Introducing the smartphone comedy team of Microsoft and Yahoo

You know that data glitch on your Windows Phone 7 handset? Well, too bad.

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This is story about how two companies, in this case Microsoft and Yahoo, still think the most important part of a solving a customer service problem is covering your corporate butt.

You know that data glitch that's been afflicting some Windows Phone 7 handsets: unexplained, unexpected sudden spikes in data surges. Scary, in terms of possibly having to shell out big bucks for going way over your data plan's limit.

So, first there were complaints. Then there were rumors, some of which said the surges involved phones connecting to the Yahoo Mail service. And that in turn would suggest a possible intermittent problem limited to only those WP7 users with Yahoo Mail and maybe not even all of them.

Microsoft's first statement awhile back was basically "we're taking this seriously and looking into it." Perfectly reasonable. You have to figure out what's happening and then figure out why it's happening.

Then, good news! They figured it out. Microsoft said yesterday "We have determined that an inefficiency exists in the synchronization of email between the Windows Phone Mail client and Yahoo! Mail." Now, you might think that the NEXT part of the corporate statement would be something like "And here's what the inefficiency is and how it causes this problem."

But you would be wrong. Because you are thinking like a customer, or maybe like a reporter. Or possibly like a human being, naively believing that "explaining" a problem means, you know, explaining it.

Those schooled in the ways of big companies know that the Corporate Statement is not intended to explain anything. It's intended to avoid blame or to cast it upon others. Normal humans try to think in terms of responsibility and accountability.

Microsoft's statement remained resolutely opaque. There's an inefficiency in the email synchronization. Pesky things, those inefficiencies. Sort of like my aging car's aging radio: due to an inefficiency thing, it sometimes work and sometimes doesn't. Most of the rest of Microsoft's statement was how to change the setting of your Windows Phone 7 mail client for Yahoo Mail, so that it wouldn't synch as much mail as often. And a promise that a permanent will be rolled out pretty soon.

Well, the folks at Yahoo apparently were not amused: they knew what Microsoft was doing -- blandly and subtly implying that the inefficiency was, somehow, associated with the Yahoo Mail service. Without actually saying that.

So Yahoo issues its own statement. And this statement says, in effect, "Hey, our Mail service works great with all these other mobile operating systems. The only reason it doesn't with Windows Phone is because Microsoft created an inefficiency by doing a non-standard implementation of IMAP. We suggested they change that." But being a Corporate Statement it actually reads: "The issue on the Windows Phones is specific to how Microsoft chose to implement IMAP for Yahoo! Mail and does not impact Yahoo! Mail on these other mobile devices."

And then, the statement suggests, blandly and subtly, that Yahoo has been diligently, but without too much success, prodding Microsoft to do the right thing: "Yahoo! has offered to provide Microsoft a near-term solution for the implementation they chose, and is encouraging Microsoft to change to a standard way of integrating with Yahoo! Mail, which would result in a permanent fix."

I think the Yahoo statement perfectly meets the Urban Dictionary's definition of "bitchslap."

But really, Yahoo is doing the same thing Microsoft did: trying to avoid stepping up to the plate and saying "here's the problem; here's what's causing it; here's what you can do about it as a customer; here's what we're doing or did about it; here's the time frame."

Sometimes reading online complaints, rants, spoutings, flames, pleas in forums and user groups can be depressing. But the intensity of those comments reflects the rather simple truth that people want to know: they want to know WHAT is happening, WHY something is broken, HOW it can be fixed, and WHEN it will be. And when the vast majority of them have entrusted their precious Mobile Experience to a complex of complex hardware and software, they reasonably expect that knowledgeable technical experts and efficient customer service reps will deal with it. Pronto.

One of the great mysteries and even greater frustrations of consumer life is how often companies will dash, if not trash, those expectations.

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