Company: Microsoft Corporation
Contact: Nestor Portillo, Director, Community and Online Support
Location: Redmond, WA
Annual revenue: $60,420,000,000
Number of employees: 91000
With millions of customers in more than 90 countries, Microsoft Corporation hardly requires an introduction in many parts of the world. Its products and brand awareness have achieved a scope and reach that many companies might only dream of attaining.
But maintaining such a high-impact global presence introduces its own variety of challenges: staying in tune with individual markets, ensuring broad customer satisfaction, and quickly containing unanticipated user issues before they get out of hand.
Microsoft has found a way—using Web-monitoring tools, social-media analytics, and the energy of influencers—to demonstrate to its customers worldwide that it is actively listening to them, solving their issues, and answering their needs as quickly and accurately as possible.
No matter the size or reach of your organization, this study offers insights on how to maintain a solid grasp on brand and product perceptions in the marketplace while driving increased customer loyalty through active outreach and consumer education.
Nestor Portillo, director of community and online support for Microsoft, said his team's mission is clear: "to drive quality of experience and ensure productive usage of our technology in the marketplace."
The effort to achieve this sort of objective may start in the company call center, by directly solving issues and serving the needs of users who make the effort and ring in for support. But what about customers who never opt to call in? Or those who are instead taking to online forums and user groups to find answers or vent their frustrations when faced with a product issue?
Without reaching out to these folks, the company could easily risk market disconnect, unanticipated setbacks—or, worse yet, customer dissent. "If you ignore the conversation taking place and don't maintain a healthy conversation with your customers, they will disengage," Portillo said.
But when you're a company as big as Microsoft, that's a task more easily said than done. "This company has millions of customers; we can't reach them all personally," Portillo admitted.
So the challenge becomes how to make the appropriate news, information, and resources consistently and readily available for all users—in more than 90 countries worldwide.
Moreover, a large part of that challenge is how to set the right expectations and encourage an open channel of communication so that users will continue to engage with the brand and voluntarily apprise the company of what's needed to maintain their satisfaction and loyalty.
Microsoft has deployed a dynamic listening and enablement campaign that extends well beyond the company's customer service center to include the following elements:
1. Monitoring the conversations taking place
Portillo's team searches the Web using a series of tools—including public networks such as Twitter, Digg, Boardreader, Delicious, and Reddit, as well as services such as TrueCase and Radian6—to analyze conversations and tags and measure customer experience and opinion related to the quality of the company's products, content, licensing model, and programs, as well as overall satisfaction of use.
2. Detecting actual and potential issues
Those tools also help the team filter the noise and validate the real issues by identifying how frequently a particular point or concern is mentioned across various online channels.
In addition to monitoring glaring issues in need of an immediate fix, Portillo's team is able to keep an eye out for warning signals related to potential or underlying issues that might otherwise take the company by surprise.
3. Managing customer expectations
The company then gets to work on addressing those issues, as much through fixing the actual bugs as through joining the conversation and quickly informing users of the steps being taken and progress being made.
"We are able to increase visibility about the issues we can solve," Portillo said.
In addition, when an issue cannot be immediately resolved, Portillo's team strives to exceed user expectations by proactively educating users and offering resources on how to work around the issue and avoid the related hassles.
4. Identifying and empowering the most-influential sources
To reach out on a much larger, global scale and engage customers who haven't chosen to interact with the company directly, Microsoft maintains an influencer-enablement program.
Portillo's team uses the same tools noted above to recognize (a) which of the related content receives the most traffic and (b) who among those involved in the conversations carry the largest scope of leadership and influence (those who post the most content or maintain the most followers or blog readers, etc.).
It then invites these influencers to join an exclusive program that aims to arm them with the appropriate facts and information to position themselves as Microsoft insiders. The program includes, among other things, the following:
- Channels to connect with and learn about Microsoft products and programs directly from the company's product groups and marketing teams
- Monthly activities where influencers can join the conversation and interact with both the company and other enthusiasts
- An annual three-day summit at the company's Redmond headquarters where influencers can gather information and provide face-to-face feedback with the Microsoft organization
Portillo's team also segments influencers based on their interests and motivations and strives to offer experiences and enablement that specifically appeal to those profiles. For instance, "pioneer" types might be given first dibs on testing a new product, while an "information leader" might receive insider access to special content.
"We analyze their behaviors and interests, then create compelling value propositions that motivate them to engage in our activities, come to our events, and be active in our communities," Portillo said.
Microsoft has been able to gain a strong handle on existing and potential issues facing the product and brand, gaining the capability to minimize or alleviate any issues before they get out of control. Moreover, feedback suggests that customer satisfaction and loyalty are boosted as a result.
Furthermore, the program has enabled the company to achieve the following:
- Awareness and involvement in more than 2,000 third-party communities where Microsoft products and programs are being discussed
- An army of influential advocates who likely carry more weight within select communities than Microsoft itself ever could, and who consistently propagate the company's message on its behalf
- A local support presence around the globe
- Insight into how its products are used and perceived in different markets
"Today, we feel we have a nice view of what's going on with Microsoft in the marketplace," Portillo said.
- Be willing to listen and be prepared to respond: Leave no stone unturned, Portillo advised, even when it involves listening to less-than-positive reflections of your brand. "Listening can be awkward. Sometimes people are so passionate about your products and services that they say whatever is on their minds," he said. "You have to be willing to read between the lines, remove the emotions and slang, and listen to the real message. It can be tough to get through sometimes, but it's necessary to find the real nuggets."
Portillo further noted the importance of being able to scale your support services by having the proper staffing and resources (technology and the cooperation of key influencers) in place to effectively manage the additional communication involved and maintain an ongoing, active presence within the various communities.
- Don't ignore the small stuff: "Never minimize the importance of an early-warning signal. Manage it in the same way as you would a top-level issue," advised Portillo, noting that ignoring these signs certainly won't make them disappear. "If you don't pay attention to those early-warning signals, it will become a huge issue that will unexpectedly eat up your customer service and email support."
Portillo has found, too, that by not just identifying these issues but also actively educating its customers about how to avoid them in the first place, the company is able to establish a higher level of trust and satisfaction in the marketplace. "If you're really proactive, you surprise consumers who aren't used to or expecting that, and [therefore you] generate customer loyalty," he said.
- Understand that you serve your influencers, not the other way around: Microsoft's influencer program has been successful in part because Portillo and his team tailor their programs to appeal to individual motivations and needs. But of even greater significance is that his team recognizes that influencers participate because of their passion for the company's technology.
The team understands that the influencers' cooperation is completely noncompulsory and they are in no way to be considered "free labor"—and that the company must therefore aim to enable, and never try to control, these individuals. "We have no formal expectations from these influencers, other than no profanity," Portillo said.
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