its product service and support to enhance value and to speed resolution of customer problems, but again he offered no additional details.
Microsoft has also found that, among all the software bugs involved in reports, a relatively small proportion caused most of the errors. “About 20 percent of the bugs cause 80 percent of all errors, and—this is stunning to me—one percent of bugs cause half of all errors,” Ballmer said.
In Windows XP Service Pack 1, error reporting enabled Microsoft to address 29 percent of errors involving the operating system and applications running on it, including a large number of third-party applications, he said.
Error reporting further helped eliminate more than half of all Office XP errors with Office XP Service Pack 2. Work continues to find and fix remaining bugs in these and other existing products, he said, adding that error reporting is also helping Microsoft “resolve more problems before new products are released.”
But Ballmer acknowledged that, despite its best efforts, customers still encounter bugs in Microsoft software. While Windows 2000 and Windows XP have improved the stability and reliability of its platform, “and we eliminated many flaws, we did not find all the bugs in these or other products.
“Nor did we find all the software conflicts that can cause applications to freeze up or otherwise fail to perform as expected,” he conceded.
While Microsoft also has “a long way to go” on the road to further improving its products and providing greater customer satisfaction, it has identified some near-term objectives over the past year.
These include eliciting more customer feedback; offering easier, more consistent ways for customers to update their products; and providing them with more effective, readily available support and service.
“Customers expect the same high quality and reliability in computing devices and software as they do in consumer products. But meeting their expectations is much harder, and not just because information technology is more complex and interdependent,” he said.
If technology products are to approach the satisfying consistency of consumer staples, which they should, the industry needs to do a better job of connecting with its customers. “For a company such as Microsoft, with many millions of customers around the world, the connections must be very broad,” Ballmer said.
Throwing a piece of personal information into the mix, Ballmer admitted that, prior to working for Microsoft, his only other job had been marketing “brownie mix and blueberry muffin mix for one of the largest consumer products companies. Im glad I decided to join Microsoft 22 years ago, when it was a little software startup,” he said.
Microsoft is also, ultimately, trying to change how software developers do their jobs on a daily basis. The company is working to establish more of a direct, interactive connection between developers and customers.
“To get there, we intend to listen even more closely to our customers, consult with them regularly, and be more responsive. This is the message I am sending to all of Microsofts employees, and it is my commitment to you,” Ballmer concluded.