Microsoft CSAT Gaining Fans In The Channel

To recap, Gold partners seeking to re-up must provide Microsoft with 10 CSAT Index survey responses during the 12 months prior to re-enrollment. Survey results are sent to partners and reported in aggregate to Microsoft, which uses this information to calculate a partner's net satisfaction score, or NSAT. The value for partners lies in being able to see how their NSAT score measures up against the overall partner average.

IBIS, an Atlanta-based solution provider, has been able to kill off an internally developed customer satisfaction system since moving to Microsoft's CSAT. "It's actually costing us less money to use Microsoft's and we're getting the same results," said Andy Vabulas, CEO of IBIS. "Our customers seem to like going to a Microsoft site -- it gives then some independence instead of having us call them."

Some VARs have objected to the CSAT requirement because of the perceived time costs involved and a desire to avoid burdening their customers with extra paperwork. But according to Microsoft, the CSAT surveys take just 10 minutes to complete. "People don't understand how easy this is. CSAT is going to play a huge role in Microsoft's partner program, and surveys are an elegant and unobtrusive way to get the necessary data," said Vabulas.

Michael Waterman, vice president of technology for LAM Systems, a Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based solution provider, acknowledges the fears that some partners had about the CSAT requirement.

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"Some people were fearful that CSAT was going to be a nightmare, but the process is incredibly simple," Waterman said. "The data coming back from it gives us an opportunity to improve our relationships. And because customers can be anonymous, they can really tell us what they think."

Another concern for VARs is that Microsoft will somehow gain access to their customer lists, but Microsoft says it only sees the collective results of the surveys, and that VAR's customers can even choose to remain anonymous when submitting the surveys.

Microsoft doesn't require customers to attain a minimum NSAT score, which means partners won't be tempted to simply feed the surveys to their closest customers -- a practice that has lessened the weight of customer satisfaction data in the past.

In addition to gathering customer satisfaction data, the CSAT Index also gives partners additional benefits, like being able to compare their performance to other partners in their peer group, Vabulas said. "That's valuable, because when you're doing well, you want to know. And if you're not doing a good job, you'll eventually be found out," he said.

So despite some early channel resistance to CSAT surveys, it looks like Microsoft partners are warming to the idea as a way to augment the work they've already been doing to keep customers happy.

"CSAT doesn't mean we're not still doing our own internal customer satisfaction measurements and meeting regularly with customers. This is all about building long term relationships within our accounts," said Waterman.