Microsoft Struggling With Office 365 Support, Partners Call It Growing Pains


Microsoft says its Office 365 is the fastest-growing product in its history, and the suite of cloud apps is what many of its customers are using to take their first steps into cloud computing.

Yet, recent incidents have shown Microsoft's Office 365 support to still be very much a work in progress, at least from the perspective of some customers and partners.

Microsoft came under fire in late June for its lack of timely communication during outages to its Exchange and Lync cloud services, which are part of Office 365.

Last Thursday, Microsoft's former head of Windows engineering Steven Sinofsky, currently with venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, had an unfruitful conversation on Twitter with two different Microsoft support teams about being unable to sign up for an Office 365 Midsize Business plan.

[Related: After Office 365 Cloud Outages, Partners Calling For Better Communication From Microsoft ]

Office 365 has experienced meteoric growth, with the Home edition reaching 4.4 million subscribers in its first 14 months on the market. But with this customer volume comes support challenges that go beyond the scope of what can be addressed in Twitter conversations.

Eventually, Sinofsky was able to get information on the glitch from unofficial channels. He also doesn't think Microsoft channel partners could have helped in this case.

Although Sinofsky tweeted screen shots of error messages and other pertinent information, Microsoft support didn't seem to grasp his problems, leading others eavesdropping on the conversation to speculate whether he was actually talking to a human.

Microsoft still hasn't explained what went wrong last Thursday, and a spokesperson declined to comment.

Sign-up glitches with Office 365 are relatively rare. John Gilham, principal cloud architect at Agile IT, a San Diego, Calif.-based Microsoft partner that provides Office 365 migration services, told CRN his customers run into sign-up issues about one percent of the time.

In general, Office 365 glitches are far less frequent than those in on-premise Office software, Gilham said.

While Microsoft can't assign a partner to help every Office 365 customer that runs into trouble, partners do have lots of experience in this area and are well-equipped to handle these situations.

"Partners deal with these issues 100 times a day, so we’re better at setting expectations for the actual migration experience," Gilham said.

Jerod Powell, co-founder and CEO of San Jose, Calif.-based Microsoft partner InfinIT Consulting, which has a thriving Office 365 business, doesn't see the Office 365 sign-up glitch as a big deal.

However, Powell would like to see Microsoft get better at supporting Office 365 customers.

"My main issue is with the level of tech support you get from Microsoft regarding any issue you have with Office 365," Powell said. "Unless it is a basic problem, you are going to have a challenge getting to the right person that can solve your issue, and it is going to take more time than it should."  

"Overall, the service for Office 365 is fabulous," Powell added. "Yes, Microsoft is having trouble scaling support, but that is what happens when something blows up like this. They will catch up and refine their support."

PUBLISHED JULY 7, 2014

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