Microsoft Gathers Feedback, MVPs at Global Summit

Microsoft wrapped up its 2011 MVP Global Summit, an annual invitation-only gathering of external customers who are Microsoft product insiders, on Wednesday.

This year's summit brought together 1,600 MVPs from 80 different countries to Microsoft's Redmond, Wash. campus, according to Toby Richards, Microsoft's general manager for community and online support, in a phone interview. Invitees are considered to have a lot of sway on the direction Microsoft takes with its software. However, discussions were kept under wraps by nondisclosure agreements; except for a few inside jokes, veteran reporter Mary-Jo Foley gleaned few bombshells from tweeting MVPs this year.

There are a total of 4,200 MVPs worldwide representing 90 different technology areas, according to Richards. Microsoft had 630 feedback sessions at this year's MVP Global Summit, up from about 350 feedback sessions considered three years ago, Richards said. Microsoft ran a full day this week entirely devoted to covering SQL Server issues, he added.

MVPs typically are privy to future uses of Microsoft's various technologies. Microsoft has a number of ways to get customer feedback, but Richards said that MVP-supplied information gets priority. One past example Richards cited was submissions from the Japan team, which had found "175 key localizing issues in Windows 7 that were critical."

MVPs are considered to be experts in particular technologies, but they also have to be active in the community as leaders, based on their participation in online forums and external events. Microsoft reviews MVPs quarterly, and it sometimes happens that MVPs will cycle out when they become less active. Richards said that roughly about 30 percent of MVPs work at Microsoft Gold Certified Partner firms or are Microsoft certified professionals. The specialty mix is about 40 percent IT pros and 40 percent developers, with the rest of the MVPs being consumer-focused, he explained.

The motivation for becoming an MVP is all about the prestige of the MVP brand from a career perspective. People get nominations to become an MVP from other MVPs or from Microsoft employees, Richards explained. Microsoft briefly describes the process here.

MVPs serve as expert moderators for a number of Microsoft online support portals. Microsoft Answers provides support for information workers and consumers. MSDN and TechNet include resources for developers and IT pros, respectively. There's also support on social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.  Microsoft gets aggregate product feedback ("mass listening") when users opt to send that information through Microsoft's software.

Microsoft Answers was recently updated to improve the rating and recognition system, Richards said. In addition, search in that portal was improved because that's a primary activity on Microsoft Answers. Only 10 percent of customers go to the site to ask a question, Richards explained. The site was updated on Feb. 26 and had some technical difficulties, but a majority of those issues have since been resolved, he said.

After checking online support, the next step for those looking to resolve a problem might be a phone call to Microsoft's customer service and support, which may come with a charge. Microsoft describes accessing that service here, but Richards noted that Microsoft is aiming to better communicate the support workflow process to its customers.

"Today, I would say the [support workflow] experiences aren't that great," Richards said. "And one of the things that we're doing in our support organization is really transforming the business -- making sure that when somebody asks a question, [it] gets resolved. To really earn [customer] trust and loyalty, one of the things we are working on right now is that workflow that you just described. You may choose to see a KnowledgeBase article today first, and then you go to the community to get some content around it. And if you don't get your answer, today you have to call."

Richards also described how Microsoft plans to be more proactive in providing support for customers, including its "Fix it" automated solutions, plus a new service to come.

"For a lot of the server monitoring and alerts, we announced a secure server health monitoring service about four or five months ago called 'Atlanta' -- that's the code name," Richards said. "And that is where we are taking the learnings from support of what the top configuration issues are around (like [with] SQL Server), creating rules around that, and if you subscribe your server around this Atlanta service, we will proactively notify you when we are seeing things that may cause an issue down the road."

He added that the Atlanta service, unveiled at the last SQL PASS event, will not be  limited to SQL Server. Microsoft plans to provide more details about the Atlanta service later this month, Richards said.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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