I was on a thread where a dev lead asked if anyone had tips to share on motivating his team to engage regularly with customers through blogs, forums, etc.  Paul Yuknewicz shared a great set of tips that I'm republishing with his permission.

  • Get the team managers and leads to see the need for participation.  I lean on them to keep bringing this up in team meetings, 1:1s, and other appropriate touch points.  They should also model the best behavior.  It really helps if you can get one or two managers hooked so they turn into your evangelists (MattGE is an example). 
  • Appointed community people in each discipline: PM, Dev, QA, and UE.  They can be the eyes and ears, and help move things along with their disciplines. 
  • Talked about how looking in the forums is a fun and easy way to learn how customers are really using the product
  • Used metrics as carrots more so than sticks – e.g. emphasizing the people who made the strongest contributions and holding them up regularly in status mails, showing momentum in our trends, etc.  I reward feature teams that collectively do the best work.  I use the sticks more with the leads/managers so they know they need to do better.
  • Devoted 1-2 days to have a bash so the team can “get over the hump” of answering one question and marking one as answered.  The team figured out how to navigate the site & tools, they created some lightweight processes, and they realized it’s not that bad.  Some team members (e.g. Spotty) got hooked on the idea after this.  I also got an idea of the points of friction and was able to start addressing those. 
  • Follow up, follow up, follow up.  If the team sees this is important in the body language of you, their leads, and the leadership team, they’ll follow suit.

 

To this list I would add

  • Get your GM, PUM, or VP to participate by blogging or answering customer questions.  Brian Harry is a great example of leading by example in this respect.
  • Make sure people realize that you really aren't asking that much. If everyone in devdiv answered one customer question a week… well, there aren’t that many questions to answer from customers.
  • Make sure people are empoyered to talk about what they are working on and are rewarded for constructive transparency that helps educate customers. Nothings worse than trying to answer a question fo a customer when you can't tell them the real answer.

How do you motivate your teams to engage with thier customers? Is it important for you?