It's not an adventure that high-level executives usually indulge in as part of their professional lives. But at Sage, a maker of business and accounting software, several executives piled into an RV and participated in a cross-country tour of the U.S. to meet up with its small business software customers.
The Sage Listens RV Relay, which recently concluded in Irvine, Calif., was part of the company's new vision, "to be recognized as the most valuable supporter of small and midsized business," said Brad Smith, executive vice president of the company's 700-person Customer Experience division. Smith told Small Business Computing that the 6,300 mile tour was part of a company-wide, customer-centric effort toward "internally galvanizing our culture" in the wake of a massive, multi-year restructuring project.
Unlike most corporate-sponsored industry outings, Sage's RV rolled along America's roads with high-ranking executives nestled within, not just rank-and-file employees. During those weeks on the nation's highways, Sage cycled through 30 executives—including the CIO and heads of both human resources and legal.
Along the way, Sage appeared at customer sites, both scheduled and impromptu, to seek their insights, and in some cases, restock provisions. In total, the company met with more than 70 customers.
Better Understanding Through Customer Interaction
Pressing the flesh and face-to-face engagements offered Sage a first-hand look at how its decisions affect the customers who rely on the company's product. The inclusion of employees up and down Sage's org chart, says Smith, was a conscious decision to "make sure that everyone gets it." Delivering a positive and empowering customer experience is the company's overriding priority.
Rather than bombard customers with questions about its products, Sage took a different tack. Exchanges frequently started with questions about small shop owners' hopes, aspirations and the state of their businesses.
According to Smith, the crew would ask questions like, "How did you survive the downturn? How can Sage be a better supporter?" Stories and opinions poured out, many completely unrelated to the company's software, but they all offered valuable glimpses into the priorities of America's small business owners. The knowledge gleaned from the adventure will help inform the company's software and business strategy going forward.
What did Sage's customers gain?
For RE Suspension, a Mooresville, NC-based, family-owned automotive company that specializes in race cars, Sage's visit—the first of the tour—was a confidence-boosting experience.
"We use Sage for everything," said vice president Carrie Enders. Sages's inventory tracking software helps the firm keep track of thousands of parts, and its credit card processing service helps keeps revenues flowing.
The seven-person shop was never subjected to a sales pitch, reports Enders. Instead Sage execs spent 90 minutes getting to know the company, its workers and its place in the community. They talked some shop, but mainly they shared time-saving tips and tricks and turned them on to Sage University, a software learning resource.
At RE Suspension, as in many small businesses, its employees wear many hats. With Sage's guidance, Enders can now tap into features that may help her company better serve its customers and prosper along the way.
It's a nice, no-strings gesture. Nonetheless, it likely won't go unrewarded. SE Suspension is strongly considering Sage for the company's payroll, says Ender.
To build strong customer connections and promote engagement, it sometimes pays to hit the road.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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