Microsoft overhauls search on support sites

IT administrators will be among those who should benefit from the technical changes the software maker has made to its online support center.

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Web-based customer support is often a frustrating experience that can waste a lot of time if the customer doesn't know exactly what they are looking for or where to go.

In trying to eliminate some of that angst, Microsoft recently completed an 18-month project that resulted in the overhauling of its online global support site on Microsoft.com, which should probably please more than a few harried end users and IT professionals.

The company said that roughly 20% of its worldwide customer support issues are resolved on the Web, which translates to about 25 million people going to Microsoft.com's support center every month. About 18% of those visitors are IT professionals, the company estimates.

Choice of search options

Kurt Samuelson, general manager of Microsoft's global support automation program, said the problem with the old site was that it focused too much on a single task or product. Microsoft's own research later discovered that customers don't think that way when they want support.

Now, customers looking for online support are offered a choice. They can do a filtered search on a topic, or they can do a weighted search.

For example, when IT professionals conducted a search on a product in the past, they had to decide whether they wanted one or several products in the search list. "If you searched for Exchange Server 2003, that's all you would get," said Samuelson, who develops technical content for support services on several Microsoft sites. "But often you need information on other versions of Exchange or Windows Server."

The weighted search will include results for the rest of the knowledge base, but the main product selected will be the prominent topic.

Breaking down the results

Another improvement is the inclusion of an MSDN and TechNet content catalog. A customer visiting Microsoft.com can search that knowledge base or all Microsoft content across other sites. There is slightly different information within the various sites, and Samuelson wants to be sure the information is well integrated. To ensure that happens, the search option now allows results to be broken down by category.

The site also improves the way IT professionals can visually organize and manage the information they collect from the knowledge base.

In addition, Microsoft improved its contact information, so customers can more easily communicate with help-desk professionals, and it added more language support.

Microsoft said it currently offers knowledge base articles in two "machine-translated" languages (Spanish and Japanese), with French and German translations coming soon. It also offers human-translated articles in up to 21 languages.

Samuelson said Microsoft will continue to improve the site's search capabilities, including better data mining of newsgroup information.

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