I just used Microsoft's version of the Apple Genius Bar and it was awesome
Every time Microsoft announces a soft quarter or a product fails to take off, analysts trip over themselves calling for the company to shut down all the stores.
But Microsoft has so far resisted. In fact, just today, Microsoft announced that its new flagship stores in New York City and Sydney, Australia will open on October 26th and November 12th, respectively.
I'm very glad that Microsoft is still taking the stores seriously: I stopped by the Microsoft Store in downtown San Francisco today for some laptop troubleshooting, and it turns out that it's totally awesome.
Not a lot of people know this, but Microsoft actually has a tech support Answer Desk front-and-center in each of its stores. It's a lot like the Apple Store's legendary Genius Bar.
My Lenovo Yoga 12 laptop, while great in many ways, has been driving me up a wall lately. It has completely lost the ability to use the built-in microphone, and sometimes randomly shuts itself down when I shut the lid.
I did some aggressive Googling, and tried Lenovo's built-in diagnostic utilities, to absolutely no avail. But I had remembered hearing about the Answer Desk, and decided to give it a go.
What's nice about the Microsoft Answer Desk is that they'll help you out with your Windows computer no matter where or when you bought it. They can do anything from virus removal, to diagnosing problems, to troubleshooting technical issues like mine.
And, again, like the Genius Bar, basic help is free, though the Microsoft Store may ask you to drop $49 as a one-time fee for anything that requires a little more work, like fixing a hardware defect.
There's also a $149/year Microsoft Assure subscription service that gives you unlimited in-store tech support, plus access to Microsoft Store classes for apps like Office and Adobe Photoshop.
Book a time online
I made an Answer Desk appointment online from the Microsoft website, which it turns out was actually the first one of the day. The store was pretty empty, though there was one college-age looking guy who walked right in and killed it at Just Dance 2016 for the Xbox One while I was there.
Javier gingerly placed my laptop on a soft pad on the desk, and started working through it. We talked while he worked: He said that an average day at the Microsoft Store involves a lot more service than it does sales. In other words, it's more important that they answer people's questions than it is that they move a lot of product.
He also told me the interesting tidbit that the Microsoft Store helps people troubleshoot problems with Microsoft Office on any platform - meaning that Answer Desk techs work with a lot of Apple Macs on any given day. In fact, apparently the local Apple Store sends a lot of customers their way.
He theoretically solved the random shutdown problem that I was having by installing a new set of power management drivers, though I'll have to use it more before I can safely say that it's solved.
The recommendation was that I leave my laptop with them for a few hours while they looked into it, which would entail that $49 support fee.
The plan was that Microsoft Store's techs would open the laptop's case and look under the hood. If it turned out to be a hardware defect, he would phone Lenovo to see if it was still in warranty. If it is, they would order the replacement part and install it for me.
They call this service "Warranty Concierge." I had to decline for now, just because it's my work machine and I'm writing this very post on the laptop in question.
But Javier scribbled down my laptop's model number and serial on a piece of paper, and promised to be in touch via email if he found anything that could solve my problem. He also gave me his Microsoft e-mail address, in case I had any more questions or it turned out that installing the new power management drivers didn't resolve my problem.
It was a truly impressive and thorough level of service, above and beyond what I was expecting. It may not have the same ability that an Apple Store does to, say, offer you a replacement unit on the spot, but the Microsoft Store really seems like it goes the extra mile to make sure your problem gets fixed.
If Microsoft wants people to love Windows, having these Answer Desks is going to go a long way.
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