By Judy Redmond
At the monthly meeting of the Puget Sound Chapter on 17 August 2004, guest speaker Annik Stahl gave a humorous presentation of her role as online advice columnist for the Microsoft Office Team and the 2002 inventor of the fictional “Crabby Office Lady.”
History of the Crabby Office Lady
The Crabby Office Lady’s mission is to be useful, relevant, listen to customers, and put a human face on Microsoft.
In 2001, Stahl worked with a group of writers and editors on the Microsoft Office Team. They wrote assistance articles and created templates for Office Tools on the Web. Someone had the bright idea of adding a columnist to their site who could “humanize” how they presented help to their customers.
Stahl decided to create the character of the Crabby Office Lady. She imagined Crabby as a “secretary from a bygone era whose desk is littered with lipstick-marked foam cups of coffee, she’s the one who keeps the supply of sticky notes, and only she knows just where the bodies are buried (so to speak). This is the lady every office can’t do without. While mumbling keyboard shortcuts under her breath, she can instruct you how to transpose a row of text into a column of text… She’s got a hard edge with a soft heart; she’s a swivel chair guru—the resident Office expert.”
In March 2002, the first column on downloading templates was posted. The readers seem to really like it and Stahl started receiving 400-600 emails a week. In 2002, the column ran once a month. In 2003, it ran twice a month, and now it runs weekly and is Stahl’s full time job. Stahl stated that Crabby’s column has an overall 74% approval rate and has received over five million hits.
Stahl doesn’t have your typical high tech “geek” background. Besides being a columnist, help writer, and user interface text writer, she’s been a waitress, a barista, a nightclub singer in Paris, a journalist, and a pizza delivery person to frat houses!
This diverse background serves her well in communicating Office features to users.
Example of Writing
Below is an excerpt from her June 22, 2004 column titled “Stand up straight and count your email manners.”
Crabby’s top two email crabs
I’m going to run through this list quickly, so please try and keep up. In fact, why don’t you print this list, frame it nicely, and hang it next to your computer.
Discretion is the greater part of replying
Imagine that you’ve received a piece of company-wide email from someone in your very large organization. If you feel the need to respond to the sender, rest assured that every member of your very large organization does not want to have to read your reply, no matter how witty or urbane you may think it is. This goes the same for personal email (especially if it’s an Internet joke or rumor).
For example, I’m fairly certain that Bill Gates doesn’t need to know if I’ll be attending the annual Microsoft picnic with one child or twelve. Not that he doesn’t care, mind you; he just has other types of email that may be more pressing. Shocking but true. So please, don’t hit that Reply to All button.
Stop Yelling at Me
USING ALL CAPITAL LETTERS IS NOT ONLY RUDE AND IRRITATING; IT’S ALSO HARD TO READ. Save your caps for special occasions, such as those times when you want your recipient to know you’re shouting. GOT IT?
Where Stahl gets her Column Ideas
Stahl gets her column ideas from personal experience, co-workers, Office user assistance groups, family and friends, newsgroups, blogs, books, and customer feedback on Content Watson, an internal web-gathering tool.
Crabby’s reading audience is beginner, intermediate, and intermediate to advanced Office users who want to read something lighter than the usual dry Help files. Many of her readers work from home. Some are just people who are cruising the Internet and happen to come across her column.
Crabby Reveals Her “Real” Self
On August 10, 2004, Stahl wrote her 50th column (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/assistance/HA011264381033.aspx) and decided to reveal her real self. Many readers assumed she is a team of writers (she isn’t) or that she is a twenty-something male (she’s not).
What the Future Holds
Stahl has participated in some online chats, has a possible book deal with Microsoft Press, and has filmed six videos to be posted with her columns. In the future, her columns will be less Office feature oriented and more office life oriented (such as surviving a performance review). She doesn’t see other columnists popping up at Microsoft.