Microsoft just doesn't learn how to keep customers happy

Despite a plethora of interesting products, Microsoft continues to squander opportunities to do right by itself and its customers.

For all of the talk recently that Microsoft is listening to its customers, the company just doesn’t seem to get it. There are a number of reasons I say that, but two recent events in particular have me scratching my head. The first had to do with Windows 8.1’s unceremonious arrival in my TechNet account a few weeks back, although Microsoft publically claimed it wouldn’t release final 8.1 code to anyone prior to the October 18 launch date. And the second relates to Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2.

BACKGROUND: Start listening to your customers, Microsoft

Back in July, I wrote a piece titled, "Start listening to your customers, Microsoft" in which I pointed out a number of circumstances that forced Microsoft to react to negative criticism. Instead of proactively listening to customers and giving them what they wanted from the get-go, Microsoft instead announced a number of products or policies and ended up reversing course.

This whole TechNet situation is a perfect example. Why the heck would Microsoft make such a production about not offering early Windows 8.1 access to Technet subscribers only to do the exact opposite? It just doesn’t make any sense. It almost seems as if some marketing “genius” at Microsoft thinks that lowering customer’s expectations and then sneakily coming through in the end will result in some sort of good will. Of course, I don’t actually believe that, but this constant reversal of course is doing nothing to help Microsoft. And it’s happening so often that one has to question whether or not it’s by accident.

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Is Microsoft’s updated Surface 2 headed for the same fate as the original?

Now that the Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro have arrived, Microsoft has proven once again that it may be listening to customers, but it still has selective hearing. If there was one near-universal theme to the original Surface launch, it was that most customers and reviewers thought the hardware was top-notch, but that pricing seemed questionable in light of the fledgling ecosystem, available storage, and competing products. In this very blog, in a post titled “Microsoft's Surface tablet already can't compete,” I said that pricing wasn’t aggressive enough and that Microsoft had to do something to make the Surface a stand-out deal. I took a ton of flack in the comments on that piece, but ultimately Microsoft had to write down nearly a billion dollars’ worth of Surface tablets, so I guess this is as good a time as any to throw in an "I told you so."

Microsoft is doing some good things with Surface 2, like the free Skype calling and 200GB of SkyDrive storage, but when a customer gets to the sales counter, despite the better specs and improved hardware, the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 still don’t stand out against competing products. Throw in a darn Touch or Type cover and Microsoft would have a home run on their hands. I know it’s not an inexpensive piece of kit to just throw in for free, but now’s the time to be aggressive with the bundles, while the company is still making gobs of money.

Now is not the time for business as usual at Microsoft. The company is under siege and it must make some bold moves if it is to win back customers, bolster its image, and gain some sort of foothold in the ultra-mobile space. Do some bold and aggressive things that your potential customers will appreciate, and the turn-around will be swift. Keep waffling and trying to sneak things past people, only to capitulate later, and the recent doom and gloom will only get worse.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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