Metrics deliver ROI—and employee buy-in—at Microsoft

How metrics persuaded the software giant to cancel an email newsletter—but keep sending ‘popcorn email.’ Outcome? How about that empty chair in practically every meeting room?


When communicators in Microsoft’s customer service and support unit decided to dig deep into internal email metrics, they compared and contrasted two of their publications.

The first was an extensive newsletter for managers, with seven or eight articles that showcased new faces, offered human resources information and linked to further information.

A second was what Tracey Grove, the 9,000-employee unit’s internal communications director, calls “email popcorn”: a postcard format with one paragraph of information. It turned out staffers were scarfing the popcorn and turning up their noses at the heavier fare.

“They were both launched at the same time,” Grove says, “and what was interesting was that the one crashed and burned, and the other took off.”

That’s important information if you don’t want to squander your time. Microsoft, which uses PoliteMail for email measurement, canceled the unpopular publication and put its efforts into the crunchy, salty stuff that employees devour by the fistful.

Download this free guide to discover smart ways to measure your internal communications and link your efforts to business goals.

Metrics and focus groups

Microsoft uses its email metrics tool to better understand what the recipients (mostly field engineers) want from the missives, how they use them and whether they even read them.

When the analytics showed that few were reading the managers’ update, Microsoft communicators followed up with focus groups to determine why, Grove says. They learned there was too much information to process in the text-heavy managers’ update.

Some of it repeated what the managers were already getting directly from HR. There were stories about people who weren’t in their part of the organization and didn’t really interest these bosses.

They said, “I don’t know where to start,” Grove recalls. “There are five or six different things here. I don’t know where my call to action is.”

The newsletter—which took a couple of days of dedicated work by staffers each month—was canceled because it wasn’t providing the return on investment that Microsoft had hoped for. The real-time data helped Grove and her colleagues make decisions about allocating limited resources.

Trends on the intranet

Grove’s team also measures the intranet for matters such as clicks, downloads, page views and time of view, using analytics from Webtrends.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into putting the intranet together, and again the question is, ‘Does anybody care?'” Grove says.

Microsoft can make comparisons between the visits to pages that are heavily pushed and pages that draw clicks more randomly. Microsoft tracks top pages, trends of behavior, shares, and whether people are watching the video that the VP released.

If content is overlooked, communicators can determine whether the information is the sort you use only once (such as onboarding) or whether there is a content problem. Perhaps the page is hidden, or the information isn’t useful.

All this brings us to the second life of that manager newsletter. Grove’s unit at Microsoft did have a managers’ section on the intranet—a long page full of text and links. Nobody ever visited it, she says, and by “nobody” she means a meager 20 hits a year.

Seeing this, communicators got together with some managers and said, “What do you need?”

It so happened that a lot of the information from the managers’ newsletter could be useful. Microsoft redesigned the page to offer information that was short, crisp, visually oriented and easy to navigate.

There were resources, information on new hires, copy about the rewards program, and tips and tricks for managers.

“Since then we’ve had a huge upsurge in views of the page,” Grove says, to the point that HR and other internal partners are emailing to ask that their information be included on the page.

Not an internal social media culture

Microsoft uses its internal platform, Yammer, as a backup to email, which serves as the primary vehicle for delivering information.

“Our audience is inundated with email,” Grove says. “They’re constantly complaining about too much email, [that] emails are too long, too detailed. Yet when you ask how they want to get information, they say, ‘Email.'”

Emails can be viewed offline, archiving is easy, and people don’t have to log on to Yammer and chase some forgotten thread to track down the information they need.

Outcomes can be difficult to determine internally, but Grove’s team is seeing results. Microsoft launched a campaign is to deliver a customer experience that is “perfect every time.” To their delight, the team is seeing the phrase pop up all over the place in emails and conversation.

Another campaign urged employees to put a customer chair in every room so that they always consider things from the customer perspective. The idea took off, and in some meetings an employee is assigned to play the role as customer.

Says Grove: “Those kind of behavioral shifts are the outcome that we’re looking to drive.”

Download this free guide to discover smart ways to measure your internal communications and link your efforts to business goals.

This article is in partnership with PoliteMail.

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