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SAGA Looks to the Stars
A successful software solution is crowned with its fourth Software Technical Assistance Recognition award.
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Customer support training and employee programs seem to be working well for SAGA Software, which recently won a stAR award (Software Technical Assistance Recognition) from the Software Support Professionals Association.

SAGA, a Reston, Va.-based middleware enterprise-class software developer and integrator, won for the fourth time in the last 10 years; this was the second year in a row it received an outstanding customer service award in the Sustained Performance Category.

"We were able to demonstrate sustained performance and high levels of customer satisfaction over the last three years," says John Rehl, vice president, customer support. "In all areas, we significantly outperformed the competition."

Rehl says the feedback it receives from its 1,500 customers contributes to the company's success. The company administers transaction-based customer support surveys and an annual survey. If customers raise a question or concern, they receive an automatically-triggered e-mail containing a resolution. SAGA also has established bi-weekly agent team meetings, monthly business review sessions and quarterly company meetings.

Terri-Lynn Thayer, director of administration information systems at Brown University in Rhode Island, has been a customer of SAGA for 17 years. She says her satisfaction with SAGA is evidenced in her commitment to the company. "If you call up and ask for a manager on any day and explain your situation, they'll at least get you a resolution or appropriate attention," Thayer says. "I don't think that happens in other places. Bill Rose, founder and executive director of SSPA, says SAGA's good organization is evident. "They were one of the first companies in the early 80s to have a fax-back system," Rose says. "They've always been on top of technology. The key thing that differentiates them from other companies is they're able to morph."

SAGA Service Goals

The company also has established grassroots committees that set up morale-building activities, such as carnivals, barbecues and scavenger hunts. These programs may contribute to the 6.3-year average stay of the company's customer support reps.

"The goal from a support perspective is for people to have the right skills. We allow them to be trusted advisors," Rehl says. SAGA provides constant training to fine-tune these skills. The company requires at least three weeks of training per year, which involves learning programming languages, soft-skills training and leadership tactics.

If the agents encounter customers that are experiencing difficulty with a development tool, the agents consider them as sales leads and work with SAGA's sales staff to offer potential solutions. "We're an enabling organization that allows customers to get to the solution very quickly, and as a result, we get long-term loyalty for us as a vendor," Rehl explains.

But Rehl doesn't want to stop there. He says the company expects to win next year in the electronics category, which would put SAGA into the SSPA Hall of Fame for five wins.

He has already implemented new goals that may help the company attain the award, such as developing skills, electronic services and tools, increasing customer satisfaction; and improving the overall process. He has set objectives, such as multiplying the number of technical articles in the company's knowledge base from 5,200 to 800,000 by the end of the year. Also, he wants to increase the number of requests through the Web from 30 percent to 40 percent. To achieve this, the company will implement marketing-oriented programs that alert the customers of the value in electronic service offerings.

"These guys can win in any category they want to," Rose says. "They're focused on making sure they can deliver the best service possible. But they don't just do things to win an award, they do things to make sure the customer is satisfied."

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