Does Microsoft Really Smell The Coffee?

A recent Search Engine Journal item, Is Microsoft Getting More Customer-Centric?, in a sense is discussing, “Does Microsoft smell the coffee?”. Since 1999 when Seth Godin introduced the concept of Permission Marketing, most forward-thinking companies realize that the customer is in control. Unless you’re customer-centric, then you may well be beaten by a competitor who provides more of what the customer is looking for. The SEJ item suggests that Microsoft is better than it was, but relatively there’s not too much progress since the required standard of customer-centric behaviour is so much higher.

Microsoft’s tardiness may be explained by the fact that they don’t really like the notion of customer-centric, if that means the customer is in control. If that’s the coffee they’re smelling, then they don’t want the coffee.

In 2000 when IBM was extolling the virtues of customer-centric, Microsoft was singing a different tune. Steve Balmer laid this out very directly in a speech to the Stanford Graduate School Of Business in February 2000

.. The internet today and the systems and equipment that run it are only a bare beginning of what will be available in the next five or six years.

“It’s very important that we try to be customer centric, but . . . we could go bankrupt if that was the only thing we were doing. We have to be in touch with what technology permits because our customers expect us to let them take advantage of the latest things in technology. ..

By October 21, 2003, that view still seemed to be Microsoft thinking. In a presentation entitled Great Moments at Work, Bill Gates did his best to address the greatest challenge the Redmond, Wash., software giant faces — convincing the 400 million worldwide users to upgrade to the Microsoft Office 2003 System.

Gates said, if anyone ever needs evidence of Microsoft customer-centric approach to software development, all one simply needs to do is point to the evolution of Word, the word processing software that Microsoft first unveiled in the 1980s.

In its eleventh version, Microsoft Office System has been broken out into six editions that lets customers pick and choose from 11 different products, four servers and so-called Solution Accelerators that help them use the software suite in a variety of industry-specific ways.

“So this software tool can do more to improve productivity than any other thing on the planet,” Gates said. “In fact, part of our optimism about the rest of this decade — productivity growth and economic results — comes because we think people are now underestimating these advances.

Those remarks underscore Microsoft’s greatest challenge: Microsoft needs to get the information workers to re-engineer their work processes and get them to think how they can use desktop software to work together.

So to Microsoft, customer-centric means focusing on the customer and persuading them to select from the product alternatives the company has provided. That way of defining customer-centric still is evident at the end of 2005 as described in the SEJ item. One can ask, “Will they ever really smell the coffee?” Or will they continue to serve up something else and call it coffee?

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