Don't you hate it when a company decides that you--a customer--should spend your time fixing their problem? I do. Here's my latest story, courtesy of Microsoft. I'm getting ready to go to Burton Group's Catalyst Conference and so this morning I installed the latest version of Microsoft Streets and Trips on my laptop. I went to activate it and lo and behold, it announced that I'd reached my activation limit. At this point there are five PCs in the house, and I'd lost track of where I'd installed it (I'd installed it on one desktop PC several months back [which I'd forgotten about] and on another one yesterday). The license says I can install it on a desktop PC and a laptop, and that's it. Fair enough. I de-installed in from one of my desktop PCs, re-installed it on my laptop, and it still wouldn't activate. Although the license says I can de-install it and put it on another machine, the activation technology doesn't work that way--when you uninstall it, the software doesn't phone home and say this machine no longer has it installed (a Microsoft Support Manager confirmed this behavior to me later).
Thus began my hour-long journey on my way to fix Microsoft's problem. My first hurdle was finding the right support number to call--the first call into Microsoft Support using the number they supplied within the software got me to a Customer Support Rep who transfered me to a different Support line wanting me to pay $35 for the call. ("So let me get this straight--your software doesn't work the way your license says it should and you want me to pay for the privilege of fixing it?") I bailed out of that one. I eventually made my way to quite a pleasant Support Rep who then said I needed to call from another phone to a different Support line to activate the product over the phone while she held on on this line (apparently conference calling isn't supported within Microsoft Support, and Microsoft assumes everyone has two lines in their house or has a cellphone). After getting caught in automated touchpad hell twice and hearing for the third time, "You know sir, you can only install this on two PCs," I finally got everything straightened out.
Here's my list of the aggravations:
- As I mentioned above, deinstalling Streets and Trips 2008 doesn't notify the license server that a previously active copy is no longer active. In short, the activation software doesn't map to the license wording. What poor excuse for a product manager allowed the product to ship with that bug? Since it was clear I was irate, the nice Support Rep transfered me to her manager when the call was completed, and he told me that this problem was fixed in the next release. OK, but that doesn't give Microsoft a pass. Anyone who did any form of customer experience analysis ("Customers de-install the software, customers have their hard drives crash," etc.) would have seen this flaw straight away. When I was a software product manager and in this exact same boat with keys for image servers (our activation software was more anal retentive than our license), I relaxed the activation software so that it gave some wriggle room to customers but still caught the egregious violators. This is not rocket science--just common sense.
- Given how many customers Microsoft has and how many support calls it takes, it's amazing how much of a maze customer support is.
- Streets and Trips 2008 won't save its files in the Streets and Trips 2006 file format. So if I want to keep running 2006 on my daughter's and wife's laptops, we can no longer share maps. Thank you, Microsoft, for trying to force me to upgrade. However, I'm cheap and I won't; I'll just seethe at Microsoft's inability to be customer-centric.
This was an aggravating episode that I'll get over--maybe. But it highlights the fact that writing great software (and I like Streets and Trips) isn't enough; a lousy installation experience will cancel all of that great work.