January 29, 2014
Case Study

Customer-centric Marketing: Survey program turned 30% of unsatisfied software customers into brand advocates

SUMMARY: Eight years ago, software company Sage North America determined it needed to become more customer-centric.

The company tracked customer satisfaction, but not loyalty. In a number of years, Sage created a customer survey program that measured sentiment and put internal programs in place to promote loyalty from its customer base.

Discover the process and programs Sage developed that led to a 275% increase in its Net Promoter Score and turned 30% of unsatisfied customers into brand advocates.
by David Kirkpatrick, Manager of Editorial Content


The marketing journey that led to this case study began eight years ago. The team at Sage North America took what was described as a "hard look at the [software] category" and decided there was an opportunity for a software manufacturer to become customer-centric.

Hal Bloom, Vice President for Market Research, Sage North America, said at that point in time, the company was not measuring customer loyalty.

Sage was measuring satisfaction through research and garnering high scores and receiving accolades from the surveyed customers.

"We realized there's more than just coming up with a happy customer," Bloom said, adding that "if somebody's going to recommend you, you have to really give that 'wow' factor."

Read on to discover how Sage was able to dramatically increase its Net Promoter Score, and turn 30% of unsatisfied customers into brand advocates.


Through the process of determining its customer loyalty, Sage began measuring its Net Promoter Score and developing loyalty scores across its 21 product lines.

Step #1. Create a survey on customer recommendation

To begin measuring more than just customer satisfaction, Sage created an 11-point survey — based on a scale of zero to 10 — asking its customers if they would recommend Sage.

The survey included a list of product attributes and features for respondents to rate for importance and satisfaction.

After two years of conducting the new survey, the team realized it asked customers the right questions and the survey did uncover customer satisfaction, but there was something missing.

Bloom explained, "We were getting satisfaction scores, [but] we really weren't seeing any progress of how we would measure loyalty."

Step #2. Deepen the analysis on the survey to obtain a sentiment score

Realizing the survey was effective, but still did not help uncover exactly how loyal Sage's customers were, the team found a third-party vendor to help refine the survey and also add another layer of analysis to the results in the form of text analytics to learn how satisfied customers were.

Text analytics involves taking unstructured data, such as customer comments in Sage's survey, and feeding that data into a model that creates what Bloom described as a "dictionary of categorization."

The process at Sage involved taking multiple comments from each customer to calculate sentiment score to determine if that customer is excited, angry or exhibiting some other feeling about the product or brand.

Bloom said the analysis uncovered a wealth of actionable information.

"We're able to group at a high level 'what are the drivers of loyalty?' both positive and negative," he explained.

Bloom continued, "Then, we can start to go down deeper. If a person said this, what else did they say? What is the likelihood if you complain about price that you might have spoken about support? It's actually getting back, in the own words of our customers, what they're saying and what sentiment score on each phrase that they give us."

Sage evolved the survey over time to increase the loyalty data collected — in this case, specific comments in the form of phrases from its customers.

Bloom said the basic Net Promoter Score question is some variation on "why did you recommend this?"

The Sage survey eventually began asking Net Promoter Score questions in three different ways. For example:
  • Promoters (scoring nine or ten) were asked what Sage did to earn that high score.

  • Passers (scoring seven or eight) were asked what Sage could do next time to earn a "promoter" score.

  • Detractors (scoring zero to six) were given an open comment section to help Sage understand what they did to cause the low rating.

Originally, the promoter score questions were all based on products.

Three years ago, the survey added a second promoter question that covered the overall Sage experience for the surveyed customer.

Bloom said at this point, the team was monitoring two loyalty scores — product and customer experience — in the survey.

Step #3. Determine the protocol for the customer survey

As Sage's customer survey evolved, a defined protocol and structure emerged.

The survey was performed quarterly, and its customer database was divided into four segments. Each segment was tied to a particular quarter to receive the survey. That way, no Sage customer was surveyed more than once a year.

When Sage gained a new customer, that new customer was placed in the segment connected with the quarter they joined the business.

The survey was conducted online after customers respond to an invitation email, and along with the comments and promoter score for each customer, Sage also received some granular data on each individual customer responding to the survey, including:
  • Annual revenue of the customer

  • Lifetime value of the customer

  • How long they have been a customer

  • How many times they have upgraded

  • What level of support they have

Bloom said, "When we get the data back from [the vendor] and we see comments, or we see who's rating us on the Net Promoter Score in a particular way, we actually know exactly who that customer is and how loyal they've been to us, how many years they've been with us, and we can even track their ratings year-over-year to see if there's course of change over time."

The process is set up with a built-in trigger to send a message to a designated contact within Sage's Net Promoter Score scale for when the score is zero to six, a negative within Sage's scale, or nine to ten, a positive within the scale.

The triggered message provides information such as the customer, their comments, the rating and the customer information data that lets the designated contact know how valuable that customer is to Sage.

Bloom said part of the "wow" factor to encourage customer loyalty is customers who give Sage high scores receive phone calls from the senior executive team to thank them for taking the survey and being loyal.

He said that the eventual goal is to reach out to all customers, adding, "particularly in the zero to six category,to really find out what we can do to make their experience better."

Step #4. Create programs to take advantage of the survey information

Bloom said one potential problem with annual surveys is the tendency to become complacent in looking at the scores — either up or down — and not really engaging with the new information. To combat that at Sage, the team developed two programs.

Loyalty champion program

The "loyalty champion program" at Sage had the general manager of each product line choose two members of their team with enough responsibility, authority and respect to spearhead the loyalty program within the product line.

When the survey data came back, these champions would work with the product teams to develop road maps, ensure the program is "alive and well," and that everyone within their team was engaged with the loyalty program.

Key moments of truth

A second program was developed two years ago and called "key moments of truth." This program took the sentiment data from the surveys and involved sitting down with each product group to illustrate what was driving loyalty, including both the positive and negative influences.

These meetings happened once a year and marketing team would present the three key drivers for business with each product line.

From there, each product team would brainstorm to determine the desired state they wanted to reach.

The product teams would come up with an action plan to reach that state, and one team member was responsible to track the deadline and metrics to be evaluated over time.

For example, hold time on support calls might be a driver of business — possibly a negative driver.

The goal might be to cut that time by 20% and the product team would come up with methods to reach that goal.

The key performance indicator would be tracking hold time and seeing if the team reached that 20% reduction over the course of the year.

"We sort of hold everybody accountable," Bloom said. "We take the data, we brainstorm [and] we develop. They develop action, and we monitor those actions over a year's time giving them progress on a quarterly basis of what progress they're making on the key drivers."

Year-over-year, the sentiment analysis on the survey comments potentially changes the three business drivers for each product line to address with the key moments of truth program.

Step #5. Conduct internal surveys

One way Sage was able to keep its employees engaged in the net promoter and customer loyalty program was to conduct internal surveys.

These surveys were particularly focused on front-facing employees who spoke with customers on a daily basis, and the surveys consisted of actual comments from the customer surveys — with the original wording kept intact to not lose context or format — and asked employees how important those comments are in terms of generating customer loyalty.

Bloom said the internal surveys helped develop gaps between how Sage employees think and how Sage customers think.

"We help the employees understand, 'where are the priorities?'" Bloom explained. "Are they devoting their attention to the proper areas? Are they devoting their time to something which is not really a key driver?"

The internal surveys lead to "town hall meetings" and "round tables" to make certain Sage employees are all on the same page with the information gained from the customer surveys, and that the employees understand why the company is doing what it is doing in response to the customer input.

"We want to make sure that every employee really understands how they could have an impact on net promoter and loyalty," Bloom said.


Sage receives a 15% to 20% response rate on its customer survey.

The key metric for this effort is Sage's Net Promoter Score calculated from its surveys. A typical Net Promoter Score range for a software company is 10 to 14. Before adding the sentiment analysis in its surveys, Sage's score was around eight. After creating the more in-depth program, its score doubled to 16, and after several years of running the program, its score is closer to 30.

Along with doubling its Net Promoter Score, the customer service strategies informed by the program have turned 30% of unsatisfied customers into brand advocates as defined by the loyalty program.

Bloom said one challenge of the entire program was the difficulty of getting management to think about loyalty in the beginning. Sage's satisfaction scores were in the 90s, and that number looked good to management.

"Once you get the concept that a customer can love your products, but [that] you have to go beyond in order to get them to recommend your products, that's when you get everybody's attention," Bloom explained.

He concluded, "That's probably why we're concentrating more on loyalty and our customer experience measures than we are products, because it was [about] getting management involved and understanding that you have to earn loyalty."

Creative Samples

  1. Customer survey

  2. Invitation email


Sage North America

Clarabridge — Sage's survey text analytics vendor

Related Resources

Guided by Buyers: 4 tactics to create a customer-centric sales and marketing strategy

Customer-centric Marketing: Adding fun to B2B

Customer-centric Marketing: 7 triggers to engage customers and build loyalty

Customer-centric Marketing: Tap into your culture to differentiate from the competition

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