Support for Technical Community Continues to Evolve

REDMOND, Wash. — Sept. 10, 2009 — The technical community has always played a crucial role in overall awareness and support of Microsoft technology. Over the years, critical feedback from technology pros and enthusiasts has helped Microsoft as it works to develop, design and deliver a world-class customer experience.

Toby Richards, Microsoft general manager of Community and Online Support

Because of the importance of this ongoing dialogue, Microsoft continues to devote significant resources to building community listening systems and support destinations, as well as relationships with technical community leaders.

The nature of community is not static, though, and changes in the way people interact continue to influence the way Microsoft invests in support. To get an idea of the factors affecting Microsoft’s support programs today, PressPass spoke with Toby Richards, Microsoft general manager of Community and Online Support, about the evolution of community support.

PressPass: Tell us about how Microsoft listens to the community.

Toby Richards: Listening is at the core of our community support strategy. We listen with the express purpose of collecting feedback to help create a better customer experience.

One of the primary ways we listen to the community is by creating community forums and support destinations that allow for interaction with our customers and partners. We also make use of rich social media analytics to identify industry leaders and conversations, analyzing 15,000 Microsoft product- and technology-related articles per day across a large number of blog sites and 600 forum locations on MSDN, TechNet, Microsoft Answers and Expression Web sites.

Beyond listening, we engage with industry leaders, through programs like our Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award Program, where we offer focused product group feedback sessions and beta testing. We don’t ignore industry properties either, and we pay close attention to what our customers are saying on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. With the upcoming release of Windows 7, we are listening to the community to better understand the support needs of our customers, so that we can respond with agility.

PressPass: How has social media influenced Microsoft’s engagement with the community?

Toby Richards: Social media is making this a really exciting time for the global technical community and for Microsoft. It’s triggering explosive growth in our online communities and online destinations that facilitate peer-to-peer connection and collaboration. Today, opinions form in seconds across an increasing number of venues and technology topics, and among an exponentially wider set of participants. Through social media listening, like any company, we’re able to determine where technology conversations are happening and what they’re about. And we’re also paying attention to who’s leading those conversations, since success in community begins with knowing who the influencers are.

It’s increasingly important for us to not just listen to what’s important to our customers, but to increase our proactive participation in communities. Community destinations form around common interests and areas of expertise, so it is important to us to continue creating relevant experiences for developers who gather on MSDN, IT pros who go to TechNet, and the increasing number of consumers seeking tailored support through sites like Microsoft Answers. In these communities, Microsoft is present and active in providing answers and sharing ideas.

PressPass: What does Microsoft do with the feedback collected through the various listening systems?

Toby Richards: We believe feedback, especially critical feedback, helps us make our products better. Feedback ultimately improves the end user experience, and it’s something we take very seriously.

Through our MVP community, we understand not just customer issues, but also what is specifically needed in real-world scenarios to resolve them. For example, last year we hosted more than 750 product feedback sessions with our MVPs, and gathered 32,000 pieces of beta feedback to help us improve across our product set. This is tremendous. Furthermore, based on what we hear through community listening forums, we gain superb early insight into their future expectations. For example, we expect a sizeable number of our Windows XP customers will want to upgrade to Windows 7 as part of the upcoming release. We are making preparations to support that migration experience, through better content and tools.

PressPass: What trends does Microsoft see in community support?

Toby Richards: Moving forward, we think the changing face of support will be more proactive, predictive and social. It will also be more consistent, efficient and globally accessible to customers who go online 2 billion times each year to solve their problems on Microsoft sites, not including the sites of our MVPs and our partners.

Our consumer, small-business and home-office customers are online more and more. They are looking for software support — when, where and how they need it. Traditional support vehicles, such as phone, e-mail and IM, are becoming secondary to self-help and online user groups, and in turn are being replaced with online engagements within Microsoft sites and other experts in the community.

PressPass: What is Microsoft’s technical community support strategy for the future?

Toby Richards: We’re really focused on community growth right now to stay ahead of customer demand. We’re expanding our current community support destinations, as well as creating new places for customers and partners to access support when, where and how they need it. In fact, more than 15 percent of our community support budget will be invested in new channels of support.

Currently we reach 11 million customers a month with community answers, and we expect this number to become even higher. Our proactive engagement in TechNet, MSDN and Microsoft Answers forums, where our engineers are participating and answering questions, will continue to grow. And, starting with the general availability of Windows 7, customers will see our engineers present and engaged in those forums in 10 languages — Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Taiwanese — as well as English.

Long-term, we also will introduce new community influencer programs (in addition to the MVP Award Program) to invest in the next generation of community leaders, especially in emerging markets, with the express desire of collecting more diverse feedback, supporting more customers, and helping create a better end-user experience.

We are also excited about the launch of our Technical Experts Connection (TEC) platform for influencer engagement in early 2010. Initially offered to MVPs, TEC will offer customized and relevant engagements based on each influencer’s strengths, their approach and their impact to community. And of course we’re going to keep encouraging our customers and partners to participate in our communities. Community grows through participation and we would love it if more people got engaged by asking questions, answering questions and sharing feedback. In the end, everybody wins.

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