Crisis expert bashes Microsoft over Windows Phone 7 update fiasco

Microsoft angered customers with unfulfilled promises, should have anticipated update issues

Microsoft needlessly botched getting timely updates for Windows Phone 7 to customers and antagonized some of its most loyal fans by not delivering on its promises, a crisis communication expert said today.

"There are two kinds of crises, ones that you cannot anticipate, like a natural disaster, and those that you can," said Patrick Kerley, a senior digital strategist with Levick Strategic Communications, a Washington, D.C.-based crisis management firm.

"Microsoft's dealing with the second," said Kerley, referring to the public relations problem the company has on its hands after failing to deliver updates for Windows Phone 7.

Last week, Microsoft published schedules for the first two updates of its new mobile operating system, a move that prompted customers to rage about broken promises and an opaque timetable.

That followed comments by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer last month that the latest update, nicknamed "NoDo," would be released in the first half of March. Within weeks, Eric Hautala, the general manager of Windows Phone 7's customer experience engineering team, retracted that, saying that the NoDo update would be delayed until the second half of this month.

According to Microsoft, no U.S. users have yet seen the NoDo update, although yesterday T-Mobile said it was pushing the update to owners of the HTC HD7. And today, Dell said that T-Mobile was starting updates for its Venue Pro.

Last week, Joe Belfiore, the Microsoft executive responsible for Windows Phone 7's design, apologized to customers, acknowledging that he was wrong when he said earlier that most users had received last month's update.

Users had accused Belfiore of coming across as flippant and insensitive to their frustrations over waiting months for updates, and appearing to be out of touch with the reality of a process they claimed was clearly broken. Some called for Balefire to step down.

Belfiore said he had not been ready with the facts when he was filmed for a video posted on Microsoft's site, during which he said that updates were going out. "I wasn't as prepared for this interview as I should have been...and I didn't have the right up-to-date information to give a good explanation on updates," Belfiore said.

Kerley said Microsoft should have anticipated the problems rolling out updates.

"With their numerous partners, both phone makers and carriers, they should have anticipated that [there was] going to be some stuff outside their control," said Kerley, referring to the process under which Microsoft completes the update, then passes it off to carriers for additional testing.

Microsoft's mistakes included telling customers that the updates were "completed" when in fact those updates were weeks away from being delivered, said Kerley, as well as not pushing the carriers to wrap up their testing faster.

"Microsoft should have anticipated [the backlash]," said Kerley, and now is reaping what it's sown. "Microsoft is the common denominator here, not the carriers, so Microsoft is the focus of the negative response."

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