Microsoft IT Tech Link: A Face-to-Face Approach to Support
Business Case Study
Published: March 2011
Microsoft Information Technology (Microsoft IT) Tech Link centers provide Microsoft employees and vendors with a walk-in location where they receive face-to-face troubleshooting support from the Microsoft IT group's (MSIT) personnel. Utilizing Tech Link enables users to receive timely resolutions to their software and hardware issues, and examine and test the most-current MSIT-approved hardware. This improves user satisfaction, and employee and corporate productivity.
Business Case Study, 356 KB, Microsoft Word file
|The vision of Microsoft Corporation, as the worldwide leader in software for business and personal computing, is to enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential. Microsoft employs 89,000 people and had revenues exceeding $62 billion for the year ending June 2010.||
Microsoft IT wanted to enhance customer satisfaction and improve productivity among employees and vendors who contact support personnel to resolve hardware and software issues.
Microsoft IT decided to open walk-in, no-appointment-necessary support centers to provide users with face-to-face, quick, and efficient problem resolution.
Microsoft IT puts a new spin on user support with Tech Link, the drop-in, no-appointment-necessary centers where users can have face-to-face contact with a technical expert who will fix their computer problems quickly. There are six Tech Link centers—four in the Puget Sound region of Washington state; one in Tokyo, Japan; and one in Munich, Germany. In the near future, Microsoft IT plans to open additional Tech Link locations in several other locations around the world.
These centers help improve user efficiency, by providing a dedicated customer-service environment in which they can receive enhanced support beyond the traditional calls to the Helpdesk and visits by desk-side support technicians.
Tech Link centers provide a welcoming and efficient environment in which Microsoft internal users, including vendors with a Microsoft e-mail alias, can drop off their laptops for troubleshooting and repair, and examine, test, and receive training on the latest MSIT hardware offerings. Each Tech Link has a service level agreement (SLA) pertaining to repair time that technicians attempt to meet. For example, at the North American Tech Link locations, technicians attempt to repair software and hardware issues within three hours, which results in minimal user downtime.
"In the U.S., we have an SLA to resolve 80 percent of the cases in less than three hours," said German Marrugo Rojas, Microsoft senior program manager for deskside services. "Right now, we are resolving 94 to 96 percent of the issues in three hours or less. The idea is to respond as soon as we can, and resolve the issue."
MSIT introduced Tech Link in 2009 as a way to increase net satisfaction (NSAT) scores that derive from user surveys that MSIT conducts electronically after every support call. Additionally, MSIT wanted to minimize the productivity impact that users experience when they have hardware and software issues. Tech Link centers display the latest MSIT-approved hardware and software, and technicians provide periodic user training sessions on new and beta products that are in the testing phase. Microsoft employees refer to this pilot phase as the dogfooding process.
"We looked at what we were doing in different countries where we had very high satisfaction results. We had high satisfaction with the service in (locations) where users can go and request help directly of the technician."
German Marrugo Rojas
Senior Program Manager for Deskside Services
Additionally, some Tech Link locations have loaner laptops available, which technicians can issue to users if they determine that user problems will take more than three hours to resolve. Tech Link centers also support environmental sustainability at Microsoft by highlighting the latest power-saving options available, and utilizing green construction materials and operating processes.
Note: The SLA for the Tokyo and Munich Tech Link centers correlates to the SLA for traditional Microsoft desk-side support, which is that 80 percent of cases must be resolved in eight business hours or less. This differs from the North American Tech Link SLA, which mandates that issues be resolved in three hours or less. Additionally, while OEMs certify Puget Sound technicians to perform hardware repairs, this is currently not the case outside of the United States. In Tokyo and Munich, additional repair time typically is necessary, because OEMs must provide necessary parts and perform any hardware repairs. This is the only appreciable service difference between the Tokyo and Munich Tech Link centers and the Puget Sound locations.
This document is for corporate executives, managers, and IT professionals who want to increase employee satisfaction with their organization's support processes, while maintaining employee and corporate productivity during periods of hardware and software troubleshooting and repair.
MSIT uses scorecards and surveys to measure and drive its performance, and generates user feedback by using two types of surveys. There are brief transactional surveys that MSIT asks users to complete electronically after each Helpdesk call, and then more in-depth relational surveys that MSIT conducts once per quarter.
The results of these surveys feed the Chief Information Officer's (CIO) Scorecard. NSAT scores comprise a portion of the CIO scorecard and in part derive from survey responses of users. Executives calculate NSAT scores by using the following formula:
NSAT = %VSAT - %DSAT + 100
%VSAT is the percentage of responses of "Very Satisfied", and %DSAT is the percentage of responses of "Somewhat Dissatisfied + Very Dissatisfied". After adding the value of 100 to the NSAT score to avoid possible negative values, the final NSAT score is an integer between 0 and 200.
Historically at Microsoft, desk-side support NSAT scores in Redmond have been lower than the NSAT scores obtained for other corporate locations around the world.
A New Approach to User Support
To enhance the user experience, MSIT executives began searching for new ways to provide technical support and increase user satisfaction. Specifically, executives looked at how MSIT provides service in different countries where NSAT scores are higher, and found that users typically report higher satisfaction in those Microsoft locations where they can go directly to technicians for help.
In some Microsoft offices in Asia, Europe, and Latin America, employees typically go straight to their Helpdesk technicians, because the offices are smaller, and everyone knows where the technicians are located. Additionally, because the MSIT Helpdesk provides support mainly in English, MSIT has to provide more personalized service in these locations, where employees typically are non-English speakers and they are not comfortable explaining, in English, their PC issues.
In North America, users typically call the Microsoft Helpdesk where specialized agents attempt to resolve their issues over the phone. If necessary, Helpdesk agents can escalate a user's case to a desk-side support technician if on-site support is required. This technician contacts the user, and arranges a time to meet and troubleshoot the problems. Many times, the desk-side support technician must order parts to resolve the issue, which can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. As soon as the part arrives, the desk-side support technician makes another appointment with the user to finalize the repair.
Minimizing Impact to User Productivity
An important facet to any solution, Marrugo said, was to lessen any downtime users might experience while technicians resolve their hardware and software issues, either because of time spent on the phone with the Helpdesk or spent waiting for a desk-side support visit or replacement parts.
"Obviously, there is downtime in the process, where the user may not have their computer to use, so it impacts productivity," Marrugo said.
MSIT executives examined NSAT data, researched ways to reduce productivity impacts, and benchmarked industry help-desk trends. From this, they theorized that they could raise NSAT scores, while lowering downtime, by establishing an on-site technical support center. Thus, Tech Link was born.
Tech Link, which commits to scoring an NSAT of 195 or higher, currently services more than 3,500 walk-in clients monthly. Since its inception, its NSAT scores consistently are 196 or higher. There currently are six Tech Link locations, including the two newest ones: Tokyo, Japan, which opened February 14, 2011, and Munich, Germany, which opened February 21, 2011. The four other Tech Link locations are in Puget Sound:
- On the Sammamish campus in Building SAMM-C
- On the Redmond Campus West in Building 122
- On the Redmond campus in The Commons Submixer (next to the art gallery)
- On the Redmond campus in Building 34/35 (the cafeteria).
Users can walk into any Puget Sound Tech Link location for immediate, face-to-face service Monday through Friday from 07:00 to 18:00 (excluding holidays), and interact with technicians that have the same qualifications, tools, and experience as desk-side support technicians.
In Tokyo, the Tech Link is open from 09:00 to 18:00. In Munich, the Tech Link is open from 08:30 to 17:30.
In North America, Tech Link technicians have a commitment to a three-hour time-to-resolution limit for laptop repairs, and they achieve this target approximately 85 percent of the time, Marrugo said.
In comparison, North American desk-side support services have a time-to-resolution limit of eight business hours, per their SLA.
Figure 1. Tech Link users can solve issues by working with technicians, and can test-drive new hardware and software
If technicians need to keep a user's laptop for longer than three hours, they can supply users with a loaner laptop, and port all of their needed data to the loaner. This enables users to remain productive while technicians repair their laptops. Each Tech Link location has several available loaner laptops.
Note: Employees and vendors with a Microsoft e-mail alias also can bring in non-MSIT standard equipment. Tech Link technicians will conduct a good-faith effort to troubleshoot and resolve any issues with non-MSIT standard equipment, but the three-hour time-to-resolution limit does not apply. Additionally, technicians cannot replace hardware parts or disassemble non-MSIT standard equipment, because this can nullify the product's warranty.
Additionally, each Tech Link has a senior technician in residence to provide further support should it become necessary to solve a user's issue.
"These are the most technically savvy people among the technicians," Marrugo said. "They are an escalation point for the technicians when they are facing an issue where they don't know what to do. What we did was locate one of these gurus in each Tech Link. We moved them from their original location in one building, where no one had face-to-face access to them, and moved them to each Tech Link."
Each Tech Link location has a private workroom in which technicians can disassemble hardware, troubleshoot issues, and replace parts as necessary. The senior technicians typically are hard at work in the workroom, but are available at a moment's notice should a Tech Link technician require additional assistance. If neither the technician nor a senior technician can resolve a user's issue, they can escalate hardware issues directly to the OEM or software issues to the specific Tier 2 and Tier 3 technical support organizations.
Making Support Stress-Free for Users
"The tech desk was awesome. They were helpful, thorough, and very nice. I felt well-taken care of in a stressful situation. The atmosphere of the place is very nice as well. I think this is a great addition to Microsoft's employee benefits and will definitely benefit overall productivity and morale."
User response from
Tech Link transactional survey Microsoft Corporation
Tech Link enables MSIT to provide support in a relaxing environment that limits disruption or stress to users. When users walk in, a concierge greets them, opens a service ticket, and then introduces them to the assigned technician. Users then explain their issue to the technician, and can discuss any troubleshooting steps they have already taken or ask any questions they might have.
Users can drop off their laptops, and then go have lunch, grab coffee, or attend meetings. Conversely, they can stay at Tech Link and log on to one of the in-house display laptops. Instantly, they are back on the Microsoft network, and are able to access e-mail, Windows SharePoint® Services, and other necessities. These display laptops feature the most-current technology that MSIT has approved for use, which enables users to try out potential procurement options. The display laptops also feature the power-saving options that support Microsoft's commitment to environmental sustainability.
"We apply the green IT concept in everything we do," said Silvina Olkies, Global Deskside Services Director. "We have a commitment to helping Microsoft with environmental sustainability efforts. Enhancing the user experience and the product, and also promoting hardware standards and doing showcases of our technology were the main drivers for the creation of the Tech Link."
Other ways in which the Tech Link centers support the Microsoft IT green initiative include:
- Users can receive training on managing power consumption and the proper use of their computers' power options.
- Technicians encourage users to utilize Microsoft® Office collaboration technologies, which reduces the amount of paper and printer toner that they use and helps reduce the amount of traveling that they must do.
- Technicians can educate and encourage users regarding the proper recycling of computer hardware and peripherals.
Additionally, the construction of the Tech Link centers supports environmental sustainability by:
- Utilizing paint with little or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Paints and finishes release low-level toxic emissions into the air. Typically, VOCs are the source of these toxins.
- Using occupancy sensors for lights, which decreases the amount of time that lights are on.
- Reusing electrical fixtures, when possible.
- Using water-based sealants for ductwork.
The Tech Link Pilot: The Challenges of Providing Face-to-Face Support
Once MSIT decided to develop the Tech Link pilot locations in Sammamish and in building 122 on the Redmond campus, the main challenges were:
- Finding space for the Tech Link centers.
- Fostering cross-team collaboration and communication to oversee the development, building, and opening of the Tech Link centers.
- Providing service for the technically divergent groups in Redmond.
- Addressing user issues stemming from the dogfooding process.
- Introducing the service without being overwhelmed with service requests.
Making Room for Tech Link
"When we started with the pilot in Sammamish and 122, it took a lot of time to get space for the two locations. Space is hard to get inside Microsoft," Olkies said. "We were doing something new, so we needed to justify the benefit of having Tech Links and using the space. It took a couple of months to get approval for the first two locations. For the next two, we were able to get space in a week or two. As soon as you can show value, it makes a huge difference. Now we have people coming to us and saying, 'Hey, we have this space. Do you want to open a Tech Link?'"
The two pilot locations, which opened in January 2009, were in the cafeteria on the Sammamish campus and in an open area in building 122 on the Redmond campus. MSIT selected those locations after identifying where desk-side support technicians were performing a significant number of service calls.
Working Together to Create Tech Link
Although MSIT spearheaded the creation of Tech Link, several teams internal to Microsoft played a huge role, Olkies said, including Finance, Human Resources, Marketing, and Real Estate and Facilities. Additionally, non-Microsoft entities were involved, including architectural and construction teams as well as a vendor support partner.
"This was true cross-team collaboration," Olkies said. "I think we had an amazing experience. We started with two Tech Link locations, and everything was new for everyone. It was a new experience for MSIT. We're not experienced in construction or in talking with architects or coming up with signage. It was quite a great learning curve for us."
It also was necessary for groups within MSIT to create new collaboration practices. MSIT streamlined its desk-side support processes, and created the Run Book for Tech Link. This comprehensive document includes all of the detailed information necessary to run a Tech Link center, including descriptions of all processes, and the roles and responsibilities for Tech Link, Helpdesk, and desk-side support personnel. This enables each of these support groups to work together most effectively when developing, opening, and operating a Tech Link center.
Targeting Tech Link Service to a Wide Variety of Users
Another challenge facing MSIT during the development of Tech Link was addressing the technical disparity among user groups at Redmond. Redmond is home to many of the Microsoft product development teams, but also to administrative and business groups that typically include less technically experienced individuals.
"The environment that we have in Redmond is different from many other subsidiaries in Microsoft," Marrugo said. "Here we have the product teams—research and development—so the profile of users here is more difficult and more challenging to support. You're trying to provide (support to) the people who created the products. But we also have a lot of people who are not technical. That is a portion of the challenge."
"I've said this many times before, but I really appreciate and value the Tech Link option. Today's visit was a hard drive issue that previously would have taken me a number of hours to sort out. With Tech Link, I'm able to stay focused on other work until the PC is ready. I appreciate that it keeps me from losing productivity"
User response from
Tech Link transactional survey
One inherent challenge in troubleshooting issues for users with different levels of technical expertise is that Tech Link technicians have little introduction to users' issues before they have to jump right into troubleshooting and repair. This is contrary to desk-side support technicians, who Helpdesk technicians typically contact after they attempt to troubleshoot a user's issue. The MSIT Helpdesk agents open a service record for users each time they call, and then complete the service records immediately after a call ends. Then, MSIT Helpdesk agents forward those service records to desk-side support technicians when escalating user issues.
MSIT realized it would need technical experts with strong communication skills to staff the Tech Link locations, because less technical users may have a hard time describing their issues. Additionally, the Tech Link technical experts would have to be able to interact well with users, determine what their issues are, and provide excellent customer service.
Working in Conjunction with Dogfooding
When a product group creates a new offering, MSIT oversees the beta phase of the product's release to Microsoft employees. This pilot, or dogfooding, phase typically generates Helpdesk calls. As a result, Helpdesk agents provide extensive value to the new product's development group by troubleshooting issues and providing feedback.
"Dogfood is a big challenge for the entire Helpdesk," Marrugo said, adding that when product teams are developing new products, they want internal people to test them, provide feedback, and assist with modifying the product so that it is the best that it can be before Microsoft releases it to market.
Therefore, Marrugo said, Tech Link technicians must be knowledgeable about beta products, because they may face questions immediately after a product's beta release. Tech Link technicians have to stay ahead of new technologies, and therefore regularly undergo extensive training.
Providing Excellent Service under Pressure
MSIT knew that when users heard about Tech Link, the initial turnout could be large and potentially unmanageable, given that there are approximately 50,000 FTEs and vendors on the Redmond campus alone.
"We knew we could have a staggering overflow of people attempting to use Tech Link as it opened, causing delays and frustration, rather than quick and effective service," Marrugo said. "So what we said was, 'We'll do it little by little. We'll promote the service among the users in that building, and let's wait and see how many people we get, what are the peak hours, how many staffers do we need?'"
MSIT attempted to keep the initial two Tech Link openings "a secret," Marrugo said, and let word of mouth spread the news that Tech Link was open. Then, MSIT slowly but surely began promoting the service once they had tracked initial Tech Link usage patterns, such as what types of users were showing up, the peak hours during which users were seeking service, and any reoccurring user issues that technicians were troubleshooting.
Beyond the Pilot: Four More Tech Links Open, More Planned
Following the January 2009 pilot Tech Link openings in Sammamish and Building 122, user feedback was so positive that MSIT decided to open two more Tech Links.
"NSAT scores were phenomenal. Virtually every customer was very, very satisfied," said Brad Love, Project Manager for the Unisys/Microsoft End-to-End Transformation Program. From May 2010 to November 2010, Love was the Vendor Project Manager for Microsoft Tech Link.
"It was a very successful model," Love said. "Users loved it. That was the impetus to develop more of them, and we started scouting other locations in Redmond. We looked at campus locations where there were lots of service calls, and then we looked to see if there was space available within our budget."
In September 2010, two new Tech Links opened on the Redmond campus: one in The Commons Submixer, and one in Building 34/35 (the cafeteria). Additionally, a fifth Tech Link opened February 14, 2011 in Tokyo, Japan, and the sixth location opened February 21, 2011 in Munich, Germany
MSIT plans to open additional Tech Links in several other international locations in the near future.
Traditional Support Options Still Available
No one can dispute the success of Tech Link. Marrugo said that service ratios have increased 300 to 400 percent in buildings that have a Tech Link. However, despite the success of Tech Link, Marrugo said the traditional Helpdesk and desk-side support options remain available. In certain cases, users may find them preferable and quicker.
"There are some cases where some people go to Tech Link where the issue could be resolved by phone very easily—mostly with software issues," Marrugo said. "If they come in to Tech Link, we try to say, 'Hey, the next time this happens, it'd be easy to call, and fix this through the Helpdesk. But if you're having a hardware issue, go to Tech Link.'"
Designing, building, and opening Tech Link was a complex and collaborative effort that involved external vendors and several groups internal to Microsoft. This groundbreaking project, spearheaded by MSIT, highlights several key points to consider when pursuing a similar walk-in, face-to-face support approach for users.
Consider Available Space and User Demographics
One of the biggest challenges facing MSIT and its partners in the Tech Link project was securing the appropriate spaces in which to construct the Tech Link centers. Real estate is in high demand at Microsoft. Therefore, finding space, and then ensuring that it was a convenient location for users, was a top priority.
For the Tech Link project, MSIT identified the locations from which users were making the most calls to the Helpdesk. This pinpointed the locations that would be most convenient for those users. Additionally, MSIT knew that the Tech Links ideally should be built where users could avail themselves of other amenities, such as the cafeteria, while waiting for technicians to fix their hardware and software issues.
Therefore, careful analysis of user demographics is necessary to find the most convenient location for users. This analysis should include forecasting how many visits the location may receive during peak hours, as well as the following data points:
- A head count and profile of potential Tech Link clients, for example into groupings of technically expert, moderately technical, and not technical users. As a rule, technically savvy users require less Helpdesk services. Therefore, building a Tech Link center where a predominance of these users resides would not be as beneficial as building one where more moderately technical and nontechnical users reside.
- Historic trending of the Helpdesk tickets that the location's client base generated previously and a breakdown between hardware and software issues for these tickets.
Additionally, it is helpful to develop a contingency plan for deployment of additional technicians, should it become necessary.
An additional benefit of the Tech Link centers is that MSIT was able to relocate some desk-side support technicians into the Tech Link centers. This enables MSIT to reduce its space requirements and expenditures, and better leverage the time of desk-side support technicians.
Design a Streamlined, Professional Environment
Part of providing a highly satisfactory user experience is to consider what users think and feel when they walk into Tech Link. A clean environment, meaning no mess or clutter, projects a professional, stress-free image to users. A private, enclosed workroom, located behind the front desk, provides individual, lighted work areas for technicians to use for dismantling and replacing hardware pieces.
Furthermore, consider the following environmental factors:
- Locate the concierge desk in a prominent position that draws users to it as they walk into Tech Link.
- Designate prominent spots in which to display the newest company-approved hardware and software that is available to employees. Tech Link users could be considered a captive audience, so it is the perfect opportunity to promote new OEM products.
- Place plasma or LCD screens displaying IT and Marketing presentations in highly visible positions in the waiting area. This enables users to view informal training while waiting for technicians to fix their issues. If possible, enable these screens to broadcast television and cable networks, at the discretion of Tech Link management.
Be Mindful of SLAs, and Control Initial User Traffic
MSIT has an SLA to resolve 80 percent of Tech Link cases in three hours or less. Since the initial opening of Tech Link, MSIT has consistently exceeded that percentage, and currently, is resolving approximately 96 percent of issues in three hours or less. A key to meeting that SLA was not to publicize the initial Tech Link openings. This is the antithesis of typical marketing promotions for new ventures. However, a controlled rollout enables technicians to provide superior service, and results in increased user satisfaction.
There are approximately 50,000 users on the Redmond campus, and MSIT executives were concerned that when the two pilot Tech Links opened, user demand for help would exceed how many technicians were available. Therefore, MSIT executives initially promoted the service only among users in the buildings in which the pilot locations opened. That gave MSIT time to analyze peak hours of service, the volume of users, and what their requests were, and then adjust staffing levels accordingly. Meanwhile, word of mouth among users quickly marketed and promoted Tech Link.
Consider Inventory Needs and Storage
Each Tech Link has loaner laptops available should technicians need more than three hours to repair a user's issue. Additionally, Tech Link locations have individual parts for repairs, and for MSIT display computers. This inventory should be stored in the workrooms within Tech Link, in lockable cabinets or containers. However, if additional storage space becomes necessary, secure facilities near the Tech Link center so that technicians can access it quickly and easily.
Other inventory issues to consider:
- Have spare parts from each OEM that can address a broad range of hardware fixes. This enables technicians to handle hardware repairs quickly and efficiently. An example of this is generic hard drives that technicians can use, under warranty, on various models from the same OEM.
- Track inventory by using the Tech Link Inventory Management System (TLIMS) or a similar Microsoft Excel® 2010 tracking system. This enables technicians to scan inventories into one location, generate reports to provide real-time snapshots of parts in stock, and manage inventory.
- Perform a weekly inventory of parts, to validate that all parts checked into the Tech Link location are available. Additionally, generate weekly reports to track parts, to measure those parts that technicians use most frequently, and to manage stock levels.
Tech Link offers users no-appointment-necessary support for hardware and software issues. However, the benefits of opening Tech Link centers go beyond quick and efficient user support.
Significant Increase in Customer Satisfaction
Tech Link enables users to interact face-to-face with technicians, which has parlayed into significant increases in user satisfaction based on transactional surveys that MSIT conducts after each Tech Link transaction.
In Tech Link data compiled for November 2010 and again for January 2011, users reported an overall satisfaction with Tech Link of very good 98 percent of the time. For that same period, users at the Redmond Building 34/35 and Building 122 locations reported an average satisfaction of very good 100 percent of the time (for the third consecutive month). Additionally, the reported NSAT for November 2010 was 196.
There are three Tech Link locations in Redmond, one in Sammamish, one in Tokyo, Japan, and one in Munich, Germany. These locations are convenient for users, which enables them to walk in any time during normal business hours, without an appointment, and receive quick and efficient troubleshooting and repair of most issues.
Improved Resolution Time
The opening of Tech Link correlates directly to improved time-to-resolution for most user issues. For November 2010, there was a median gain of 29 percent for time-to-resolution for hardware repairs, while software repairs had a median gain of 63 percent.
Noticeable Improvement in Productivity
The ability for users to walk into Tech Link and receive immediate support, and for technicians to issue loaner laptops based on availability if repairs will take more than three hours, results in improved productivity.
- For November 2010, Tech Link users who required a loaner laptop posted an average productivity gain of 34 core hours.
- For January 2011, Tech Link technicians issued 19 loaner laptops, yielding a productivity gain of 722 hours.
Tech Link centers provide convenient, no-appointment-necessary locations where users can receive quick and efficient troubleshooting and repair of most hardware and software issues. Users walk in, meet face-to-face with a technical expert, and typically have their issues fixed within three hours.
Currently, the six Tech Link centers service approximately 3,500 users per month. Developed as a way to increase user satisfaction with the support process, the Tech Link centers have done just that. Since Tech Link's initial pilot phase, NSAT scores from users have held steady at 196 out of a possible 200.
This new spin on user support leads to more satisfied users, while yielding increased employee, and corporate, productivity.
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