Friday, August 10, 2012

Office365: Baby I'm Leaving You

Consider what would happen to your business if your ability to email disappeared for a month.

One company who contacted Newmind recently was faced with that exact scenario. Their email was inoperable for an entire month, decimating their main means of communication with their clients and potential clients. We’ve seen companies come to us for different reasons, from a lot of different solutions, but this one really stood out. That solution? Office365.

Stern Estate isn’t a company that exists on computers, it exists in one-on-one relationships with the people they are helping, and their email system is simply a necessary tool they use to get the job done. 

“Stern is a pretty small company.” says Joe Shields. “My mother-in-law, the owner, as well as the four other employees, aren’t particularly tech savvy. Their strengths lie in helping their clients. In fact, they’d probably say they are more comfortable with a pen and paper than a mouse and keyboard. I can get around a computer decently enough so I’ve ended up as the de facto tech go-to guy for the business.”

For a long time, Stern had been using an online Exchange solution (Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, or BPOS)  and were pleased with their choice. In fact, the only time they would even think about the system that supported them was when they’d forget their password and need it reset. It worked for them. They were fine with their system, that is, until the service they were using became Office365, and they were forced to migrate. 

“When Microsoft moved us to Office365 the problems started immediately.” Joe explains. “We couldn’t get it to work on our Macs, in particular, and even our PC users had issues accessing their emails.” Like any rational person, Joe’s first step was to call customer service. “Dealing with the Office365 customer service department was, frankly, laughable. Every time we called we were given a different case number, so each phone call required us to explain and re-explain our issue with each case never properly tracked.” says Joe. Microsoft was nice enough to copy Stern Estate on internal emails discussing the case. Nice, right? Sure, except that the emails they were being copied on were private discussions between Microsoft employees, scolding each other on not handling the Stern case properly. They were unwittingly cc’ing Stern, detailing their own errors!

“After a month of back and forth with the Office365 customer service, we were finally able to figure out that the reason we were having trouble accessing our email was because, apparently, while they could confirm payment of the licenses with billing, they were unable to verify those same licenses in our account, ” Joe continues. “I was relieved to have finally found the issue but at the same time I was pretty frustrated because we had lost a month’s worth of email. Sterns’ revenue was heavily impacted simply because Microsoft couldn’t effectively communicate our purchase of Office365 licenses to the necessary people. We weren’t even new customers. We had a history with them of always paying our bills on time before they made us switch from a hosted Exchange to Office365.”

“Well we finally knew what the issue was, but they still couldn’t get their ducks in a row and we still couldn’t get our emails flowing. We were looking at $80,000 in lost business with no resolution in sight. That was it for me. We contacted Newmind Group and one of their engineers, Steve, got us started on the switch to Google Apps for Business.” says Joe. “The first thing Steve and I had to do was to get Stern Estate’s email backlog out of Office365 and migrated into Google Apps, but we even had problems with the Office365 people there. They basically threw up roadblocks and wouldn’t allow us access to our own data while they ‘tried’ to get it working,” Joe explains. 

In desperation, Joe emailed Bill Gates.

Joe acknowledges that his email likely never made it to Bill Gates, so it may just be a coincidence, but after that email, Microsoft seemed to get their act together a bit. “I finally started to see movement. Steve and I stayed persistent and the Office365 people finally allowed us access to our information,” Joe says.

“I’m relieved and happy to say that after all that, Steve and I were able to get all the Stern employees up and running in Google Apps and finally able to access their email again. And since our migration to Apps, the service has been seamless. Furthermore,” Joe concludes, “we are very happy with the technical skill and experience that Steve and Newmind provided us. Steve made coming out of a very difficult situation much less painful. He explained things clearly and concisely, without any talking down to our less technical staff members.”

Stern Estate contacted Microsoft again, after their exit from Office365, to try and negotiate a reimbursement for the month of lost business that they suffered during the time that 365 was inaccessible. Microsoft was kind enough to offer them a little something for their trouble. Apparently that little something would have roughly covered a round of lattes for the staff. 

Emails from Microsoft are still coming to Joe too. They’re very eager to work out the licensing issue and think they’re thiiiiiiiis close to figuring it out.