State of CSAT

Microsoft's Julie Bennani gets specific about Microsoft's customer satisfaction surveying process for Gold Certified Partners.

One of the most important elements in the gradual ramp-up of the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) is a much stronger emphasis on customer satisfaction, or CSAT. For several years, Microsoft has encouraged partners to use a third-party service to collect customer satisfaction data on themselves.

Back in November, Microsoft promoted CSAT from a fringe benefit to a Gold Certified Partner requirement. Partners re-enrolling at the Gold Certified level must have gotten at least 10 customers to complete the CSAT surveys in the past 12 months, with Microsoft seeing the aggregate results but not the individual customer information.

That fulfilled a key goal by Julie Bennani, general manager in the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group. Bennani, who has been focused on the overhaul of Microsoft's massive partner network to the MPN, spoke with RCP Editor in Chief Scott Bekker and RCP Executive Editor Jeffrey Schwartz by phone in mid-December about the significance of the CSAT collection effort.

"We wanted to shift the mentality around customer satisfaction, especially for our top partners in the Gold space, as something that we take very seriously."

-- Julie Bennani, General Manager, Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group

RCP: Why is getting CSAT data so important to Microsoft?
Bennani: When Allison [Watson] launched the Microsoft Partner Network [MPN] at the [Microsoft] Worldwide Partner Conference, we talked about three pillars. One is around customers, the second is around capability and the third is around connections.

We want to ensure customer-centricity, both on our end and how we think about working with our partners, and know that partners are focusing on that, as well.

That was a lot of the thought as we took what had previously been thought of as a benefit [CSAT], and it still is, by the way. But we wanted to shift the mentality a little bit around customer satisfaction, especially for our top partners in the Gold space, as something that we take very seriously and so we transitioned it to a requirement.

RCP: How are you implementing the CSAT survey data as it comes in?
Bennani: We've enabled a benchmarking capability within our customer sat measurement, where as a partner tells us where their focus is, what their business model is, they get benchmarked against their peers. So we don't list specific company names, but they get put into a bucket with all the other companies that are doing the same solution areas and have the same business model. And they can find out where they fit against their, probably, competitors, and they get to act upon that.

We spend a lot of time on the reporting that comes out of the tools so that partners can use it right away in a customer conversation. They get a very professional-looking report, and they can go and have a conversation with the customer that has nothing to do with a deal.

Another piece was around how to make sure that this was a thing that partners use to develop their businesses. So we did not set a score because we don't want partners to game this. What we want is that they truly get a wide and deep view of how their customers feel about how they're doing, and use that to improve their connections with customers and improve how they're getting their business.

We don't charge them to do this, all their data is private and we allow partners to add their own custom questions.

RCP: Do you need to offer customers some kind of incentives to get them to fill out the surveys?
Bennani: We actually haven't had to offer that. The response rates have been very high. We've focused a lot on the person who has been filling out the survey, and the experience they would have with the survey. We've made sure that it's as crisp and clean as possible.

RCP: It sounds like the way that it's being done is almost a case study approach rather than a blast against a partner's entire customer list.
Bennani: That's right. We're not setting a score because we want our partners to think about getting the broadest range of feedback possible so that they truly have a feel for how they're performing, and so they don't just pick their best customers who will give us glowing recommendations.

Partners wouldn't learn as much from that. However, we did factor in the sample size so that, one, we didn't put smaller partners at a disadvantage, but also that we got a significant enough sample without requiring them to send in hundreds of customers. We're trying to balance that. When we think going forward about our requirements, we are trying to think about, what is the customer need? What will help the partner deliver that in a way that Microsoft and all of us benefit? We're trying to think about everything in the [Microsoft Partner] Network as things that are win-win-win, and this would be one example.

RCP: What has Microsoft been doing with the CSAT data that you see?
Bennani: All we see is aggregate data, we don't see the customers' lists. That's why we have a third party run it. We do see the benchmarking and where partners sit. The idea is that if a partner has a partner account manager [PAM] or a tele-PAM [TPAM], we encourage those PAMs and TPAMs to have a conversation with the partner to see how they can help them. From an online perspective, we provide resources and [suggest] things to think about as a partner on how you can improve customer satisfaction. Our intent is to let the partner develop, get that focus on customer centricity and be that advisor.

RCP: Do you anticipate that this requirement this year is going to have any impact on the number of Gold Certified Partners?
Bennani: No, we don't. For those partners that really want to continue and value their partnership with Microsoft and value that Gold top branding, we actually don't expect a dramatic dip through this change.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.