Full Text of 10/02 Ballmer Memo

Full text of memo from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on what the company is doing to strengthen customer relationships.

The following memo from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is the second in an ongoing series of e-mails from Microsoft executives to customers about important issues facing consumers, business, industry and Microsoft itself. The memo, sent on Wednesday afternoon, focuses on what Microsoft is doing to maintain and deepen customer connections.

A couple of months ago, after you received an email from Bill Gates about Microsofts efforts toward Trustworthy Computing, you subscribed to receive future mails from Bill and me, and sometimes from other Microsoft executives, on important technology and public-policy issues. We really appreciate your interest.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about how Microsoft can do a better job of serving its customers. Im convinced that we need to do more to establish and maintain broad connections with the millions of people who use our products and services around the world. We need to more thoroughly understand their needs, how they use technology, what they like about it, and what they dont. Id like to share with you some of what weve recently begun to do and are planning for in the future to better connect with our customers.

Software and Snack Food

In my career, Ive worked at only one other place besides Microsoft. I marketed brownie mix and blueberry muffin mix for one of the largest consumer products companies. Im glad I decided to join Microsoft 22 years ago, when it was a little software startup, but I have great admiration for successful consumer businesses, and I believe Microsoft can learn from them. Behind the leading brands are companies that really know their customers. These firms devote a great deal of time and energy to gaining an intimate understanding of consumers, their reactions to every aspect of products, and how those products fit into their lives. Even so, not every new grocery or drug-store item succeeds. But by using the huge volume of data that feeds back from the daily purchase decisions of millions of consumers, marketers manage over time to figure out what consumers want in cake mix, soft drinks, shampoo, and so on. And these same products often go on satisfying consumers for decades.

Satisfying customers is what its all about with technology products, too. And customers expect the same high quality and reliability in computing devices and software as they do in consumer products. But meeting their expectations is much harder, and not just because information technology is more complex and interdependent. The challenge has more to do with the flexibility of technology and its continual, rapid advance. To take advantage of this and expand what people can do with hardware and software, computer products must constantly evolve. As a result, products are seldom around long enough in one form to be fully time-tested, let alone perfected. And customers continually come up with new uses for their technology, new combinations and configurations that further complicate technology companies efforts to ensure a satisfying experience, free of hiccups and glitches.

If technology products are to approach the satisfying consistency of consumer staples—and clearly they should—then we in the industry need a more detailed knowledge of customers experiences with our products. We must do a better job of connecting with customers. For a company such as Microsoft, with many millions of customers around the world, the connections must be very broad. While we are working to deepen our relationships with enterprise and other business customers, we also need to make innumerable, daily connections with the very wide array of people who use our products—consumers, information workers, software developers and information technology professionals.

In the past year, we specifically identified some near-term objectives on the road to further product improvements and greater customer satisfaction. Among them:

  • Obtain much more feedback from our customers about their experience;
  • Offer customers easier, more consistent ways to update their products;
  • Provide customers with more effective, readily available support and service.

We have a long way to go, but were excited about the results so far from some of our recent efforts. Id like to share just one great example, and then Ill tell you how you can learn more about what were doing along these lines.