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Microsoft retools support plans

Microsoft discloses new customer support options as part of a retooling of the company's internal divisions announced last month.

Microsoft today disclosed new customer support options as part of a retooling of the company's internal divisions announced last month.

The software giant today announced a new series of specialized support offerings targeted at specific customer segments that are divided into four families that address the enterprise and home user.

Microsoft has added two new levels of customer support services, one for corporate customers, called Alliance support, the other, Professional support, aimed at groups of tech savvy people.

Alliance support offers very high-level assistance to enterprise customers running mission critical applications, Microsoft said. The service is delivered with Hewlett-Packard, Unisys, Data General and Compaq assistance.

Professional support replaces Microsoft's priority offerings and is aimed at groups of IT professionals that need both telephone and Web support. The new service will provide IT managers with hot-fixes and access to expert support professionals, the company said.

The announcement comes after Microsoft's president Steve Ballmer unveiled a reorganization of the company's businesses into five groups based on customer types.

As previously reported, the reorganization was one of Ballmer's first major plans and aims to reorganize the software giant to focus more closely on customers instead of around specific products.

"That's what drove our work," on support services, said Kevin Johnson, vice president of Product Support Services at Microsoft. "This is a major change in the way we deliver services to our customers."

The changes are an attempt by the company to "get closer" to its customers, said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group. "You'll continue to see more of this reworking of services in the future."

In addition to Alliance support and Professional support, Microsoft retooled its Premier support offering for the general enterprise customer, and Personal support offering for the general and home consumer.

Premier support has been in place since 1992, and currently provides service support to 2,600 accounts. As part of the new support series, Premier support will include: Premier for the Enterprise; Premier for Developers; Premier for Microsoft Certified Solution Providers (MCSPs); and Premier for Original Equipment Manufacturers.

Each segment of the Premier offering provides customers with account management, technical services, information resources, and 24x7 incident resolution services, Microsoft said.

Personal support is an enhanced version of services for the home and individual user. Microsoft is extending telephone support hours for consumers in the United States from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

In addition, the Personal Online support site is designed for home users, providing them with no-charge support resources such as self-help, a knowledge base tool designed for the home user, on-demand Support WebCasts and access to home-user support newsgroups.

Microsoft said Alliance support is priced on a custom basis for each customer. Premier support costs between $45,000 to $230,000, depending on the program chosen. Professional support is priced by incident, at $195 per Web submission, and $245 by phone inquiry. Personal support is free for both Web and phone incident support.

Alliance and Premier support are available today. New Professional and Personal support offerings are scheduled to be available in July, the company said.