Contributed by Gary Meek, Director, Documentation Development
My team at SAS has tried many different things to get customers to tell us how we can serve them better. We’ve contacted customers directly (with their permission), worked with other customer touch points at SAS like Technical Support, Professional Services, and Education. We’ve engaged in social media activities like sasCommunity.org, Facebook, and so on. We’ve added our questions to several different questionnaires that are used by marketing and the company in general to collect data about customer satisfaction. We put a link on every page of documentation we produce, inviting anyone who didn’t find what they needed, or was otherwise disappointed, to tell us about their experience so we can help them. Each of these efforts has produced a small but useful trickle of information that we’ve used to make our products better.
SAS Global Forum, by contrast, is always a gusher. I’ve been to a dozen Global Forums, and I’ve found that three days of face-to-face conversations with the people we work so hard to help never fails to give us new insights into what we can do better. It’s my Old Faithful. Take yesterday, for example.
I started the day with several interesting conversations with customers who are struggling to make the transition from our 9.1.3 doc to the 9.2 doc. Great stuff! They had some excellent suggestions about how to make the transition easier for others. Then, I spent time asking customers whether they have free access to the Web and, if not, why not. My team would like to move more of our information to the Web only. We’ll need to ponder that some more as it was not hard at all to find customers whose companies make it difficult for them to use the Web. During these conversations I also got some good information about why some customers strongly prefer all their doc in PDF format while others want HTML. Polling indicated about two-thirds for HTML and one-third for PDF. (There were also a couple folks who very much wanted SAS doc on iPad and Kindle, by the way.) One customer explained that while his company won’t give him much access to the Web, he is allowed to download our PDFs onto their network, and he finds that very helpful.
Next, I attended a paper titled, “Once You ‘Know’ SAS … How to Keep Learning SAS” given by Brenda Beaty of the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine. The crowd was standing-room only. I was somewhat surprised to see so many veteran SAS programmers eager to find new ways to learn even more about SAS, particularly in light of some other excellent papers that were being given during the same time slot. Our team has some great opportunities to help meet this demand. Toward the end of the afternoon, Sean Gargan, Director of SAS Publishing, and I presented a paper on the many resources and services SAS provides to help our customers meet their goals using SAS. We were pleased that several of the folks in attendance jumped in to make their own recommendations or raise new ideas. After the paper, half a dozen customers stayed to continue the conversation, which was great.
I grabbed a little down time and a cup of Starbucks, and then it was time for the mixer in the demo room. It’s a great event because at that hour it’s about the only thing going on at SGF. Customers grab a drink and come by. The conversations are longer and more relaxed because they don’t have to rush off to see a paper. We have a chance to get to know each other a little, and partnerships form that last beyond the few days of SGF.
Here are my favorite parts of the day. Getting a great suggestion from a customer. Having a customer say “I wish you would provide …” and being able to show them we already do, making them happy. Hearing people talk proudly about the great things they are doing—literally saving lives and changing the world—and how much they value having SAS. A conversation that starts with a customer telling me they are mad. I know that sounds strange, but some of the best conversations I’ve had at SAS Global Forum started that way. These are passionate people, and if you return their intensity, before you know it you’re working together on ideas to fix the problem and keep others from developing. It’s very satisfying.
I hope our other opportunities to collaborate with customers, like social media, continue to grow in popularity with our customers. Personally, I’m going to continue to looking forward every year to Global Forum. There’s nothing else like it, and I always return home with a lot of energy and new ideas about how we can do more to help our customers be successful.