Microsoft has begun an eight-country rollout of a new set of online resources and technical support for its small-business customers.
The new offering, called Small Business Plus, was part of the company's ongoing effort to provide better access to software, support and services for this customer segment, general manager for small business in Microsoft's Worldwide Small and Midsize Solutions and Partner Group, Doug Leland, said.
The resources of Small Business Plus include content and technical support that is personalized using information that a customer provides when signing up for the service. That content and support can be accessed through the Small Business Center Web site, which Microsoft set up in March 2004 as an online portal for its small-business customers.
The company had been trying for some time to make its software easier for that segment to deploy and purchase, Leland said.
Small Business Plus will be available in eight countries once the rollou is complete on Febuary 2. The offering went live in the US, UK, Australia and Canada yesterday. It will reach Germany on January 30, the Netherlands on January 31, Italy on Febuary1 and France on Febuary 2.
Customers can sign up for Small Business Plus for free at https://www.microsoft.com/smallbusiness/small-business-plus/sign-up.aspx. By providing information about their company, small-business customers gained access to a self-service environment that gave them answers to common questions about software products, along with service packs, articles, patches and webcasts that might be helpful to them, Leland said.
The information is customised for companies based on their sign-up information, he said.
Customers also can chat for free with live customer service representatives for quick advice on products, he said. However, if those calls become too lengthy or complicated, an agent will inform a customer they must pay for that kind of chat-based technical support.
Small-business customers could purchase that support through Small Business Expert, a yearly subscription service that provided a mix of online chat and over-the-phone technical support, Leland said.
Small Business Expert comes in bronze, silver and gold packages, each with a yearly subscription fee. Bronze packages provide six online chats for $US149; silver provides unlimited online chats for $299; and gold combines unlimited online chat support with phone support for $US499.
New members of Small Business Plus in the US and the UK received the silver package on a free trial basis for 45 days, Leland said.
Before Small Business Plus, small-business customers had to pay $US250 for phone-based technical support per incident, he said.
While Microsoft offered free technical support for many of its software products, it was not a guarantee for all the products a small company might use, so Small Business Expert was a good deal, Leland said.
Those who sign up for Small Business Plus also are eligible for software product training, as well as business training that will help employees of small businesses apply Microsoft technology to their particular roles in the business, he said. Software training is available for the Office Suite and Office Small Business Accounting products. Business training - which Microsoft partners will help the company provide - will be customised for marketing, management and technology professionals, among other roles.
Chat-based technical support is available through Small Business Support for the following products: Internet Explorer; Outlook Express; Windows Media Player; Office Small Business and Office Pro including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access, Business Contact Manager and Publisher; Windows Standard Server; and Small Business Server and its components, including Exchange Standard Server, SQL Standard Server, ISA Server, FrontPage and SharePoint services.