The customer experience of getting a new personal computer used to be so bad it had become a cliche. You’d open the box and find yourself with an array of components and peripherals so complicated it looked like it would take an IT person with years of experience to sort it all out.
Even once you plugged in the mess of cords under your desk or table and turned the computer on, there was the long product registration process and myriad other steps before you could actually do what you wanted to do.
Apple was among the first computer makers to really focus on this in its marketing. In trying to simplify getting started with a Mac, the company never actually used the phrase “customer experience.” Instead, it offered a promise: “It just works.”
I would love to report that things have gotten better in this area, but I recently discovered there are some companies where little has changed. And although you’ve probably guessed it, I’m referring specifically to Microsoft.
How S Mode Stopped Us Cold
We bought a new laptop for my daughter on her birthday. It didn’t arrive until a few days after the fact, but that was okay. I was incredibly busy when the package showed up, so I asked her older brothers to assist her with any setup. I assumed, in this day and age, they could handle it.
Having spent the past school year online, however, my daughter had developed a strong familiarity with — and preference for — the Google Chrome web browser. This makes sense, given that she has also become a user of Gmail, Docs and other Google applications.
When my eldest son tried to download Chrome for her, though, he was met with an unexpected message. It read that my daughter’s computer was already running Microsoft’s browser, which the company noted was “built on the same open source code as Chrome.”
They would not be able to download and install the Google browser because her computer was set up in “S Mode.” First introduced with Windows 10 four years ago, S Mode means my daughter’s computer was “exclusively” (the company’s word) running apps from the Microsoft Store. This was meant to provide better performance and security for computer users, Microsoft’s message explained.
Although we could choose to deactivate S Mode, Microsoft added, it would be an irrevocable decision.
This almost immediately brought back memories of Microsoft’s years-long antitrust fight with the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations it was using its dominant market position to crush competitors by (among other things) bundling certain applications and tools with Windows by default.
As my children turned to me — a former technology reporter — for an explanation, I found myself talking about how Microsoft was using S Mode as a way of suggesting that, if we chose to work with competitor’s products, it was effectively washing its hands of any performance or security problems we might encounter.
I found myself explaining the term “vendor lock-in” to a nine-year-old girl.
The downside of default settings
Microsoft, of course, could successfully argue that S Mode is really an effort to improve the customer experience by getting ahead of security and performance problems it knows users often face. My rebuttal would be that a good customer experience is based on choice — not making choices on their behalf, or cutting off future choices.
If I wanted to be petty I might also point out that there are a number of reasons why Google Chrome proved far more popular than Edge (or its predecessor, the often riddled-with-security-issues Internet Explorer).
CX leaders need to be mindful that default settings — whether in a software application or just the standard operating procedures of any product or service — should not come at the experience of customer preferences.
Certainly customers should be educated about what the company sees as best practices and ideal options, but the door should remain open for them to do what they want. The door should not be locked as a rule, and require the customer to figure out how to locate the appropriate key.
In the end, of course, that’s exactly what I proceeded to do. I went on my own computer and did a search on how to disable S Mode. Google provided me the information I needed right away.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.