Facing a crowded Web conferencing market, Microsoft is using a rewards program that offers gifts and frequent flyer miles to encourage customers to use its Live Meeting service.
Microsoft Corp. has enlisted the help of a customer incentive service to provide gifts and airline mileage as rewards to customers who use its Live Meeting Web conferencing system.
Microsoft is working with Incentive Logic Inc.,
a rewards software and services company based in Scottsdale, Ariz., that provides what it calls its "e-loyalty platform," rewarding subscribers for holding Live Meeting sessions, participating in surveys and providing service testimonials.
Microsoft decided that it needed to provide a rewards program to encourage use of Live Meeting because business users are still making a significant transition to using the Web to set up business conferences, said Alexander Oddoz, Microsofts lead marketing manager for Live Meeting.
Oddoz said he spent a lot of time speaking to business decision makers, those who determine whether their organizations will implement Web conferencing as a way of reducing the travel and expense required for face-to-face meetings.
"What we heard very loud and clear was that we have a problem to get people to adopt this Web conferencing technology because it requires people to change their behavior, the way they manage a meeting," and how they interact with others inside and outside the organization, Oddoz said.
Microsoft is also confronting a lot of established competition in the Web conferencing market, including WebEx.com, WebDialogs.com, Citrix Online LLCs GoToMeeting and e-Boardroom.com, just to name a few. And it competes with the many phone conferencing services that are offered by nearly all the telecommunications companies.
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Microsoft decided that the best way to reinforce the use of Live Meeting was to provide a program that would provide "some fun way" for employees to be rewarded for the efforts to reduce travel expense by shifting to Web conferencing.
Oddoz said he didnt know whether Microsoft had ever used a similar rewards program to promote product acceptance or whether the company had any plans to extend the program to other products.
The program awards points according to the number of Live Meeting sessions each customer conducts. It offers different reward levels: bronze, silver, gold and platinum, which award 1,000, 1,500, 2,000 and 2,500 points, respectively, for each Web conference.
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It takes 175 Web meetings to reach the platinum level, 100 meetings to reach the gold level and 30 meetings to reach the silver level. Some of the rewards include gift cards for Starbucks coffee, Olive Garden, Kentucky Fried Chicken and other restaurants. Or users could earn 250 Delta Airline frequent flyer miles for a minimum of 15 Web meetings or 1,000 frequent flyer miles, stereo headphones, or a gift card for Old Navy or Macys stores for 60 meetings.
Microsoft started the pilot program for this rewards program in May 2004 and decided to extend the program to all Live Meeting customers in January, Oddoz said. Currently about 20 percent to 30 percent of Microsoft Live Meeting customers have signed up for the rewards program, he said. Microsoft declined to disclose the total number of customers who are using Live Meeting.
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The company hasnt set any time limit for how long it will offer the rewards program, Oddoz said. "It is still in its early stages," and Microsoft expects that an increasing number of customers will sign up for both Live Meeting and the rewards program.
"We are hoping that this program will keep [customers] loyal in the same way that people stay loyal to an airline or to a particular hotel plan. So that is the additional long-term goal of that program in addition to meeting some of the usage and adoption goals that we have," he said.
Incentive Logic officials said that rewards and loyalty programs are catching on in a lot of different industries and companies. "Once upon a time it was airlines and then hotels where it caught on," said Roberto Guerrieri, Incentive Logics senior vice president of marketing. Now they are showing up in health care, banking, Web services and e-commerce Web sites.
The airline industry has been offering rewards programs for more than 30 years, Guerrieri noted. Once an incentive program goes into place, they tend to stay in place for at least 10 years, he said. Thats because to end a rewards programs tends to be a significant disappointment and disincentive to customers, he said.
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