Business software and services provider Sage is one of the UK’s biggest technology success stories. Launched by two entrepreneurs in Newcastle more than 30 years ago, today’s global FTSE100 business helps over six million customers around the world. Sage’s Jonathan Cowan explains how the company’s journey has always been underpinned by a continued focus on delivering an extraordinary customer service, making it a natural sponsor of the SME Category at this year’s Customer Experience Awards.

Adopting a customer-centric approach has a simple, yet powerful equation at its heart: Two ears, one mouth. It’s about listening more and talking less.

When a customer contacts your organisation, do you take the time to ask them what they think about your products or services? Do you take the opportunity to learn and explore the reason why they are contacting you and use this insight to shape what happens next?

Globally at Sage, there are 58 customer touch-points every second. That’s over 150 million touch-points per month, and our goal is to make each one count.

We are constantly listening to customers to improve our software and services. From dedicated focus groups we run when developing products to the thousands of calls our support team take each week on everything from changes in legislation to training requirements for new staff, we are always responsive to feedback.

Being able to adapt products and services to best match customers’ needs is key to delivering an extraordinary customer experience. When customers told us they wanted to access their financial data on the move, we launched Sage 50 Accounts Mobile. When business owners told us they wanted to pay for software on a monthly subscription basis, we launched that service. Similarly, many customers have told us that the complexities around VAT are keeping them awake at night, so in the coming weeks we will make changes to our products and services that help to simplify the issue for them to make sure that getting VAT right is much easier.

Adding value by being different

Running a business isn’t easy. Many of our customers tell us how busy they are and how difficult it can be to stay on top of everything. As a result, we’ve set ourselves apart in our industry by evolving our services to support customers in new and different ways so they can choose what suits them best.

Our new onsite service offers customers a Sage expert in person and on premise to provide support. This bespoke approach is a direct result of feedback and dives deep into our customer’s business to understand their challenges, their business processes and ensure they get the most from their Sage products.

Launching later this year, our exclusive online SageCover Community will raise the bar once again by creating a forum where likeminded business owners can connect not only with us, but with each other to network, share advice and provide support.

When the biggest change to PAYE reporting was recently announced with the introduction of Real-Time Information (RTI), our customers were understandably apprehensive but looked to Sage to walk them through the process and help them navigate the change. We offered customers a range of support options from advisory seminars around the UK to bespoke 1-2-1 remote sessions, online guides, webinars, online videos, social media Q&As and a dedicated microsite.

For one Kent-based family run bakery, Beaney’s Bakery, Sage’s support has been a life-line, helping them to make the giant leap from doing payroll by hand, to complying with new HMRC rules for Real Time Information (RTI).

Beaney’s Bakery employs 13 people with a mix of full and part-time employees. Salary Administrator Sue Howick says making sure they complied with all the relevant information for new starters, leavers, student loans, sickness absence and maternity pay was a daunting prospect. She had 46 weeks of data to input and was glad of RTI support from Sage One Customer Services Advisor Ken Horne: “I can’t praise the Sage customer services support enough. I was finding the whole RTI process so complex and Ken really helped me and made me feel much more confident about it all.

“I’ve been so impressed by how quickly my calls have been answered – just two rings when I rang up at 8.30am. Ken was also happy to call me at a time convenient to me, which was brilliant. When I had a query about a P32 issue, I emailed him for advice and he called me back within five minutes. He gave me the reassurance I needed. Now that’s real customer service.”

Top Tips for delivering an extraordinary customer experience
1. Actively listen to your customers: in person, online and on the phone
2. Make time to understand your customers’ needs and feedback
3. Channel your learnings back into your business and engage internal stakeholders
4. Make real changes based on feedback
5. Let your customers know their feedback is heard!

Jonathan Cowan
About the Author: Jonathan Cowan is Head of Commercial Management for Sage UK and Ireland. He is responsible for the development of Sage’s unique range of business software and services that help small businesses from start-ups, through to established companies be more confident with the running of their business.
Jonathan has played a key role in helping customers tap into one of Sage’s greatest assets – the knowledge of its people. Built upon more than 30 years of experience, Sage’s expertise and support is not just there if something goes wrong. It’s a service that helps owners get the most from their business and stay up to date with the latest legislation and what it could mean for them.
He has 16 years’ experience in the telecoms and software industry, having held product management and senior management roles at global companies including T-Mobile and Skype before joining Sage in 2011. Jonathan is married and Lives in Durham in the North East of England.

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