Today I went to the Microsoft store to pre-order the Surface Pro 3 and take care of this nasty problem I have been having with my Surface Pro 1. It was waking up in my bag, draining my battery and turning itself into a fire hazard. I came back out of the Microsoft store with my Surface Pro still suffering from the same problem and without a pre-order for the Surface Pro 3.


Let me start with my Surface evangelist story. I have been a Windows tablet PC users since back in 2006, during my college days. I had a Toshiba Satellite tablet PC. It was huge, heavy and battery life was terrible. But it had a pen input. Between the pen input and OneNote software, tablet PCs were probably the greatest thing for education since the invention of paper.
I believed in Bill Gate’s vision of the future. I believe that we need an accurate form of input to record our ideas and visions beyond a simple keyboard. And Microsoft OneNote is one of the best note organizing software. It gets more powerful as you use it over time, especially as a student. I was able to connect and lookup information from related classes with ease and get the synergic benefits of education using OneNote. Upon my graduation, I noticed that I use my tablet a little less. But my faith and conviction that tablet PCs were optimal devices for the education environment never waned.
When my wife went to grad school for education 2010, I recommended a Windows Tablet PC. She got a HP TX series tablet. She loved the pen input aspect of it and made full use of it. It was still heavy and battery life was terrible. She lugged around spare batteries just like me to make it through the day.
As the months go by, iPads and Android tablets penetrated our household as our go to devices because they were simply more convenient to use and had a better user experience. Yet, I still believe in the value of tablet PCs in the education environment.
When Surface was announced in 2012, I decided that I would purchase the Surface RT and Surface Pro. And I believed that they would be amazing devices that will deliver form and functionality in a single package. I can use the RT for work and my wife can use the Pro for teaching. I was first in line at the Bridgewater, NJ on the launch day of both devices.
My expectation for the Surface RT died quite quickly as there were very limited apps for it and because Microsoft decided to play hardball with Google. I use Gmail for my personal stuff and use Google Apps for work. And that unbending Microsoft decision has a terrible implication to date. I still cannot sync my Google calendars with any of my Surface devices.
The Surface Pro launch at the Bridgewater store was a disaster. Nobody has any idea what’s going on. Other Surface Pro faithfuls and I had to use the service entrance for the mall to line up for our Surface Pros, which is a sharp contrast to the immaculate execution of launches at the Apple store in the same mall. In fact, they aren’t even sure of the store opening time. The website stated 8am as the opening time but the manager decided that 10am would be their opening time upset many customers including myself.
Despite the launch day challenges, my Surface Pro was amazing. I loved it. But it had a severe battery problem. There’s no replaceable battery either. So it actually made it less usable than our old Toshiba and HP. And it was hard to stare at the screen for an extended period of time as well. My eyes get quite stressed, especially in desktop mode. Having to replace it within a month for dead pixel didn’t diminish my excitement about this product. And I was helped by an amazing assistant manager at the Bridgewater Microsoft store. It seems like he’s the only one who knows anything and has a concept of what customer services is. Nevertheless, I was a satisfied customer.
Surface Pro was a first generation device. I was willing to forgive and dream about the next iteration of the device where my dreams would be realized. When Surface Pro 2 was announced, I was so elated. I tell all my friends and colleagues that Microsoft a company that listens to its customers. Well, at least the Surface team listened. They addressed all the major concerns about the first gen. I was determined to get it, not just for me but for my entire small organization.
I went back to the Bridgewater Microsoft store to purchase the Surface Pro 2s. Get in touch with the small business team and order the Surface Pro 2s. And I learned a stunning concept, at Bridgewater Microsoft store, that small business constituted of two or less people in the organization. They refuse to sell me more than two Surface Pro 2s.
Disappoint though I was, I refuse to give up and made the purchase of Surface Pro 2s via the web and phone. After suffering from terrible user interface for the online store and various order errors, we finally got our Surface Pro 2s. I love it even more than the original Surface Pro. Many of my hardware concerns were addressed. My Google calendar still didn’t sync with it and Miracasting is glitchy at best. But it’s almost an all-day device. Surface device was finally coming into its own.
The software side of Surface Pro 2 was starting to get irritating. Lack of support of Google was disrupting and the fact that it has taken over a year to get a basic function was starting to seem incompetent. The app store was deader than the Wild West. Then there was the competition of iPads and an army of amazing Android tablets, brimming with apps in their stores.
One night, after having dinner with a friend who has a Nexus 10, we had our usual nerd banter. He challenged me to make a list of things that I can do on my Surface Pro and he couldn’t do on his Nexus 10. I casually thought that the list would be endless and I would shame him easily with my superior device. It turned out, the joke was on me. Other than a handful of legacy applications that I am running on my Surface Pro, the Nexus 10 was more efficient at doing the basic and most important tasks that I do every day, such as emails, calendars and office applications.
Then there’s an issue of relative bad customer service. Let me explain what I mean by relative bad customer service. Microsoft stores are now set up like the Apple stores now. And that makes me expect similar customer service quality from both.
Let’s start with online appointments for the store. With Apple, they are ready for me when I walk in the store with their iPads and the list of appointments. At Microsoft, there’s a sense of confusion about a customer having an appointment and they couldn’t find my appointment for a few minutes. When they finally found me in their list, they have trouble assigning a person to actually help me with what I need.
Then there’s the culture of customer treatment. At the Apple store, there’s a culture of listening to the customer, having a thorough knowledge of their product and addressing the problem in the most efficient amount of time. At Microsoft, they listen for the first few words then makes assumptions about what’s actually wrong with either you or your device. Not knowing either me or the product that they are supposed to be servicing, doesn’t really help solve the problem at hand. Efficiency? You can throw that out of your mind completely at the Microsoft store. On the small business front, my Apple rep actually listens to me and our organizations’ needs. For Microsoft, please see previous experience of small business definition.
Between customer service and lack of software improvements, doubt was starting to creep into my mind. But Surface series has great hardware. I barely have to visit the Microsoft store. So, I completely forgot about the entire customer service issue. Hence my motto, not needing customer service is the best customer service.
But recently, I noticed that the original Surface Pro has been either waking up or turning itself on in the bag. And with the announcement of the Surface Pro 3, which gave me the same warm and fuzzy feeling of the Surface Pro 2 of the Surface team listening to their customers to address the concerns from last generation, I decided to go in to the Microsoft store to pre-order my Surface Pro 3 and get my Surface Pro sorted out.
When I entered the store, my memories came back quickly as I was welcomed with the same inefficient second class customer service. I was upset. I put my Surface Pro back into my bag. Sighed. Mentally surrender to reality of the Microsoft store and come to terms with the fact that there are extra non-monetary costs to owning a Surface. And I couldn’t decide whether I was ready to pay those for the Surface Pro 3. Hence, I walked out without a pre-order.
I will get a Surface Pro 3. Probably on launch day. It’s a great product. I am excited. I still believe that it’s the best product for the education environment. I just hope that it’s so great that it would drown out the monolithic culture of software improvements and that I won’t have to visit the Microsoft store for support of any kind.