Microsoft's MSDN Forums - community building
Josh Ledgard, a program manager in Microsoft's Developer Division, has posted some details on the challenges in supporting the large number of Microsoft developers. What strikes me here is the 'transparency' of Josh's post in terms of publicly stating the some of the goals set for the team, the specific metrics being tracked across the product groups and the sharing of actual vs. target data:
"The reply rates are around 95%, but our goal with the answer rate is to get to 80% for the seven day rate and 60% for the on day rate. You can see some significant improvements since December. We've also seen more significant uplift in specific technologies where engineers where hired first. Since we haven't hit our goal yet I'll point out that the support engagement is only designed to get us so far."
Josh has also provided snapshots of the internal slides he presented that articulate some of the broader support goals for Dev Div and charts showing the over-time data. Have a look.
The MSDN Forums were launched around two years ago to replace some of (but not all) the traditional support newgroups and have had over 1 millions posts there since. Not everyone was happy when the transition began (for some MVPs, moving from traditional newgroups to web-based Forums was percieved to be a step backwards)
The product teams I used to take care of really had to conciously priotitize forum engagement by actual product group members (PM, dev, test) to meet our targets (response rates). A benefit of this approach is that product teams (and support groups) become aware of the issues customers are facing on a daily basis and this participation creates superb input for future product planning.
But it only takes you so far. For our team at least, the only way to truly scale (while being cost effective) in answering the steady (and increasing volume) of technical questions was to encourage customers themselves to provide the support network and have these answers viewable by all. This is a key concept in the notion of 'community'. If you are interested in this topic, I recommend you subscribe to both Josh Ledgard and Joe Morel who blog frequently and openly on Microsoft's progress and challanges in this area.