NEW ORLEANS: Microsoft, the technology group, is putting customer listening at the heart of its efforts to gain brand fans.

Kirsten Ward, Microsoft's General Manager/Windows and Devices Marketing, discussed this subject at the 2017 Collision conference in New Orleans.

"Over the last few years, we've been really shifting from the notion of earning customers to the idea that we need to earn fans," she reported. (For more details, read WARC's exclusive report: How Microsoft builds brand loyalists.)

Rather than representing a purely semantic differentiation, achieving this goal requires thinking in new ways about how to engage consumers.

"When we think about earning fans, that's something that is a higher-order aspiration. It goes beyond just having a relationship with the customer," said Ward.

"But how do you create a fan? How do you create someone who not only uses your products, but will advocate for you and loves your brand?"

Answering those questions, Ward argued, reflects a wider "cultural shift" at Microsoft, which has involved proactively gathering and analysing consumer feedback.

"Listening is a huge part of that. You can't earn a fan if you don't understand your customers. And that means you need to understand their needs, you need to listen, you need to respond, and, ideally, have a two-way dialogue," she said.

One example of this idea in action is the "Windows Insider" initiative, an online forum open to any user of the brand's operating system. After signing up, these individuals can test new iterations of the product as they emerge.

"It's one of the largest software-preview programs in the world," Ward explained. "And we have over ten million people who download builds of Windows and give us feedback," said Ward.

"We've had over 70m pieces of feedback over the years through this program. It helps us to do everything from address bugs but also [creating] new feature ideas."

Data sourced from WARC