6 Customer-Centric Lessons From Microsoft And Windows 7

I know; you don’t often see “Microsoft” and “customer-centric” together in the same sentence. 🙂

Let me start with a disclaimer: Microsoft is a very large client of my employer (Forrester Research) and I’ve worked with Microsoft on its customer experience efforts. Hopefully my posts about Microsoft demonstrate that I take a balanced view on the software behemoth, as I do with every company (for example, see Will An Efficient Culture Destroy Microsoft? and Apple Beats Windows In Customer Experience).

I recently had discussions with several Microsoft execs about the company’s customer & partner experience (CPE) and online self-help efforts surrounding Windows 7. Overall, I think they are doing an excellent job re-orienting Microsoft more directly on the needs of customers. In particular, here are six areas that other firms can learn from:

  1. Internalize customer experience. Microsoft’s CPE team has developed programs for driving more customer-centricity across the organization. The efforts which include CPE training for new employees, CPE culture programs, CPE goals for all employees, and executive compensation tied to CPE results.
  2. Infuse customer feedback into the product. Core requirements for Microsoft products now include self-help, self-healing pillars. This ensures that supportability is designed into products from the beginning. In addition, the company actively listened to social media during beta with developers and end users to identify problems and develop fixes.
  3. Make a good first impression. A poor initial experience can set the stage for a very dissatisfied customer. That’s why Microsoft created a cross-functional team to focus more than ever on its “shipping process” for Windows 7. This team looked at all of the areas that needed to be in place for customers to be satisfied when the product shipped. One of the key areas: simplifying the installation and upgrade processes.
  4. Create customer-centric metrics. To get the support organization focused on the right areas, the company uses a “time to happy” metric — which looks at the time it takes for customers to get a problem resolved starting from the moment they have the problem. This is quite different from most companies that try to minimize the time it takes them to respond once customers come to them with the problem.
  5. Accelerate the support process. Microsoft has invested heavily in Windows 7’s support infrastructure, looking at both reactive and proactive support. Some of the key investments include Microsoft Answers (providing answers to natural language questions) and Microsoft Fix It (automated diagnostics and solutions). The company is also embedding support communities into the product and working on search engine optimization to make it easier for customers to find solutions.
  6. Take responsibility for the entire ecosystem. Microsoft tracks the satisfaction of its partners as well as the satisfaction of its partners’ end customers. This allows them to identify areas of improvement across the ecosystem. The company also invested in its Windows Compatibility Center  to identify the apps and hardware that works with Windows 7 and provide access to the latest drivers. In addition, the company is working with OEM partners like Dell to create “solution assets” that cut across software/hardware boundaries. 

This is not an endorsement of Windows 7, since I have not used or evaluated the software. I am, however, impressed by Microsoft’s attempt to shift from an engineering-driven to a customer-centric culture. While this transition won’t happen overnight, Microsoft’s CPE efforts are pushing it in the right direction. If Microsoft stays dedicated to CPE, then I am hopeful that Windows 7 and future products will be easier to use and to maintain.

The bottom line: When it comes to customer experience, Microsoft appears to be heading in the right direction.

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about these topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

3 Responses to 6 Customer-Centric Lessons From Microsoft And Windows 7

  1. While I agree with you Bruce, it may be too little too late. MS has left the door so open for competitors and alternatives that I don’t think they can shut it much if any. Their efforts now are basically not much more than catching up to where they should have been all along had they been paying attention. This isn’t innovation, it’s backfilling.

  2. Bruce Temkin says:

    Hi Jeffrey: Thanks for commenting. I agree that Microsoft’s CPE push should have started a long, long time ago and it has a lot of ground to make up. The company’s customer experience shortfalls have opened opportunities for Apple, Google, and others. But I don’t think that it’s too late. Microsoft still has a huge base of users, an incredibly strong brand, and lots of cash. If it can keep aggressively focused on CPE, then Microsoft can turn things around — as long as it aims for CPE leadership instead of just parity.

  3. Joseph K says:

    One goes through these sorts of things step-by-step. Diff companies are at different levels with their Customer Experience initiatives. Its good that MS is finally dealing with these things seriously. While they will lag the leaders in this realm and will probably never catch up to Apple, the fact that they have a dedicated team for this effort will only be beneficial. We know how poor companies as a whole are in this regard so MS is not an exception but rather a rule. The sooner companies realise the importance of the Customer Experience the better it will be for them.

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