Microsoft Tests New Customer-Support Plans

The software giant is tinkering with new support and pricing programs.

In keeping with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmers ongoing quest for improving customer satisfaction, Microsoft is dabbling with two new support and pricing programs.

Microsofts goal is to "provide customers with more effective, readily available support and service," said Ballmer in an open letter to customers, partners and press, published on the Web last week.

One of these pilots is called "Microsofts Support Subscription for Technical Professionals," or SSTP, for short. Microsoft kicked off this trial in July, and it will run through January, 2003.

The other pilot is for $99 online assisted support. Microsoft launched this one in September, and it will run through November.

After the two pilots end, Microsoft will compile feedback and determine if it should morph the pilots into full-fledged programs, according to company officials.

"Weve been getting more feedback on how users could come directly to Microsoft for support," said Neil Leslie, Microsoft general manager of worldwide developer support.

"Today, customers can come to us with, Somethings broke. We want to move to more of an advisory service role," Leslie added.

SSTP is aimed at "IT professionals," developers, OEMs, system builders and resellers. Microsoft is attempting to take some of the support lessons learned from its Technical Account Manager support program and bring them down the food chain to a broader group, Leslie explained.

Microsofts goal is to provide SSTP customers with a single point of contact within Product Support, whether they opt for the Level 1 or Level 2 plan. Both Levels 1 and 2 receive online support. But Level 2 subscribers receive support for six incidents (versus three for Level 1), 24-7 support, and more "advisory" hours with their Microsoft support rep.

Pricing is available from Microsoft.

Microsofts other pilot, for $99 Online Assisted Support, is primarily designed to test the effects of lowering Microsofts current $195 online support price tag," said Leslie.

For $99, pilot users can buy Web support for one incident.

In November, watch for Microsofts developer-support unit to roll out yet another new support option. Just as Microsoft currently offers for its Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) users, the company will offer TechNet customers managed-newsgroup support, Leslie said.

Mary Jo Foley is editor of Ziff Davis Microsoft Watch. Click here to get your 14-day free trial.