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When Microsoft informed its partners that conducting customer satisfaction surveys would be mandatory to maintain or achieve Gold Certified level status in the revamped Microsoft Partner Network, it was viewed by some as yet-another administrative hurdle. Outward grumbling was kept to a minimum, however, though some partners privately wondered whether they reaped any benefit from these surveys or if they was just another way for Microsoft to exact more control over how they run their businesses.

Fast forward six months. Microsoft Partner Network program enrollment season is about to begin in January and for partners it’s crunch time to produce the 10 annually required customer satisfaction surveys needed to qualify for Gold Certified status. Julie Bennani, general manager of the Microsoft Partner Network, said, to date, partners have been handling the customer satisfaction requirement positively, but that she fully expects some stress levels to rise as the new year approaches.

“We’ve actually heard very few escalations or concerns, but that’s because we’ve been messaging the value of the surveys to our partners, both online and in person,” Bennani told Channel Insider. “Most of our partners wanted us to raise the bar. We’ll hear more negative in January but we will continue to focus on the value messaging.”

Bennani explained that beyond the rich information the surveys bring to Microsoft, the data – presented in final report form to partners – provides partners insight into the customer experience with them, allowing them to see what’s working and what needs improvement. Additionally, the survey – which is administered by a third-party company – is constructed to enable benchmarking. Partners can use the results to get a clearer sense of where they sit in terms of customer satisfaction versus other solution providers operating in their same skills area and business model, she said.

Todd Swank, vice president of marketing at Microsoft Gold Certified partner Nor-Tech, sent 50 of his customers feedback surveys and within six weeks had the requisite 10 completes.

“So at first I was like, OK, we’ve got to do this to get Microsoft certified, but when it was all said and done and we got the consolidated results and could see what people were saying it was was eye-opening,” Swank said.

Nor-Tech, a 45 employee firm based in Burnsville, Minn., is a Microsoft small business specialist that also focuses on system building and high-performance computing. Swank said the first iteration of survey results told him that the company was on the right track with customers, but he lamented that the questions were too vanilla and not able to be customized for his business.

“They didn’t let us add our own questions to the survey, which would have been nice because it really looked like it was written by the Microsoft marketing department,” he said.

Bennani heard similar feedback from other partners and adjusted. Partners are now allowed to add their own questions to the standard survey to help elicit responses tailored and relevant to their specific business. The surveys are also co-branded between the partner and Microsoft.

In some cases, Microsoft’s customer satisfaction requirement is a financial perk. The subset of partners that already conducted – and funded – their own annual customer satisfaction surveys now have Microsoft to underwrite the project, she said.

Applications partner I.B.I.S. replaced its proprietary customer satisfaction measurement system to rely solely on the Microsoft instrument. The company, which for years compensated its employees based on customer satisfaction, has been able to reinvest what it formally spent on its own survey tool back into other areas of the business, according to CEO Andy Vabulas.

As reenrollment kicks into full gear, Bennani said she wants to underscore the potential benefits – not the onus — that the customer satisfaction requirement affords partners.

“We wanted to balance a requirement with something that benefits partner businesses,” she said. “It’s not just a hurdle, but something to use in their day to day businesses.”