Q&A: Microsoft Realigns Customer Service Organization to Build Closer Ties with Customers, Partners

Todd Parsons, General Manager, Microsoft Customer Service

REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 7, 2006 – In the May 2005 report “Why Contact Centers Need to Evolve,” Forrester Research leaves no doubt as to the increased importance of customer service in today’s IT business world. “Customers have high expectations for service delivery and are intolerant of delays and inadequate services,” researcher Elizabeth Herrell wrote. “Customer value with investments that optimize the customer’s experience provides a sound strategy for contact centers.”

Microsoft has reached the same conclusion in recent years, extensively revamping its Customer Service organization to ensure its programs, policies and services are tailored to the needs of the company’s customers and partners. Efforts include new systems, processes, specialists and global alignment in order to not only deliver more predictable and consistent experiences worldwide, but also align with the specific needs of different customers and partners.

As a part of this effort, Microsoft has expanded its Product Support Services (PSS) organization to include Microsoft Customer Service. The company expects the two organizations to complement each other within the renamed Customer Service and Support (CSS) organization, enabling the company to more consistently handle customer interactions.

PressPass recently asked Todd Parsons, general manager, Customer Service, for more details about how and why the organization is transforming its approach and what it means for customers.

PressPass: What trends are influencing Microsoft’s renewed focus on customer service?

Parsons: Overall, we’re recognizing that customers need and are asking for a relationship with Microsoft beyond the traditional function that technical support provides. They not only expect our products to work well, but also expect to easily connect with us to receive information and get their questions answered when they need help. Just a few years ago, about 90 percent of the calls to Microsoft’s contact centers were from customers seeking technical support or asking questions about a product. Today, about half of the calls are service related and come from Microsoft industry partners as well as customers. This includes calls for pre-sales or sales information, asking about product licensing, seeking details about Microsoft programs and service offerings, wanting to register for an event, or looking for a partner who can provide certain Microsoft products or services. They want simpler options for contacting us, they want help 24×7, and they expect our agents to know the details of previous interactions.

PressPass: How is the Customer Service organization changing in response?

Parsons: Customer Service has completely restructured and has become one global organization, supporting 43 languages. This has enabled Microsoft to globalize our processes in order to deliver more value to customers in a more predictable and consistent way. While we’ve always had customer service and product support capabilities in every country where we do business, we lacked a consistent approach and a unified technology infrastructure to manage that function on a global basis. Now we are truly a global organization that can respond to a diverse customer base in their local language. Fundamentally, we’ve shifted away from a product-oriented approach in favor of aligning our services by customer segment or audience type. So whether you are a consumer, an information worker, a developer, an IT professional or a Microsoft industry partner, you can be highly confident that the customer service agent on the other end of the phone or e-mail or online chat window deeply understands your needs and is capable of addressing your issues. We are also standardizing our staffing criteria worldwide, expanding our online resources, and consolidating our contact centers to help make Microsoft more accessible and take the complexity out of which number to call.

Our ultimate goal for every interaction is to deliver a great experience that customers and partners value, to either meet their needs on the spot or to quickly and seamlessly connect them to someone who can. That wasn’t always the case before and we’re really focusing on enhancing our global infrastructure to reach that goal.

PressPass: Does technology play a part of your evolution?

Parsons: Yes, technology plays a significant role in our ability to better serve customers. We’re currently deploying a single contact center tracking application across our contact centers worldwide that will enable us to do a better job of capturing the information we need when a customer calls in order to build a comprehensive profile for them in the system. This means that the next time that person contacts us, the customer service agent who is assisting them can quickly retrieve the profile to better understand the customer’s needs and whether there have been recurring problems or unresolved complaints. This ultimately yields business intelligence that will enable us to see patterns in why people are contacting us, what kinds of resources are most or least effective in meeting their needs, and other data that will help us make ongoing improvements in service and support. We are also sharing what we learn with other Microsoft product and services groups so they can incorporate it into their development, sales and marketing efforts. This allows us to systematically reflect the voice of the customer back into Microsoft so that we can help drive continuous improvement to our policies, programs, processes and products.

In addition, we’re rolling out a knowledge management software framework to give all of our customer service and technical support representatives access to globally consistent information about all things pertaining to Microsoft products and services. Instead of searching across a broad array of sources that might contain inconsistent or obsolete information, our agents around the world now have access to knowledge that’s relevant, timely and up to date – so there’s a higher likelihood that they’ll be able to resolve customer questions on the first call.

PressPass: How does this focus on customer and partner audiences complement and improve Microsoft’s traditional technical support functions?

Parsons: In Customer Service, we strive to either solve a customer’s problem or question the first time they call us or connect them with the support they need quickly and seamlessly. As a result, we’ve really focused on revamping our processes for routing calls and online queries from Customer Service into the technical support groups to address issues faster and more accurately.

We are also partnering more closely with the product groups to better anticipate how to prepare and train for higher call volumes. For example, during the launch of Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) in 2004, we coordinated with the Windows team to synchronize our staffing plans and training. Plus, we put mechanisms in place so that as the volume of calls ramped up on SP2, our customer service agents had immediate access to product information. In many cases, this enabled our agents to resolve customers’ issues without putting them in a queue to wait for a technical support representative.

PressPass: How is Customer Service addressing the needs of Microsoft partners?

Parsons: We’re developing a much more consistent approach to serving our partners as well as simplifying how they gain access to Microsoft support resources that make it easier for them to do business with us. Our partners now have one number to call in each region for customer service, pre-sales information, licensing questions, technical support and other needs. They can engage with the Customer Service organization when they’re about to make a sale and they need more information on the licensing terms associated with a Microsoft product. This is just one of the reasons for integrating our tools, such as the Microsoft Product Licensing Advisor (MPLA), with our global Customer Service organization, to help provide a more seamless, consistent, and predictable interaction for our partners. Microsoft developed the MPLA to help customers take the first step in understanding some of their options for purchasing Microsoft software. MPLA is an easy-to-use online resource that guides a user through product choices, agreement options, Software Assurance (SA) benefits and estimated retail pricing. It enables both customers and partners to be on the same page as they discuss the most appropriate licensing, pricing, and maintenance options for the customer to consider. The tool also integrates with Microsoft’s existing licensing business models and customer resources. If partners are in a competitive situation and need materials to help them make a strong case for choosing Microsoft products, we can now provide access to those resources.

As part of the Microsoft Partner Program, Microsoft solution partners have a number of options for gaining access to Customer Service and Support resources that are invaluable to them in supporting the needs of their customers’ businesses. The Microsoft Partner Program Web site (https://partner.microsoft.com) now includes direct links to many of those resources. So if you’re a Microsoft Certified Partner and need competitive sales assistance or to resolve a technical question or issue on behalf of a customer you support, you can initiate that process through the Microsoft Partner Program Web site and get a fast response through our customer service infrastructure with the same level of accountability as if you were to call a contact center directly.

PressPass: In what other ways are you using the Web to deliver more effective service for customers?

Parsons: One of our top priorities is to tightly align all of our online resources with the information in our contact center systems so that customers are getting a consistent experience no matter how they choose to contact us. In many parts of the world, customers and partners can use instant message or chat capabilities on Microsoft.com to converse with a technical specialist. They can also send e-mail or submit requests via an online form and receive a consistent level of responsiveness in every case. This year, the MPLA is also expected to include chat capabilities with a contact center support specialist.

Another way we are working to ensure better service on the Web is by assuming responsibility for and significantly improving the “Contact Us” function on Microsoft.com. We’ve recently connected that function into the back-end infrastructure of our global contact centers to drive more consistent responses and a more predictable and reliable experience for customers. Over time, we plan to expand “Contact Us” with more self-service features, such as a list of frequently asked questions related to customer service and product support topics that we would manage and update on a regular basis to reflect the current activity taking place in our contact centers.

PressPass: What is the Response Management program, and how does it benefit customers and partners?

Parsons: Response Management is a program that we’ve worked to globalize and implement consistently over the past three years. Microsoft had complaint departments in our subsidiaries, but these were being managed in a decentralized way that limited our ability to influence broader improvements throughout Microsoft operations and address the root causes of problems. We have now deployed a global Response Management system through which every Microsoft employee can submit a complaint on behalf of a customer or partner about any topic, and it will be managed with a guaranteed service level. The top issues raised by customers through this program get elevated to senior executives throughout Microsoft on a monthly basis, so accountability remains very high and the feedback enables Microsoft to make systemic changes and improvements. For example, we heard that external customers were not receiving confirmations of their inclusion in beta programs and that they wanted to close the loop on the process so they could confirm their acceptance or rejection for the programs. We responded by updating an internal beta tracking tool to help product groups close the loop with field regarding customer beta-program requests, and this functionality will be more broadly available in early 2006.

This process also reinforces our goal of driving deeper business intelligence back to the product groups through a defined network of subject-matter experts we’ve placed across our product and program teams that help close out each customer and partner issue. Every business group has the ability to tap into our response management data to better understand the customers’ experience with our products and offerings and identify ways to improve.

PressPass: How do you ultimately define success for the Customer Service organization?

Parsons: Customer Service will continue to evolve with the needs of our customers and partners. We have learned that as systems become more integrated and technology becomes more complex we need to continuously improve worldwide to serve our different audience segments. What really inspires and motivates me is knowing that the work that we do in Customer Service can strongly influence the marketplace’s perception of Microsoft as a great company to do business with. Customer Service is becoming a cross-company asset that employees and partners can use to help fulfill Microsoft’s overall mission of helping customers realize their potential through technology. In the end, we are not successful unless each and every customer or partner who contacts us is 100-percent satisfied with their experience with us and is fully maximizing the use of their technology purchase.

PressPass: What is next on the roadmap for Customer Service?

Parsons: We know that we have a lot more work to do to ensure all of our customers and partners feel connected with, respected, and valued by Microsoft. We will continue to enhance our programs that enable us to build stronger relationships with our customers and partners, enhance our systems so we can remember who contacts us and why, and enhance our products, services, and support programs based on their feedback. In the months to come, customers and partners should expect to see us deliver even greater value every time they contact us and if we don’t, we want them to tell us how we can.

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