The Windows Phone PR debacle: will Microsoft ever learn?

nero_thumb Opinion There have been a number of incremental news stories regarding the Windows Phone NoDo update since we last posted on the subject – unfortunately none of them are either good or even have much to do with the update itself.  To be honest we’re tired of the whole mess, so excuse this little rant but it’s time Microsoft faced up to some basic problems with the way it treats the consumer audience.

Like most of the debacle we’ve seen played out over the past 6 months, the latest gaffes were a PR and not a technical problem.  After a scathing set of comments posted on the Windows Phone blog should have alerted Windows Phone management that it was “all hands on deck” time, instead Corporate Vice President Joe Belfiore went on Channel 9, laughed off the update problems, and fiddled while Rome burned.  It was a despicable performance, one that no amount of apology could or should smooth over.  Early adopters were mad, and instead of coming clean with them, Belfiore laughed in their faces.  Yes,  he apologized afterwards, but no matter.  The damage (upon damage) was done.

In a post this morning, Mary Jo Foley asks “How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track?”, and lists a number of suggestions.  Don’t get us wrong, they’re all good ones, but we don’t think they even come close to getting to the heart of the matter.  What’s wrong with Windows Phone PR is what’s wrong with Microsoft’s approach to the consumer in general – over and over again they show that they just don’t get it.

We’ve been dealing with Microsoft for 5 full years now, watching what was a promising but unfulfilled approach to early adopters turn into what amounts to all out war: in the world of Microsoft, early adopters are the enemy.  You needn’t look further than how Microsoft refers to its user base: to Microsoft, we’re “consumers” – some nameless faceless group to be sold to.  To us, however, we’re “users” – we have to suffer through the pain of every gaffe, ignore the fact that the world is rapidly passing us by while we remain loyal to what could be an awesome set of services.  As Windows Live enthusiasts, we know the pain all too well.

And so it seems with Windows Phone.  At CES in Las Vegas in January, when the new phone had only been out a month, but rumblings about a poor start were starting to get louder, Joe Belfiore was on vacation in Florida.  When word got out that the “February update” was bricking phones, Windows Phone management quickly plugged their ears to the outcry, claiming that 90% of the updates worked (a horrible success rate, by the way).  And now after promising NoDo in the first half of March, then the second, only to belatedly mention that it might not come until many weeks after the first of April, Microsoft continues to fiddle as the platform burns.

And the real problem with all this is that Windows Phone is a pretty good phone.  With a management team that had established good and close relationships with early adopters, a professional handle on PR, and well oiled lines of communication, nobody would really wince at a delay in something as marginally useful as copy/paste.  That well oiled machine needs to come from a corporate culture of respecting and engaging the customer at every opportunity, and that culture is sorely lacking within Microsoft.

We hope to get the NoDo update soon, and another one shortly after that, be treated well, and forget about this whole mess.  It’s still early, Nokia is coming on board, the carriers want nothing more than to keep Apple and especially or Android from steamrolling over their businesses, and we want a winner of a Windows Phone.  Can that be so hard?