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.

 

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