Lately there’s been a lot of online discussion (such as here, courtesy Instapundit) about Microsoft. I don’t know enough about such issues to comment, but I recently had a minor experience that I think points up how Microsoft has changed.
About five years ago I bought a Microsoft trackball. It failed in a few weeks and I phoned one of Microsoft’s customer-service phone numbers. I told them what happened, they asked a few questions and sent me a new trackball. The entire process took just a few minutes and I didn’t even have to send them the broken trackball.
A few months ago the replacement trackball failed, still under warranty. This time I spent a lot of time searching Microsoft’s Web sites for the right phone number. Then it took two calls, during which I spoke with about five people and spent thirty minutes on the phone, to deal with the problem. And Microsoft wouldn’t replace my trackball, which had been discontinued. Instead of offering to send me a different model they said my only option was a refund. And I had to send them the old trackball first. The people on the phone were nice and Microsoft even refunded my shipping costs, but everything was much more bureaucratic and inflexible than it was five years ago, when the guy on the phone had simply said, “we’ll send you a new one” (or words to that effect). I think it would have cost the company half as much this time if the first person I spoke with had had the authority to send me a comparable replacement for my failed product. And it would have saved me time as well.
Companies change. When I bought my trackball Microsoft was still the premier tech company, with a corporate culture based on exponential growth and go-getter employees. Nowadays Microsoft is a mature company in a mature industry. Its stock price has been stagnant for some time and it probably has much more difficulty recruiting the best employees. It’s interesting how these things tend to work. Microsoft is merely following a path that most successful companies follow. (How many of the leading companies tracked by the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1930 are still around?)