Customer Support in Communities; From 0 to 761 in a Year

Last week 761 developer customer questions were answered in our online communities by members of our customer support staff. These are the folks helping to bridge the knowledge transfer gap for .NET 2.0 and 3.0 that I talked about last week. The effort also represents a shift in our support strategy to start broadening the reach of every support dollar spent.

Rather than most of our money being spent on 1:1 private support we’d like to see every answer we give out help everyone in our community. The effort in the forums that the 761 answer number represents is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s possible for any group that believes in radical transparency.

One year ago today I wrote a slide deck shown to the VP of Support and Soma (my VP) that started with the question “How can Product Support and Development teams cooperate to make customers more successful through online communities?” The presentation went on to show two sides of our communities with the participation of our development teams.

In March of 2006 members of our development teams where working side by side with MVPs helping to answer customer questions. Customers seemed to like it, but we’d hit an answer percentage that couldn’t scale with the new found popularity of our sites… and development teams where soon going to start having to answer questions about an unreleased product named Orcas. Our support orgs needed to share the same goals as the product teams for “community health”. If a segment of your community is focused on support oriented culture then shouldn’t your support team be engaged in that community?

The case was made to fund support engagement in our communities to help “moderate, answer questions, triage bugs, and provide workarounds to customers in our communities”. In November of that year the first person funded from this presentation went live in our forums. It had taken the help of some allies in the support org and at least one other exec review to work out the details, but the idea of filling the knowledge gap became a reality. We’re on the path to hire almost 40 support engineers for this work by July and things seem to be going well according to this chart.

It shows the answer rates in our Asp.Net and MSDN forum communities.  The reply rates are around 95%, but our goal with the answer rate is to get to 80% for the seven day rate and 60% for the on day rate.  You can see some significant improvements since December.  We've also seen more significant uplift in specific technologies where engineers where hired first.  Since we haven't hit our goal yet I'll point out that the support engagement is only designed to get us so far. 

A true victory is going to require several bullets that aren't the topic of this blog post.   Additional bullets are going to be required because with a higher answer rate comes more popularity as more questions per month...

I'm really happy about this and some of the other programs I'll talk about in the next couple of weeks.  Sometimes it's frustrating how long things can take at Microsoft, but I find slides like this make me feel better.

I wrote that in the October before Visual Studio 2005 launched!  I left off my 5 year goals from this blog post since I have to leave some surprises.  What I like about this slide that I keep tacked to my wall is that I'm very confident I'll hit my three year horizon in much less than 3.  Although you may feel stuck in the mud when you are working on radical changes it can be uplifting to ones spirit to take the long view back just like you do looking forward to realize that progress is being made.  Stay tuned.