The problem was that what was certainly a well-intentioned effort to provide a valuable tool to organizations trying to adapt to working remotely, instead came across as something else entirely. Microsoft explained it as a way for managers to view how their teams were using Microsoft products, and find areas they could improve productivity by increasing the way those teams engaged with technology.
That may seem benign, except that the Productivity Score reports would tell you exactly how often every employee did things like send a message, organize meetings, share their screen during a meeting, or how many calls they made. That level of granular detail on an individual level was, as you might expect, not well received.
Despite Microsoft's claims to the contrary, as introduced, it was basically a workplace monitoring tool. You can imagine why it faced pretty intense criticism that it not only violated user privacy but would lead to a skewed way of measuring whether people are productive based on their level of activity, not whether they actually accomplish anything.
Now, however, Microsoft is making a few changes. More importantly, it made clear that it understands users' concerns, and addressed them directly. In a blog post on Tuesday, the company said:
We appreciate the feedback we've heard over the last few days and are moving quickly to respond by removing user names entirely from the product. This change will ensure that Productivity Score can't be used to monitor individual employees. At Microsoft, we're committed to both data-driven insights and user privacy. We always strive to get the balance right, but if and when we miss, we will listen carefully and make appropriate adjustments.
At first glance, that looks like a pretty standard corporate response. Except, in this case, it's not a canned apology, it's a statement of how Microsoft actually made a change.
Microsoft didn't try to justify its reasons for implementing the Productivity Score in the first place. Instead, it acknowledged that it understands why people objected and is making a change that addresses those concerns.
That's actually pretty extraordinary when you consider that most companies probably would have responded much differently. I've seen many times when a company is faced with a similar situation and responds with a statement expressing disappointment that people misunderstood whatever it was trying to do.
In Microsoft's case, however, the company says it believes that "privacy is a human right." That means that this was a very real problem since it was in direct conflict with that stated value.
The company's response is a great example for every business to follow:
"We've Heard the Feedback"
I don't know how many customers reached out to Microsoft about this issue. I do know that it was pretty heavily covered in the last few days in the media, but it certainly sounds like Microsoft got pushback directly from the people it should be listening to--its customers.
Microsoft didn't try to downplay the concerns it heard, or dismiss them as unfounded. It directly acknowledged them. That communicates that it cares about the feedback it received and helps customers feel validated.
"We Made a Mistake"
Microsoft didn't use those words specifically, but it did say it tries to "get the balance right, but if and when we miss..." It's important that the company was willing to acknowledge that sometimes it doesn't live up to its stated values, and when it does, it's willing to admit it. That's one of the most important things you can do to earn the trust of your users, or--more importantly--earn it back when something goes wrong.
"We're Making A Change"
Finally, the company didn't just admit it made a mistake that led to its customers' concerns. It went a step further and announced specific changes it would make to address those concerns. Often companies fall back on vague promises to "take these concerns into consideration as we make future plans." The thing is, that usually never happens.
Microsoft made a change almost immediately, which is lightning fast in corporate-time. All of those things show that Microsoft was legitimately interested in what mattered to its users.
Ultimately, that's an important lesson. No matter how good you think your idea is--or how valuable you think it will be to your customer--if it makes their experience worse, it's a bad idea. On the other hand, anytime a company puts its users' interests first, that's a win for everyone involved.