2012 was a whirlwind year of influences on the business landscape—some of them good and some of them not so good. The fiscal cliff, the U.S. presidential election, an anemic economic recovery, the debt ceiling and proposed sequestration cuts, along with Hurricane Sandy’s effects on business are a few things that come to mind. But despite the ever-changing business landscape, one central tenet always rings true: keep your customers happy.
Sage’s professed focus has for some time been the customer experience, and the company has done a number of things in the last year to further its goals in this regard. We talked to Joe Langner, executive vice president of mid-market solutions at Sage North America, about what Sage has learned in this arena, and what the company is planning for 2013 to continue following this mantra. While Sage is a large company with over 6 million customers worldwide, many of the lessons it has learned can easily be applied to any business—small or large, in services or manufacturing, bricks-and-mortar or ecommerce.
According to Langner, Sage’s “Three Customer Experience Commandments” are as follows:
1. Know your customers and adapt to them. Sage recognized that its customers had grown accustomed to purchasing products and services in their personal lives on a monthly subscription basis (Netflix is a good example of this) with the benefits of a short-term commitment and without the need to spend a lot of money upfront.
To that end, Sage decided to offer its products through a payment method that its customers are already familiar with: as a recurring service based on subscription. Sage’s business management software is now available as a subscription license, meaning no huge investment up-front, which makes it easier for businesses to reduce initial capital expenditure to improve their cash flow and simplify budgeting.
Sage offers the advice to put yourself into your customers’ shoes. Perhaps you can offer more flexible payment or billing options that are more convenient to your customers. If you run an e-commerce business, consider extending your customer service hours by one hour in the morning and one in the evening to accommodate shoppers in different time zones. If you are a distributor, consider a change to your customer communication regarding their sales orders, perhaps via text message or other more immediate mode of communication.
2. Give your customers more. As a large company, Sage has the luxury of access to tons of data—something its customers, mainly smaller businesses, typically cannot get their hands on. Sage took the data that it already had, analyzed it and turned it into actionable information that the vendor could provide to its business partners. Sage is using the data to help its business partners better serve their clients and understand where there might be opportunities for growth. With this free data, they are now able to identify the highest potential sales opportunities, which, ultimately, help grow their business.
For many shoppers, the first thing they do before visiting a new merchant is check reviews online and then look for discounts. How can you capitalize on this trend? Sage suggests offering coupons on your website or social media platforms or considering developing a loyalty program that gives your most frequent customers discounts and other perks. Also think about other resources you could provide to your customers. Perhaps you have a friend or employee who is an expert in an adjacent area who can offer free classes at your business. If you own a bakery, you could offer free cake decorating classes or even jam preserving classes (adjacent, but still relevant). If you have a manufacturing plant, you could offer your customers discounted shipping during the off-season. If you own a consulting service, consider extending a free hour of advisory services for a particular specialty of your firm.
3. Show your customers that their feedback really matters. Sage is constantly reviewing its processes to determine the best ways to deliver a memorable customer experience—one of which is acting on customer feedback. One example can be seen with Sage BusinessCare, a service plan with different levels that provides its customers direction and support based upon how they are using Sage software. Sage customers had provided feedback to the vendor, indicating that the lowest level of Sage BusinessCare, the bronze level, was not providing much value to those who subscribed. Sage listened to its customers and, as a result, eliminated the bronze level. Sage’s advice on customer feedback is to take “listening” one step further by backing it up with some action. Your customers will remember this and likely come to value your business more than the competition.
According to Sage, treating your customers with respect and thoughtfulness is one New Year’s resolution you should definitely make and keep.