Tech Review

Apple Store vs. Microsoft Store - courtesy of Cult of Mac
As I mentioned in a blog post earlier this week, I was thinking of buying a few Microsoft Surface Pro 3's for some of our staff. This was ostensibly so we could continue testing all of our products on the latest version of Windows as well as the native applications that come with the new Microsoft devices. My experience brought to light a major, major issue that Microsoft is facing, one that is possibly even larger than the issues I mention in my previous post.

So, as I wanted to buy a few Surface Pro 3s, I figured the best place to start was on the Microsoft Store website. I pulled it up to look for any Business options. Unable to find what I wanted, I decided use the video chat with a Microsoft Employee. At first I was thinking "this is REALLY cool". It's like Amazon's "MayDay" feature, available on the Kindle Fire. However, unlike "Amy" from Amazon's ads, who seems to be able to quickly and extensively offer assistance, I found out that the person I was having the video chat with knew absolutely NOTHING. Even the most basic questions were not able to be answered. Ironically, I had a similar experience on Microsoft's Dynamics website via live chat. The Customer Representative didn't even understand basic questions about the Microsoft Dynamics application. They needed to set me up with a Product Specialist, which is what I thought I was already doing.

After a short stint in the video chat I call the Microsoft Store located in Scottsdale, Arizona. (One of only THREE Microsoft stores in the state). At least I thought I was calling a local store; I quickly found out I was sent to a call center, not the actual store. What the heck? After speaking with the call center person for a bit, and explaining what I wanted, they felt that it would be best to talk to someone at the store! That's what I wanted originally! I had to wait on hold for someone at the call center to find someone at my local store and then connect me. Very weird.

Once I was on the phone with a store representative, I started asking about discounts for bulk orders. We often do bulk purchases and by this time I was thinking about maybe converting all of our Customer Service staff to Surface Pros rather than just buying one or two more. The Business Person was less than excited on the phone, and it almost felt as if I was pulling teeth for information. The discounts on the Surface Pro 3 are VERY low. At least that's the impression I got from the store rep. However, I was told that I should try contacting CDW as they probably had better pricing. Huh?! Now, I'm not a huge fan of CDW, but I asked for contact information for someone I could talk to anyway. However, the Microsoft Store employee didn't have a phone number for a direct contact, but I was given the number for their call center. When I asked for an email address I got a default store email address. I did not contact CDW, to say the least.

The entire experience, from the online video and live chats to the phone calls, couldn't have been any worse.

Despite all of this, I was determined to get an employee a Surface Pro 3. Not everyone, mind you, but by now I had decided that ONE employee, at least, should have one so that we could get some more live testing performed and make sure all our SmarterTools products were as good as possible on these devices. I decided to call the Microsoft Store again and purchase a single Surface Pro 3, complete with a docking station, Type Keyboard...the works. I wanted to buy it all and then have one of the employees pick it up over the weekend.

Once again I ran into a brick wall: The only option available is to purchase online and have everything shipped. I wanted to scream...

At this point, is Microsoft really even trying? They're the underdog and they have NO clue how to provide a good user experience purchasing their products. It's hard enough when the operating system itself is difficult and clunky, but there's NO WAY that should translate into the buying experience.

To counter all of this, while we are a Windows software development company, 95% of our developers use MacBook Pros. All of our customer service and support representatives use Macs as well. We have worked with numerous Apple Business employees who are very responsive. When we need a MacBook Pro, we order it and have an employee run over and get it. If we need 10 Mac Minis, we can pick them up. If we want them customized, we order them through our Business contact and they're either shipped to us directly or to the store and we pick them up. They're shipped and delivered whichever way is the quickest FOR US. When we walk into our nearest Apple Store, they know us and treat us VERY well. It's a great relationship and that experience makes the Microsoft experience that much worse.

You know, Microsoft hasn't had any issues copying Apple's OS X over the years. Windows 10 introduces both virtual desktops and an almost exact replica of Apple's Mission Control. I think they should also spend time at an Apple Store...or several Apple Stores. Microsoft stores are dead and full of people with no LOVE for Microsoft. For employees, it seems to be just a job and the way Microsoft sets up call centers and a mailboxes per store rather than for their employees further separates the customer from the company. Counter this with going to an Apple Store where everyone in the store, from employees to customers, are enthusiastic and almost awestruck. Apple Stores are where people with the love for a product congregate. Microsoft Stores are places where people almost seem to go by accident.

Microsoft, your products are VERY inferior right now and it's hard to love them. Your store experiences aren't helping matters much. I'd venture to say the buying experience is even more hurtful to your brand and products than the products themselves.

As a side note, while doing these tests and really trying to get a feeling for the entire Microsoft ecosystem, I flirted with the idea of switching from my Samsung Note 3 to a Microsoft Phone, either a Nokia device or one of the new Samsung M8s running Windows. I tell you, it was an eye-opening experience shopping for a Windows phone! I use Verizon, so I went to a few Verizon stores to look at phones. NONE of the stores I went to had any! At Verizon, one of the largest, if not THE largest, mobile providers, Microsoft is a third-class citizen! On top of that, I learned that Microsoft will be keeping with Windows Phone 8.1 until late 1st quarter or early 2nd Quarter of 2015! I tell you, we're working on a new project - something unrelated to SmarterTools - that focuses on mobile devices. We planned on building it as a universal application across all 3 mobile platforms: iOS, Android and Windows. After my recent experiences, we're focusing solely on iOS and Android.

For a person who had built a rather large Web hosting company and then a software development company based on Microsoft products, it's been incredibly difficult to watch Microsoft's transition. Or, to be a bit more precise, their FAILURE to transition and transform. It's easy to see why Apple has exceeded 10% of the PC market, something they hadn't done since 1991. All this being said, Microsoft IS still generating a ton of revenue, as demonstrated by today's announcement. However, imagine how much MORE they'd earn if they JUST fixed the buying experience.

Knowing all of this, is it strange that I STILL want Microsoft to succeed? Should I quit trying and just accept the fact that Microsoft will continue on this path and never compete again in the consumer market? Others are on a much, much better path, and all indications are they're leaving Microsoft in the dust.