The leading companies in any major city are usually those with their names atop the tallest buildings. But in Charlotte, one major player flies substantially “under the radar,” at least for those outside of the technology industry, tucked away on a sylvan corporate campus in southwest Charlotte. Indeed, with tentacles reaching across the globe, its dominance of the digital world dispenses with any need to tower in the air.
Microsoft, provider of eponymous operating systems and software since computers were “born,” has had operations in the Queen City since 1991. In fact, the Charlotte Campus is one of Microsoft’s largest U.S. facilities with over a 1,000 employees working with Fortune 500 and other enterprise customers and partners to provide sales, consulting and support services for major products including Exchange, Windows, Office, and SQL Server.
A Wide Swath
Commercial Technical Support (CTS) in Microsoft’s Customer Service and Support (CSS) organization is the face of Microsoft to many customers and partners around the globe. The organization resolves more than one million assisted support incidents a year.
It is made up of more than 4,400 people in 38 countries and has CTS offices in Las Colinas, Texas, Sammamish, Wash., Fargo, N.D., and Bangalore, India, in addition to Charlotte.
CTS provides technical support for small, midsize and enterprise businesses, partners and developers through accelerated adoption and use of Microsoft technologies. Nearly 70 percent of the support they deliver is in English, but they have the capacity to support in 42 other languages.
In addition, CTS offers proactive services for customers to help them identify early on the technologies and services that can help maximize their business efficiency.
Marlena Werder heads Commercial Technical Support for Microsoft, and she has been doing variations of this job for over 17 years with the company. If any enterprise—big or small—around the world runs into a problem with a Microsoft product, it’s Werder’s teams’ responsibility to find a solution. She is charged with driving the global strategy for CTS and managing teams based throughout the United States and in India.
She is in a position to see the breadth and depth of the Microsoft organization. With over 90,000 employees worldwide, customer service is critical to the success of the business.
“Microsoft directly connects with customers. Not only do we help and support customers, but we also want to learn from them to make future products more successful. Microsoft wants to be proactive and take a preventative posture—we want to get ahead of problems before the customers experience the symptoms of problems,” she explains.
A Good Grasp
Upon meeting Werder, one is impressed with her thoughtful, engaging nature and her obvious skill in managing broad and complex communications. She exudes determination to get to the root of problems and persistence in her ambitions to succeed.
She seems to have a great vision for working in a global world; she is very conscious of diversity—language, culture, age—and how it affects communications.
Werder is well prepared for her position at Microsoft. She holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, an M.S. in electrical engineering from Brown University, and an M.B.A. from UNC Chapel Hill.
She spent three years at Raytheon in software development and eight years at IBM Corporation in product development and sales. When she became a manager at IBM, she discovered a passion for creating environments—doing more collectively than as individuals.
She was recruited by Microsoft and went to work in Redmond, Wash., managing in the services business and working with technical account managers. She has held a number of leadership positions in the services business since, including leading large virtual teams, managing initiatives to drive quality customer experiences, and leading global optimization strategies.
With global accountability for business results, Werder recognizes the importance of being a people-manager first. “A lot of my job, and what I love about my job, is building collaboration across geographical, cultural and generational differences,” she acknowledges.
Werder credits her broad range of experiences with her passion for enabling people to deliver great service by offering long-term career development and creating an open, respectful and fun work environment.
“Technical skills are important, but also interpersonal awareness,” she says. “When customers call, they are usually pretty stressed out—so we need people who like to be ‘in the fire.’”
Werder works directly with Reggie Isaac, Charlotte Campus director and key representative to the community, as well as Michelle Thomas who works in community affairs.
All in a Day
With such a sweeping mandate to solve all problems Microsoft, it is hard to imagine exactly what any given day entails, so Werder provides some examples.
“If, say, a banking customer has a problem with an online transaction processing application that Microsoft offers, they might call us or submit their problem online. We assign the right technical expert or a team to resolve the problem. We diagnose it. That can mean changing the way they have configured the application, or the way they architected it.
“Or, say, you load a driver that creates a conflict in the way memory is managed in a server. Servers can have a lot of RAM (random access memory). To isolate the problem, we download that entire amount of memory to our servers, analyze what led to the problem, and then isolate the problem. We may have to modify the driver. One of the things our engineers have done is build tools to do such analysis,” she points out.
“We are also thinking all the time about how we can minimize the problems that customers have, by a stronger product quality agenda. We tell our product teams about customer pain points so that they can improve the products, and by offering proactive solutions to customers, help avoid problems. We also help create self-help tools, so that customers can resolve problems themselves,” she offers.
Werder describes CTS teams generally: “Team members must have knowledge and understanding of how our products work at a very detailed level and then how to diagnose and get to the root cause of the problem. We tend to hire those with experience and technical backgrounds, but we also invest heavily in technical and culture training.”
In a recent IDC survey on enterprise software support services, more than a thousand IT professionals worldwide ranked Microsoft No.2 in overall support satisfaction, which attests to Werder’s effort. But with no time to rest on laurels in a rapidly changing technological landscape, she also is attuned to ways support services will have to change over time.
“Customer expectations are always changing and evolving, with things like cloud computing and changes in the kind of devices they use. We have to keep up with all this. We are in the process of thinking through how our talent and skill pool will look like in three to five years.
“A lot of our technical expertise has been around networking, connectivity, debugging. However, the scenario has changed. Some of our technical expertise still applies, but the support business will change significantly. The mix of work we do and the talent profile will change,” Werder predicts.
Campus and Community
You might be surprised by what you find at the Microsoft 408,000- square-foot Charlotte Campus. A driving range, basketball and volleyball courts, foosball tables, and Xbox portals in the cafeteria are just some of the unexpected perks for the employees who work there. Since their communications with customers are primarily conducted over the phone, you’re apt to see employees in shorts or jeans, taking advantage of the casual dress code.
“We promote an open, fun culture in a casual environment where you can bring your whole self to work,” Werder says.
An equal emphasis is placed on ensuring employees have the necessary tools and benefits to promote work-life balance. With a robust benefits package, Microsoft overwhelmingly demonstrates commitment to its employees.
Werder herself took advantage of Microsoft’s tuition assistance program in 2002 when she returned to school to obtain her M.B.A. from UNC Chapel Hill.
“I had a very technical background,” Werder says. “Moving up in management, I wasn’t feeling as confident in finance, marketing, and human resource discussions. Obtaining my M.B.A. really helped give me that confidence.” Werder says she’s grateful to work for a company that not just financially supported, but encouraged her continuing education.
With a founder known as much for his charitable contributions as for his contributions to technology, Microsoft’s Charlotte Campus seems infused with Gate’s spirit. Since 2003, the Charlotte office has given over $70.2 million in cash, curriculum and software to North Carolina organizations.
Earlier this year, Microsoft donated $3.3 million in software, servers and support to the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. Microsoft first partnered with the YMCA in 2003, establishing a Mobile Computer Learning Lab for youth, teens, senior citizens and families from low and moderate-income households in northwest Charlotte. In 2005, the company gifted a $2.1 million software grant to the nonprofit.
Last year, the Charlotte Campus was given the United Way Million Dollar Spirit Corporate Award for the contributions to the local community.
Microsoft’s generosity is not solely a function of corporate giving. In 2009, the employees at the Charlotte Campus were hailed #1 in employee giving among technology companies in the Charlotte-Metro Region for the 8th consecutive year. Microsoft doesn’t just support employees’ financial contributions with their dollar-for-dollar matching program; when employees volunteer their time, Microsoft donates $17 per volunteer hour to the organization they serve.
Additionally, Microsoft looks for ways to partner with organizations to aid in work force development. Campus director Isaac has helped initiate Operation Independence, a partnership between Microsoft, Central Piedmont Community College and Goodwill of the Southern Piedmont to provide job placement, career counseling and support services for veterans and their families.
Bob Morgan, president and CEO of the Charlotte Chamber, has acknowledged their success: “Microsoft has been a very strong partner to the businesses in the Carolinas.”
Commitment to IT
Werder is strongly committed to and positions herself as a role model for women and the possibility for IT leadership and careers. “We need girls to see that there great opportunities for them in the IT world,” Werder says passionately.
“People see IT careers as sitting in a cubicle behind a computer screen,” says Werder. “We want to show them early on that whether they are interested in marine biology or medicine or architecture, technology is an enabler to those and many other disciplines.”
Isaac affirms that when it comes to recruiting for the IT field, diversity is a top priority. “Minorities only hold about 7 percent of the jobs in the industry,” Isaac points out. “We are very thoughtful about that in our recruiting for the Charlotte Campus.”
Although she grew up in upstate New York, and despite her international travels, Werder is pleased to call Charlotte home. She enjoys spending time with her husband and 14-year-old twins.
She says she is still learning on the job every day. She loves her job in an industry that she loves, and appreciates being at “the best company in the world.”
She is especially positive about Charlotte community: “There is great access to talent in this area and when recruiting nationwide, it’s very easy to sell Charlotte as a place to relocate.” And she sees only more growth for the Charlotte Campus of Microsoft.