Your Personal PC Coach – Free Vista Support for Canadian Small Business

“Frankly, they pick up the phone!”

It’s one of the most basic aspects of customer support. Yet, according to some help desk users, it seems to be an almost forgotten skill.

But when asked what the most impressive aspect of using the newly announced Windows Vista Small Business Assurance program, business owner Damian Ivers was quick to reply – and he was obviously impressed by the fact the people there pick up their phones!

More to the point, of course, once they picked up the phone, they were able to respond to his needs as a small business owner and Vista-loaded PC user.

They were able to answer his questions, and solve the computer issues at hand, so Damian could get back to his business.

As he said, “My income is not derived by selling software or software. I run boat tours and corporate cruises.”

Setting Sail for Success

His business is called The Great Lakes Schooner Company.

For anyone who has visited the Toronto waterfront, or cruised around the Toronto Islands, you probably have either seen or ridden in one of his tour boats.

The company offers sightseeing cruises, family or wedding celebrations on the water, catered corporate events and more, using one of several sailing or powered ships the company operates.

Ivers uses a PC network to stay connected between the office and mobile locations. Portable digital devices on board the ships are linked into e-mail servers for ship-to-shore connectivity.

The sightseeing side of the business accepts online bookings and reservations, so having working PCs can contribute directly to the bottom line.

More importantly though, the corporate side of the business – the more lucrative side – is kept running smoothly with the help of PC-based customer database applications, off-the-shelf accounting software, OS native productivity tools and so on.

Ivers says he is “an average user – not a super-techie by any means.” So for him, time spent trying to fix a computer problem is time not spent on his real expertise – the business at hand.

Free One on One Coaching

And that is the very issue Microsoft wants to address with its new initiative, the Vista Small Business Assurance program.

As Matt Wolodarsky, Windows Product Manager at Microsoft Canada, explains, the company “knows that taking risks is a part of every small business – making the move to the Windows Vista operating system shouldn’t be one of them.”

The new program offers free support offer for small businesses that purchase Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate-based PCs.

Microsoft says its goal is to help small-business customers migrate to Windows Vista with comfort and confidence.

Wolodarsky explains that a team of support agents will help customers learn more about Windows Vista, provide compatibility assistance and offer technical support to small businesses.

Trained reps will:

  • Help small business customers with Windows Vista questions.
  • Provide compatibility assistance for applications and devices.
  • Point out key features.
  • Provide detailed technical support for customers who need help working through a compatibility issue or configuring Windows Vista.

It’s like one-on-one coaching from Microsoft – especially designed for the small business owner, and the work-a-day realities faced by small business owners across Canada.

Windows Vista Small Business Assurance is being launched here November 3, following a trial run in the U.S. earlier in the year. Canada will have a 1-800 number with which to contact a support team based in the western United States, Wolodarsky explained.

About a week after the English Canada launch, French language support will also be available here (using a dedicated 800 number to a Canadian-based support team).

The program is aimed at businesses with less than 50 employees, or less than 25 PCs.

Specifically, small business customers who buy new PCs loaded with Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate between July 1 and December 31 qualify for the assurance program.

The program itself is slated for available through January 31, 2009, but Wolodarsky noted that Microsoft will “take a look at the program at the point to see if it is possible to extend it.”

He mentioned another resource now available for Vista users – the Windows Vista Compatibility Centre.

It’s an online site where customers can search for information about the compatibility status of their applications or devices with Vista. There’s a feedback mechanism, too, so if your device or app is not supported, you can ask to get them added to the service.

Leading small business applications – including popular productivity software from Adobe, Autodesk, Avanquest, CA, Corel, Intuit, McAfee, Sage, Symantec, and Trend Micro, among others – are compatible with Windows Vista.

This broad range of compatible products, along with the automated file back-up and recovery features and the built-in fax & scanning capabilities in a Vista-equipped PC, are all among the small business productivity enhancements Wolodarsky itemized.

He also described the security features within Vista as providing the added comfort and confidence that small business owners value.

“We really encourage customers to make the move to Vista today – and this Assurance program will help them ensure that move is a positive and productive one.”

Building Relationships, Building Businesses

Before he signed up for the Vista support program, Ivers says he depended on his network of acquaintances for PC support – you know, computer-savvy family members, geeky nephews with unknown PC skills and the like.

“Like most small businesses, we have no in-house IT person. There’s lot of other things I have to do. But that is another thing that is great about this program (Ivers was a ‘beta tester’ and early adopter):

“Microsoft gets it that I am a small business owner. If they cannot solve an issue right away, they will get back to me on e-mail, because they know I have other things to do. In some cases, I do not need to be on hold.”

As a busy business owner, he likes the fact that the Assurance program representatives will research an issue if they cannot respond immediately, and get back to him with the appropriate remedy.

Of course, if his system is down, the response is more immediate, but that has not been the case.

As Wolodarsky describes it, “If a small business customer calls in with an inquiry related to the Windows Vista Small Business Assurance offer, we do keep track of the customer requests so that we can provide the highest level of support and best experience for the customer. In addition, if a customer does need more support, our Windows Vista Small Business Assurance agents can use remote access to help a customer resolve their issue.

The support agents have been trained specifically for the small business needs of the specific audience. Something Ivers not only appreciates, but immediately noticed when making contact with the Assurance program reps: “They know me, and I know them – by name. We deal with a problem at hand, and we talk like friends. I know a bit about their families!”

In other words, he feels as if a valuable business relationship has been established, one he can rely on when required.

Whether he books a Windows Vista Small Business Assurance representative on a wedding cruise is another matter!

Further details are available at

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