Customer Experience News & Trends

A 3,000-mile, 50-day trip that will revolutionize the customer experience

The experience is almost always better when customers get personalized, face-to-face time with employees. One company takes this theory so seriously that executives piled into an RV and took a 50-day, 3,000-mile trip to meet its customers.

Now we know what you must be thinking:

  • That’s too far.
  • I couldn’t be with my colleagues that long.
  • Customers wouldn’t want to see me after being in an RV for a day, much less for weeks.

They’re all valid concerns, but relatively insignificant considering the relationships the business that took the trip, Sage, a software company, ended up nurturing with hundreds of its customers along the way.

“Turns out, customers want us to maintain the relationships,” said Sage Customer Experience Executive Brad Smith, who was on the trek while the RV traversed the eastern seaboard. “It’s not so much about the sexy new product. They need us to be a customer-centric organization, not product-centric. Those are the kinds of things we learned on this journey.”

Customer experience is serious business

Visiting customers can have a big impact on the experience. It tells customers that their current business is important, and their feedback and outlook are even more important to the future of the relationship.

In fact, more than 80% of customers are willing to pay more for a product or service if they can get a superior experience, an Oracle study recently found. They’ll pay as much as 5% more if a company makes it easier for them to ask questions or give them quick access to people who can provide information.

You can’t get much better access than a team of executives showing up at your front door.

“We even made surprise visits to some customers,” Smith said.

Not hell on wheels

Many customer experience leaders might consider it hell on wheels to spend countless hours locked in an RV with colleagues lumbering across America. Even some Sage executives didn’t picture this kind of trip as an ideal summer vacation.

But it was a customer experience in and of itself, as the team became customers of its customers. They bought provisions at Sage customers’ stores, ate at Sage customers’ restaurants and slept in Sage customers’ hotels.

So that last sentence leads us to full disclosure: The RV didn’t pull into campgrounds and hook up to electricity and fresh water each night. It parked in hotel lots and everyone on board stepped out and slept in rooms with comfy beds and built-to-the-ground plumbing.

Plus, no one executive took the entire trip — although all of them saw hundreds of customers. Teams caught up with the RV at different stops and traveled for a week or so, covering a leg of the trip with planned and unplanned stops at customers’ business places.

An idea is born

So what could possibly make executives walk (fly or drive) away from their cushy digs, busy family lives and daily work demands? A true desire to make the customer experience better.

“You see, our service and support people talk to customers about 10,000 times a day. They get it. They’re customer-centric by default,” Smith said. “Product managers, back office, HR, IT, legal — they will all build things that are convenient to them, but not necessarily convenient to customers. So we’re not a totally customer-centric organization.

“That’s what we want to be,” Smith said.

While the idea of a road trip to visit customers isn’t unheard of — Zappos and Zendesk are just two organizations that have done them in the past year — every journey is different. Sage’s tour — now in its second stage with an extension into Canada — had its unique turns that helped teams work toward building a better customer experience.

Plan it and wing it

The road trip was well planned across the states — and totally spontaneous at times. In total, more than 30 executives caught up with the excursion at one time or another. A team made up of three or more executives and customer care professionals would fly into one city, catch the RV, ride along for several days, hop off and fly back to their homes and work.

Sage promoted the tour to customers extensively in social media and talked about it at customer conventions, where customers could request a visit.

Smith and his team of organizers planned three or four customer visits in 16 cities across the United States — the tour started in Charlotte, NC, on July 10 and ended in Irvine, CA, on August 28. Along the way, they “popped in” on Sage customers.

Know, learn, analyze


Every day started with a briefing on what to expect. “We’d get a rundown from ‘Mission Control’ — the team back at home — on who we’re going to visit, how long those customers have been with us, what their business does,” Smith said. “Then we’d talk about what we wanted to learn from each of those customers.”

Mission Control wasn’t just concerned about the customer meetings. That team — comprised of people pulled from a variety of departments within Sage — gathered weather reports, road conditions and construction details so the road team and its driver knew what kind of travel to expect, too.

“It wasn’t always pretty, either,” Smith said.

When they made it safely to customers’ sites, the roving team got to the nitty-gritty, finding out more about their customers and their experiences. Routine questions during the meetings, which lasted approximately one hour, included:

  • Why did you get into the business?
  • How are things in your business environment today?
  • How did you survive the downturn?
  • How can we help you do even better?

The feedback was particularly insightful because the Sage team visited B2B and B2C customers of varying sizes, industries and product needs/purchases. They’d talk to business owners, finance directors, accounting teams, inventory managers and any other end-users who wanted to chat.

Every customer meeting was followed with a post-visit brief. That’s when the team sat down and asked themselves:

  • What did we learn?’
  • What did we learn from the first person we talked to? The second? The third?
  • What will we do differently now that we talked to them?
  • What more can we do for them?

The meetings also included a call to Mission Control to update it on any needs or special issues that had to be taken care of immediately.

A trip with a cause

Sage Shop Local on Town Green

It’s no coincidence that the Sage tour took the team to customers’ stores, restaurants and hotels. Beyond the pure desire to meet with customers on their turf, Sage had a message: Buy local.

Based on research Sage had done earlier in the year, they knew small businesses were cautiously optimistic about the future.

“They said they’d like to hire. They’re busy enough to need more staff. But they’re worried the business won’t stay there,” Smith said. “So we thought it’d be a good idea to promote a ‘Buy Local’ theme and remind people to shop in their communities and support each other.”

The RV rolled into towns with graphics displaying its research about the business owners’ optimism and the positive impacts of buying local. It handed out window stickers and talked to local media to promote buying local.

And the people came to hear Sage’s message. “In some small towns, it seemed like everyone in town came out to see us in our RV,” Smith said.

Finally came to see my Porsche

But in most cases, it was Sage going to see the town. And like any good road trip — from the Griswold-like summer vacation to the old-fashion Sunday Drive — this one came with its surprises. One in particular was very special.

When the RV pulled up to Goretti’s Supermarket in Millbury, MA, the team wanted to say hello to long-time customer Kathy Crewe, the senior finance professional at the grocer, give the employees some Sage tchotchkes and buy some provisions.

“She (Crewe) says, ‘You must be here about the Porsche,'” Smith explained. “We’re thinking, ‘What Porsche?'”

Turns out, Sage had sent posters of the famed sports car to its customers, Crewe included, with their names printed on the license plates as part of a promotion. It had always been a dream car of hers, so she put the poster on the wall in her office.

Two weeks later, Crewe won the state lottery, bought the Porsche, credited the win to Sage and has remained a loyal customer ever since.

“But she’d be our customer whether she got the Porsche or not,” Smith said. “She was telling us how happy she is with Sage because she had a system crash the previous Friday night and by Saturday morning our technicians had everything restored.”

What was learned

Smith and his colleagues spent hundreds of hours with customers, heard countless stories and had access to unlimited, candid customer feedback.

Customers not only told Sage about their concerns, but also reinforced some of the things Sage felt it was doing well — like employing kind, professional people and creating incredibly easy-to-use products.

“One woman told us it’s so easy that her 11-year-old picked up using it, writing checks and paying taxes for their small family business!” Smith said.

Sage also learned some things that can be done to improve the customer experience. “Customers weren’t as aware of all of our tools. We need to do a better job of educating them on everything they can do with our products,” Smith said.

That should happen soon. Sage has already started meeting — in offices, not the RV — to build action plans for how they’ll improve the customer experience in the next six months.

5 Essential Strategies for Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce in Your Contact Center

Take a couple minutes today and simply look out onto the production floor of your contact center. Chances are pretty great that you are seeing a diverse group of people that span across several generations.  Read more!

Subscribe Today

Get the latest customer experience news and insights delivered to your inbox.