How Microsoft Digital improves its own Employee Experience—and yours—as Customer Zero

Sep 9, 2022   |  

Microsoft Digital storiesAnyone who has been around the technology industry for a while is familiar with the concept of “dogfooding.” “Eat your own dog food” is a phrase that has been in use at Microsoft since the 1980s, and it is common vernacular in the industry to describe the process of a company using its own products and services before they’re available in the market to power internal operations. The idea behind the metaphor may have been inspired by a 70’s era TV commercial—“The dog food is so good, I serve it to my own dogs.” In other words, when Microsoft uses it internally, we learn from that experience and use our insights to improve the product or service so it’s good enough for your business too.

As Microsoft has become more sophisticated in the way we build, test, deploy, and improve our products, equating the usage of our own solutions to eating dog food has become outdated. It doesn’t speak to the sophistication with which we obsess over the employee experience to ensure that our products and services don’t just meet the needs of our own employees, they exceed them. And by applying our internal learnings to improve our solutions, we ensure that we exceed the expectations of your employees also.

[We’re] establishing a shared vision, strategy and OKRs with multiple product engineering partners to accomplish our “north star.” We get to co-develop select capabilities that not only help Microsoft users but also get integrated into our products.

—Vijaya Alaparthi, principal group program manager, Microsoft Digital Employee Experience

The new term to describe that employee obsession is “Customer Zero,” and in Microsoft Digital Employee Experience, we take pride in being the first customer for a wide variety of Microsoft products and services, obsessing over our own employee experience to make every person on the planet more productive.

Being Customer Zero at Microsoft

As the team that “powers, protects, and transforms the employee experience at Microsoft,” we are responsible for driving Microsoft’s own digital transformation in a hybrid world.

I asked Vijaya Alaparthi, Principal Group Program Manager, what it means to be Customer Zero at Microsoft. “It means that I get to represent the user voice and needs at Microsoft as well as enterprise users at large to help shape our products and solutions.”

But how do you do that? Vijaya continued: “Part of this is establishing a shared vision, strategy and OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) with multiple product engineering partners to accomplish our ’north star.’ It also means that we get to co-develop select capabilities that not only help Microsoft users but also get integrated into our products.” Being Customer Zero means a deep partnership between our IT organization and our product engineering to envision the right experiences, co-develop innovative solutions, and both listen to and act on insights we gather from our employees. We work together to stay grounded in the way our employees use our products every day, so your employees can benefit from our insights.

There are four dimensions of our Customer Zero approach that shape our investments:

Text graphic showing Customer Zero steps at Microsoft: Envisioning, building, governing, and evangelizing experiences.
Being Microsoft’s Customer Zero means continuously working to improve the experience the company’s employees have at work.

Envision

The key to succeeding as Customer Zero at Microsoft is to envision the right experiences in the first place, then to use our insights and knowledge to influence the direction and development of those experiences. We do that in multiple ways:

  • We listen to our global employees to better understand their needs, then work with product engineering to co-envision the right user experiences.
  • We anticipate and address product requirements that other large enterprise customers will have, based on our experience managing large tenants at Microsoft.
  • We research user needs, analyze feedback, and leverage insights to influence product design and development. In this way, we are the champions of the employee experience at Microsoft.

Build, Evaluate and Drive Adoption

Before Microsoft customers and partners ever interact with new products and services, we evaluate those products on your behalf, often co-developing solutions driven by our insights as Customer Zero. Once developed, we drive adoption of those solutions through structured change management programs to help maximize employee usage and value, unlocking the value of our own digital transformation.

  • As the team that manages and deploys enterprise-level systems at Microsoft, we use our expertise to ensure that administrative capabilities and user experiences are built and optimized to maximize employee productivity.
  • We leverage those same insights to ensure our solutions are secure and compliant with global regulations.
  • As a result of envisioning or even in response to insights driven by internal deployments, we partner with our product group counterparts to drive innovative experiences into our products based on our experience as Customer Zero.
  • We evaluate those same solutions to ensure their adherence to security, privacy, and other compliance requirements globally.
  • Once built, we engage in structured, locally relevant change management to drive usage and to maximize the value of our investments in digital transformation. As a byproduct of our landing and adoption activities, we bring user insights back to our product groups to further improve our solutions.

Deploy, Govern, Operate, and Support

A key function of our role as Customer Zero at Microsoft is to operate and govern the tenants that power Microsoft. Through our operational processes and learnings, we can ensure the stability, scalability, and compliance of our employee experiences at a global scale, improving the experience for all users. Here are a few of the things we do:

  • Monitor service health and invest in measures to maintain high levels of service uptime, sharing insights with our product group peers based on our learnings.
  • Leverage user feedback and service analytics data to influence product development.
  • Represent the “voice of information technology” at Microsoft, compiling and sharing feedback that improves manageability, scale, and supportability of our enterprise solutions.
  • Facilitate security, privacy, legal, and other compliance reviews for enterprise-level solutions.
  • Develop and enforce policies that reduce risk of data exposure and sprawl through tenant-level governance policies. We then share those same policies with our product group counterparts.

Similar to IT organizations in many companies, we’ve become an increasingly strategic contributor to Microsoft’s product offerings. In our “Customer Zero” capacity, we partner with product teams across the company to bring our employee experience vision to life. This includes doing some of the product engineering work ourselves, in close partnership with product teams. Everything we do as Customer Zero to obsess over the employee experience makes our employees more productive—and that extends to our customers through our products.

—Nathalie D’Hers, corporate vice president, Microsoft Digital Employee Experience

Evangelize

Near and dear to our hearts here at Inside Track are our efforts to evangelize and promote what we have learned as we continue our digital transformation journey at Microsoft. While Inside Track is a primary channel to share those learnings, our Microsoft Digital Employee Experience team also engages directly with customers and partners here in Redmond and across the world, while also engaging in CIO forums and other events. We do that to ensure that you, as a digital transformation leader, benefit from our insights as Customer Zero at Microsoft so we can be a conduit back to our engineering teams as we collect feedback and insights from our customers and partners.

A mindset, not a marketing slogan

As Microsoft Digital Employee Experience has continued to evolve, the Customer Zero mindset has become key to our own digital transformation. It is no longer good enough to just “eat our own dog food.” We obsess over every detail to ensure our employees are the most productive in the world. As a customer, you can have even greater confidence in our products and services since we’ve already run and tested our products at global enterprise scale and have channeled our own employee feedback and insights to improve the experience.

Nathalie D’Hers, CVP Microsoft Digital Employee Experience, reflected on our journey. “Similar to IT organizations in many companies, we’ve become an increasingly strategic contributor to Microsoft’s product offerings. In our ‘Customer Zero’ capacity, we partner with product teams across the company to bring our employee experience vision to life. This includes doing some of the product engineering work ourselves, in close partnership with product teams. Everything we do as Customer Zero to obsess over the employee experience makes our employees more productive—and that extends to our customers through our products.”

These are still the early days in this newest chapter of our journey, but we are excited to share our progress so you can better understand how this approach improves the employee experience at Microsoft, and by extension, in your enterprise too.

Key Takeaways

  • As “Customer Zero,” Microsoft Digital Employee Experience is Microsoft’s first customer and works in tandem with product engineering to envision and develop the best possible employee experiences.
  • Through our insights and usage, we influence product engineering to improve experiences, often co-developing solutions based on our insights.
  • Your enterprise can also benefit from a Customer Zero approach, by obsessing over your own experience, listening to your employees, and proactively improving experiences prior to general availability.

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