FaceTime still does not beat face time! Business and life lessons learned at my first Sage Summit.

2. Jeff Ryan_Sage Summit 2015
Jeff Ryan_Sage Summit 2015_New Orleans

Sage Summit 2015 has sadly come and gone, and the excitement of what is to be, is quickly being translated into gamechanging solutions.  Since my arrival back home in South Africa, the one question I am constantly asked is “What was it like”? And it was this question that got me thinking as I best tried to explain my experience in New Orleans. Although there is an overwhelming choice of communication mediums, nothing compares to physically being somewhere (or sharing the same physical space with someone).

Sage Summit 2015 was my first opportunity to meet my global Sage colleagues and customers in person. I had used email, SMS, Skype, tele-presence, webcasts and phone calls previously, but this does not compare to sharing an experience with another human being. It breaks down barriers and take relationships to another level. I accumulated a number of these wonderful memories on my trip, from having breakfast with a customer while listening to the soothing sounds of a New Orleans jazz band to sharing an early morning, cup of coffee and a freshly baked beignet with a colleague from another country.

Even just smiling to a stranger as we both entered the wonderful air-conditioned conference center (after being out at midday in 100% humidity on a steamy New Orleans summer day) formed part of my collection of memorable moments.

5. breakfast

It is not practical for all meetings to be face to face and there are some amazing communication technologies available to us (including FaceTime©, Skype, Cisco systems and WebEx, but to mention a few). These have come a long way to make people feel “almost there”. However, we must remember that it is not quite the same as being face to face with someone. As a result, you may not know that their air conditioning is broken, that they have a chemical plant next door that is odorous or a construction site making so much noise that hearing is difficult for them. All of these and so many more aspects of communication are missed when not in another’s environment.

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around”  –Steve Jobs

So if you are physically not in the same place as the customer, can you truly understand their experience? And how do you build software for them without this understanding?

At Sage Intelligence Reporting we attempt to do this by bringing customers in early, frequently and using as many different mediums as possible. This includes:

  • Hands-on facilitated sessions
  • Class based workshops
  • Online exercises
  • Prototypes with limited functionality

And when customers are not available, we use their representatives (Sage business partners, SIRWA members). For us, it is about actively listening to what customers need and what they value.

While I was chatting to our customers (small and medium sized business owners and accountants) at Sage Summit, this is what they said they wanted: “Give me my time back, reduce my stress at month-end and allow my business to succeed and grow.”

So therein lies the challenge; we need to deeply understand these needs and truly immerse ourselves in the customer experience when they use our software (i.e. after working a 14 hour day, just making ends meet for their family and employees, chasing debtors, begging creditors for extensions and worrying where the next sale will come from). If our software adds value to our customers right then, then (and only then) will we have started the road to success.