Sage’s David van Toor On Building an “ACT !” Community

You know about Web 2.0 right? It’s all about enabling an audience (customers, employees) to communicate with you, you communicating with the audience (as you do now with web sites and email newsletters) and your audience communicating with each other. This communication is about your product/service, about the product/service of your competition or complementary products. Your audience learns from each other and can directly engage with executives.
About 2 weeks ago Sage Software announced the new ACT! by Sage Online Community a community of executive blogs and forums for over 2.8 million individually registered Sage customers and 43,000 customer accounts.
I spoke with David van Toor, senior vice president and general manager for Sage CRM Solutions North America who is leading Sage’s push to a web 2.0 world. It’s fascinating what he’s doing.

The ACT! community was not launched with web 2.0 in mind. However it evolved out of the desire for customers wanting direct access to executives of Sage. In fact passionate ACT! users would have no problem calling senior Sage management in England about a particular complaint or product suggestions.
With the ACT! community customers can help each other and have a new venue for accessing support. With less users calling support, the support desk has more time for problems that require a phone call and customers are satisfied as they are getting help – from their peers. Sometimes product end users are more knowledgeable about a product than support staff.
Another benefit of ACT!’s “web 2.0” world is that it helps Sage executives, such as Dave, know what issues are most important to customers. With millions of customers, it can be a bit difficult to know what to focus on and what’s most important to customers. Surveys and focus groups are important and have their place – but they can be expensive and require Sage to ask the right questions to get the right answers.
I spoke with Dave about transparency and the competition. With Sage having this open conversation with customers – good and bad – Sage’s competition has a first row seat to Sage problems and some aspects of product development.
Dave’s not worried about this, but explained that it is a necessary casualty of the process of web 2.0 communication and worth the benefit of being closer to his customers. This simply forces Dave and his team to consume customer information faster act on it faster than the competition.
With this new openness and success one might wander what role traditional technical support now has. Telephone based support systems are sequential in nature and linear. They are built on precise and proven mathematical formulas. If there is an increase in telephone support phone calls, it will irritate a certain number of customers who are not able to get through in a timely fashion. By enabling more customers to get help online, the phone support, with more skilled staff, can be used to support those customers who need it most..
Dave is not just web 2.0 junky screaming the benefits of web 2.0 in a deserted island. He encourages his team to jump into the web 2.0 experience as well. Dave explained that Sage helps its customers deliver great experiences so it must also deliver great experiences to the customer.
What does this mean to you. Web 2.0 is no joke – one of my Six Rules in “Technology Is Not the Answer”. If you want your business to grow you must explore how to leverage Web 2.0 as a core communication tool in your business.