Ray Ozzie on connecting with customers and partners via blog

(It’s been a busy week with mails, reviews, meetings and running the latest Vista and Offce builds on my machine at the office.)

In the latest print edition of Wired (not yet on the web – update 100806: the article, Rebuilding Microsoft, is now available), there’s an interesting, brief article on “Rebuilding Microsoft.” It takes a look at the move of Ray Ozzie in to the chief software architect role, one where you have to understand the needs of our customers and balance the efforts and capabilities to provide innovative solutions. Interesting to note is this old blog entry from Mr. Ozzie on blogging as a way to connect with customers and partners:

“By the way … restating the obvious:  another fascinating and unique thing about this [blog] medium is that I can speak directly to this special interest group right here, along with others who had similar questions.  For one who has attempted to leverage many customer communication vehicles over the years (press, speaking engagements, article placements, custom quarterly publications, executive briefings, developer and user conferences, …) this “direct touch” feels incredibly empowering.  It’s much faster, more direct – being unedited, it’s more conversational – enabling me to interact, not just speak.”

Although his external blogs may not be updated regularly, this from the man who gets it: in this Gartner interview, Ozzie says that he knows that “the most important person is the customer or integrator that understands how to match the capabilities of a specific technology to what’s needed.”

Customer connection is not just via blog, trip reports and email: it’s getting the feedback through our field and product teams, “listen and respond” systems (like Connect), from customers directly in their visits to Redmond, and venturing out to their sites to see and hear how our solutions meet their needs.

Or, in a few cases, not: always good to hear how we can improve.

Tags: , , , Ray Ozzie.


Past blast: Peter Davidson on Being a Good Customer

I was thinking about a recent post on how to complain (and get results), and took a jaunt over to Peter Davidson’s blog, which I like. I remember that, with a nod to a past post from Josh Ledgard, that Peter wrote some time ago on his BeConnected blog about how to be a good customer.

“Sarah Eaton over at my sister blog BeTuitive talks about being a good follower. That got me thinking. I talk about developing tools and systems that help you know more about your customers. In a sense leading your customers. As a customer are you a good follower?”

His Eight Ways to Be a Good Customer (click for more details):

1. Participate in Customer Intuition Systems
2. Speak Up
3. Offer Constructive Criticism
4. Link To Them
5. Comment on Their Corporate Blog
6. Respond to Surveys and Questionnaires
7. Refer a Friend or Colleague
8. Buy Their Product, Service or Experience

Also linked to Peter’s list was this post from The Church of the Customer blog, which looks at hwo to prepare yourself for good customers: here at the top three points, visit the blog to read all eight ways:

1. Have a customer communication system – Allow customers to update their contact information easily on your website. Send a regular email newsletter to your customer list, no less than once a month.
2. Acknowledge customer correspondence – Send handwritten notes to customers thanking them for their letter. No one wins points for form letters with <name inserted here>.
3. Reward constructive criticism – Encourage customers to provide constructive feedback. Make your contact information (phone number, email address, etc.) easy to find on your website. Send customers a small gift for taking the time to send their suggestions.

Tags: , .


TwC’s site on Product Reliability… and “WSYP”

We have a section on Microsoft site that provides an overview on our reliability efforts through our Trustworthy computing effort (aka TwC). We work closely with the group on several efforts (most recently this summer on the Engineering Excellence/Trustworthy Computing Forum that many blog about) and overall improve product security and provacy, quality and reliability…

“Reliability means more to Microsoft than just making dependable software and providing support. It also means continued investments in processes and technology to improve reliability, active partnership with a wide variety of software and hardware companies, and a continuing focus on every customer’s experience.”

You’ll also find a list of resources, which includes links to such sites as…

  • Overview of Windows Vista Reliability: Performance Features and Improvements. Windows Vista was designed to be more reliable and faster than Microsoft Windows XP, to help increase user productivity and decrease support costs.
  • Enterprise Engineering Center. This Microsoft-hosted center enables organizations to test complex business computing scenarios on systems that match their own IT environment.
  • IT Showcase. Get an insider view of how Microsoft develops, deploys, and manages its own enterprise solutions. This Web site offers technical case studies, white papers, presentations and more, direct from Microsoft IT.

The last site — IT Showcase — also includes videos from the UK’s IT’s Showtime site. This reminded me that it’s back to the chairs for those with buggy code, as documented in the video on the “We Share Your Pain” system (or “WSYP” – also available here on YouTube) from Mauro Meanti, GM for STB EMEA. Steve blogged about this clip today (on YouTube now), the video shows how we “leverage customer feedback for software quality” and one that I often show to new employees… many of whom know still recall what it’s like to be a customer who would like to “share their pain” with developers. 😉

Tags: , , , , , , .


How to complain (and get results)

Thanks to the associate who sent the link this morning to the article in today’s Seattle Times, “Firing of an e-mail? Make sure of your aim,” which offers a look at how an email exchange that lacks clarity can raise someone’s ire. (This in response to my blog posting yesterday on emailing Steve Jobs.)

I have seen my share of letters and emails on various issues and problems (even some notes of appreciation), some that are forwarded to me by execs to be routed to the right people in the product groups. I thought about what goes into a good email or snail mail note.

So here are a few tips I thought of this morning while the kids were happily eating their breakfasts and watching mindless cartoons.

Title your email appropriately. If you’re sending an email, make the subject clear and easy to understand, something like “REQUEST: Problem with Contoso Application” or include important info like “Customer Support: Ref#123456” if you have an open service request. 

Keep it to one page, two at most (front and back). I recently received a letter which was five or six pages and it took a while to piece together what the person was asking for in their message. For email, you want the main issue and message in the first couple of paragraphs (We often say at the office that you need to make your message clear in the first “pane” of the mail window, getting the reader’s attention when they open the mail or see the preview.) If you do go longer than one page, use the back of the sheet as it’s easy to lose stapled or paperclipped pages.

Be clear on who you are, what the problem is, why you’re writing and what you want. One snail mail I forwarded on to one product team was a good example: the first paragraph briefly explained about the person writing the note, the second noted the problem, the third listed out the actions to date and the fourth and final paragraph clearly called out what the customer wanted us to do about it.

Include links or pointers to more information. So many people these days detail the issues they’ve run into and the hurdles they’ve run up against to get some help on their blogs and newsgroups, so take a moment and include an online reference. More and more companies these days have people who monitor the Web and popular newsgroups for feedback, often treating these as online, early warning systems. On MSDN and TechNet, the blogs and the feedback they generate are often good coalmine canaries.

Include the best ways for the company to contact you. If you send an email, many will assume that email is the best way. Be sure to include your email address in the body of your message, as it can sometimes be lost when notes are forwarded or printed. And include your address and phone number.

Sending it off: OK, you’ve written the message, now where do you send it? If you’re looking for help on one of Microsoft’s many products that you purchased for your PC, start your search on, your first stop on getting the help you need with your Microsoft products. Microsoft provides two support requests submitted online (by email or IM chat) or by phone at no charge (see the support page for detail). See also a previous previous blog entry that includes several links to online assistance.

If that doesn’t work, look on MSDN and TechNet for people from the product teams and I’ve found that most if not all are very responsive and welcome feedback via their blogs and online forums. For instance, there’s the Product Solution Center on our Support Site and Office has the Office Discussion Group to “ask questions, share information, or exchange ideas with others, including experts from around the globe.” Xbox has the Xbox online support center and lists out their Top Troubleshooting Articles. I also like Blake’s “Ultimate List” of Microsoft Software and resources: we could certainly benefit by maintaining such a page.

If you feel like you’ve exhausted all avenues, escalate to your last contact’s manager or look for an appropriate contact via the Web: we list out information for our sales offices worldwide, our corporate headquarters and our executives.

 Tags: , , .


Your questions: So, what is it you do in customer satisfaction?

I received a mail asking me what I do for Microsoft in my “work with our product groups on their efforts to improve satisfaction with our customers and partners.” I work in the Engineering Excellence group at Microsoft, the group that provides training, resources and tools for use in the product development lifecycle, along with best practices to integrate customer feedback and improve the experiences our customers and partners have with Microsoft (both our company and our products and services). I work a lot on that last part, the cross-company effort to dramatically improve our customer and partner satisfaction and make the voice of the customer more “real” for people.


But believe me, it’s not just me: in the product groups there are thousands of people focused on improving the customer and partner experience, in many different roles: the engineering disciplines (development, test, program management, localization, user experience, content), in addition to the great people we have in sales and marketing, customer service & support, IT and Operations, Licensing… the list goes on. We’re getting more active on telling our customers and partners about how we’re improving product reliability (through tools like Watson), feedback and other efforts you can read about in Orlando Ayala’s talk and Kevin Johnson’s address to partners.


I’ll bring more of these to light on my blog so you can get a sense of the progress we’re making, but you certainly don’t need me to do all the heavy lifting: there are many PMs, devs, testers, GMs, execs and others who bring these out in the open every day, on our blogs, forums, Channel 9 and tech chats.


I wanted to bring all this up as the email I received referenced a new spaces blog by nextmsft: the sender asked me if this in addition to what they’d read in minimsft was really what it’s like today at the company. (IMHO, Mini makes you think and helps keep your ego in check so you don’t get too cocky ; )


I felt compelled to comment, as the company I work at today is very different from the Microsoft I encountered in the early and late 90’s in Silicon Valley. Since arriving at MS — and especially coming to Redmond in 2003 — I’ve seen a real sea change in the culture, one that is heavily influenced (I believe) by the large number of employees we have at the company now who have extensive work experience outside Microsoft, many of them bringing their own personal experiences as Microsoft customers and partners to their roles. 


I have been so impressed over the last several years, working in and with product groups. The product groups do “listen and respond” to customers constantly: as I noted in my comment to the nextmsft blog, we have some great people in our management ranks with real product experience. (I could write volumes on some of these people.) For example, I’m always impressed to hear how Steven Sinofsky’s world-class team is able to digest and manage the flood of information we get from our customers and partners on our Office suite of products.


Internally, we’re focused on addressing just that problem: putting the right listen and respond systems into place, with both system feedback (Watson, SQM) and customer and partner feedback (from our surveys, tech support, blogs, Frontline, Ladybug and now Connect…), and working with the product groups to integrate it into their systems and processes. The good news is that it’s working: employees can check my internal blog for more details and examples, plus the links off our customer & partner experience pages.


There was a comment on the blog comments attributed to Steven Sinofsky (I’ve heard many variations on this theme, almost an “urban legend” of sorts) that when it comes to knowing what customers want, “we don’t need to ask them.” There is a small air of truth in that we don’t just have to ask: Microsoft employees across the company — product groups, sales teams, customer support specialists, testers, you name it — hear from customers through a huge host of mechanisms: customer feedback systems, surveys, blogs, interviews, one on ones, focus groups, exec briefings, newsgroup postings, emails… the list goes on: at Microsoft, the customer has a voice and people do listen and respond.


Does that mean that we’re perfect, that we respond to each and every comment in short order with 100% accuracy? Heck, no. But it’s getting better — much better than a few years ago and certainly better than when I was just a customer and a partner. More often than not, product groups are setting a high bar for involving customers in their product lifecycles, as I’ve seen recently in the Kahuna team and Windows OneCare. The positive comments I hear coming from product teams today are louder than they were five years ago, telling me of their good work responding to customer needs, and on occassion asking “where can I get more information from customers?” I’ll bring more of those stories to the blog, but I’m happy to see many of those stories are all over the place today.


I have to go check on my sleeping boys — school tomorrow and there’s a flu running through the class. But as I quickly wrote this entry, I thought back to what attracted me to Microsoft, and it’s pretty simple: it was the opportunity to work with some of the best people in the world doing what they do best, providing our customers and partners with high quality products that meet a high bar of excellence… and ultimately the customer’s needs.


It’s not always easy, but the journey is much of the reward, and I love a good challenge.


Tags: , , , .