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.

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