Microsoft redesigns portal to support interaction between support engineers and users

One of the many product resources available within Microsoft.com is the communities where users can interact with each other and experts across Microsoft product offerings. Unfortunately, participation in the community space got off to a slow start and the team knew they needed to improve the design and functionality of their communities if they were going to get users to use and trust them.

Challenge

  • What are people’s roles, tasks, and activities while participating in communities?
  • What makes a successful community?
  • Can Microsoft host a community that will be trusted? What would make a best-in-class online community?

“Our previous project on the Microsoft.com user behavior revealed overall needs, but we didn’t yet have a clear picture of our potential communities users. We wanted to take a deep-dive into this area and determine how best to facilitate and support them, in a community setting” shared Doug Pyle, Usability Manager.

“InContext delivered solid data and insights…having data grounded in actual customer interviews gives us a clear direction for where we want to take the community experience.”

Doug Pyle, Usability Manager

Delivering Results

After evaluating the data, the InContext team developed recommendations and design ideas for the Microsoft.com team to improve the online communities and create an environment people would trust and want to participate in:

  • Let people build real relationships by tracking each other online and supporting offline interactions
  • Enhance the role of experts or stars in a community
  • Make trustworthiness explicit across the community
  • Strengthen the role of information in a community, making it easier to find, maintain, and organize

The project delivered the results that the Microsoft.com usability team was looking for:

  • Grounded customer needs, based on observing customers at work
  • Identified productive direction based on customer perceptions of Microsoft as a community provider
  • Integrated user experience recommendations, incorporating current initiatives and projects at play within Microsoft

“Now, our designers can immerse themselves in the data and extend InContext’s recommendations with their own ideas.” – Doug Pyle, Usability Manager

The Process

InContext designed a research project using Contextual Inquiry to study users participating in newsgroups, web forums, wikis, Open Source communities, and user group meetings. The detailed field data from these interviews were merged with the previously collected data to inform the final results.

microsoft2.jpgFrom this data, InContext was able to reveal users’ real needs and desires — what they look for in a community and what they need to trust the information they find. The team used this understanding to make recommendations for improving Microsoft-sponsored communities, including improvements to the sites and new marketing directions.

“Now we know what direction to take our involvement in communities,” Pyle said.

The team learned that users go to online communities for information but judge the community by a sense of personal interaction and relationship building:

  • Community is a place to form personal and social relationships
  • Off-line (face-to-face) meetings augment the online community. Community members don’t separate the off-line, real world of communities from the online world
  • Personal Interest Communities are more than just places to find information
  • Trust is critical—and there are clear, identifiable ways to establish trust