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Interview with Sean O'Driscoll, Senior Director: CSS Community & MVP and
Lori Moore, Corporate Vice President: Customer Service and Support How would you characterize the growth of the MVP program over the past few years?

Moore: Specific to the growth of the MVP program, in the past two years we have seen accelerated growth. That growth is a function of a couple different things. One, is basically the diversity of products that Microsoft is covering - therefore we have a larger number of MVPs covering a broader base of products nowadays.

Second, we have been very focused on building a globally based program. Historically, the program was very US-centric. So given our aspirations of creating a global community, that has really fueled added numbers to the MVP program.

When we first started the MVP program we were very much focused on the connection of the product teams. While we still have that connection of the product teams, other groups within Microsoft are now seeing the value in the MVP program. Historically, we have been very focused on newsgroups. Today, it is much broader in terms of what groups of people we bring into the program - i.e. not just the people in newsgroups, but people who blog, speakers, authors, etc. We have a much broader diversity of people who are in the program. The sales and marketing teams are now more interested in how they connect with the community as well, and they are leveraging the MVPs in many different ways to drive value in terms of being the voice of the customer, etc.

O'Driscoll: If you think about where things are going in the future, I would say the future represents sort of an extrapolation of what we have done the past few years. One is looking at global coverage; languages, community types, venue that are not currently represented, etc. Another is new technologies that were not represented, ie now we have MSN Search MVPs. I would also point to emergent communities. Two years ago we really didn't think a lot about blogs like we do today, now there is a drive around wikis, podcasting, and other community types. You should expect the MVP program to grow and encompass any of these destinations that customers are finding value in peer-to-peer based conversations.

I think one of the great changes in the summit this year compared to last year's summit is the unparalleled presence of the product teams. This year we have almost four times as many Microsoft employees (nearly 1500) registered to engage which is a key success measure in showing what value to the product teams and to the MVPs of what this kind of interaction can lead to. Do you feel Microsoft is embracing a continuous improvement philosophy with regards to the MVP program and its products?

Moore: I would say that continuous improvement is a core operating principle that we have run our overall business and certainly with the MVP program. One of our key priorities in the company has been evolving our culture to customer centric and customer focused. The connection there with the MVPs truly do represent a voice of the customers, and the customers that they are interacting with. This program shows how we can be a better citizen in the global community. The product groups now see the value in the MVPs, the voice they have, their skills, and the expertise they bring to the table. So you feel the MVP program adds to the overall value of Microsoft products?

Moore: With the MVP program being global now and connected to our subsidiary structure worldwide, what you see happening is engagements through different mediums chat sessions, webcasts, roundtables, etc. We are now able to engage the MVPs and send their feedback back to the product teams. Now the specific changes that are made as a result of MVP feedback are tracked. For example, in the security newsgroups a lot of MVPs are providing feedback on security issues. The top posters are being recognized by the security team by creating a lot of good value. That is just one specific example across the different products of MVPs being active, providing relevant feedback and driving specific changes to make inherent improvements in the products. The fact that we have more product teams participating in this event this year is a testament to the value that they see in the relationships with the MVPs.

O'Driscoll: I think the question you ask about growth, positive impact, etc. is really a good question. Sometimes people just look at "you are over your numbers...there are two and a half times more MVPs, how can that be good?". The reality is there are many different ways to look at that. One of the things that I always believed in is the value of the critical mass - that voice gets louder as you have more people, more expertise in the room - that voice becomes an immovable force. That brings value to all the MVPs and to the customers and the communities they represent. I think in some ways the MVP community may actually be smaller than it was a few years ago. If you take a look at the growth in participation in communities around the world - even though communities are growing exponentially - I wonder sometimes if the MVP program of experts is smaller then it once was. Sometimes I think we get too focused on the numbers and not realize how the world is changing around us in terms of valuing communities as a high value destination. So you are saying there isn't significant dilution of the quality in the community?

Moore: It's always the highlight of my trips to meet customers and engage with MVPs. It is easy to say you are global but being global means you have to be there and engage with the different groups of people. The needs of these people are the same worldwide - the focus is always on product feedback. How do I connect to the product teams? How do I make the community better? I love seeing the connections between MVPs with that local product teams, allowing to see them connect globally. It's interesting and fun...I don't think I travel as much as Sean now, though.

O'Driscoll: Really thinking how executives integrating MVP connection into their global travel schedule proactively is a great advance of how we see the evolution of the program headed.

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