Customer care, how pensions can learn from payroll (and Newcastle!)

 Cue Cintra

Steve Cram, closing the Cintra user event on Thursday, remarked that it was unusual to find every table littered with Sambuca glasses.

Steve had come – it seems – to convince us that aging lothario (and Cintra CEO) Carsten Staehr had not outrun and out cycled him.

Cram has clearly accepted that Carsten is not as other men. Those of us who have fallen foul of “the Danish handshake” will attest that Cintra does not do CRM as other companies. To find your balls crunched by a Great Dane goosing you from behind is only one of the peculiarities of being a Cintra “user”.

In a week that I have been infuriated by the arrogance of the pension industry, to spend a day with Cintra and a day with Sage has been a welcome respite. I am now sitting on Newcastle station asking myself what payroll software providers are doing that pension providers aren’t. The answer is in the phrase “customer care”.

Despite his outrageous behaviour, Carsten Staehr and Cintra are loved by their clients. Every place at the conference was taken up. Organisations that I met with around Newcastle , on hearing I’d been at the Cintra pre-party and the day long event at the Baltic, urged me for details. People are fascinated by Cintra’s hands on approach.

It helps of course if you have the charismatic Ian Holloway on the team. Ian has been brought into Cintra to provide users with a comprehensive technical briefing on all matters payroll. What they get (thrown in) is the wonderful world of Holloway. Most of his anecdotes revolve around his relationship with his partner- who works for Primark.

We had a lot of chat about the ambition of those who fold knickers at Primark, we had talk of Primark’s relationship with its parent and we heard about Ian’s own wardrobe which appeared to have been swapped with his partners in a moment of early morning confusion. In short, Ian’s 90 minute talk walked us through the complexities of Governmental policy with the wit and polish of the Chatty man.

Cue Sage

The delight for Cintra customers is intensified by their being less than 1000 of them. Sage has over 600 times that number and clearly they cannot all be accorded the Danish handshake! Sage’s customer care model is no less effective.

The Sage client conference is on April 5th/6th. I’m honoured that I’ll be hosting a session.

Like Cintra, Sage organises conferences for customers to learn. Going through the program today with Dan Docherty, I realised that Sage are every bit as focussed, though the love is necessarily spread more thinly.

 The payroll way

It doesn’t really matter whether you are talking with Sage or Cintra or QTAC or my Paye or Star or Able or Payroo or Bond or SXWorks or even Xero, the overwhelming impression an outsider gets is that it is the end user that matters.

Though there are intermediaries (accountants and bureaux), between payroll software suppliers and employers, the license holders who do the work, have a direct relationship with the people who code the software.

This is the essential difference between payroll and pensions in terms of customer care. The effort that payroll puts into customer care is quite remarkable. It is ongoing. Sage talk about their relationship with employers who contract directly with them as “customers for life” .They are resourced to provide these customers with support on the phone and directly.

That customer care is part of the Sage sales function is not considered strange, when the culture of the software provider is that their software does good things, the sale of software is part of the CRM process. This of course is not unique to Sage, pride in the products of all the other software groups we work with, seems equally intense.

Sage may do it with cloud based roll-outs and Cintra may do it with Sambuca shots, but both are travelling in the same direction – the customer’s direction.

This is the payroll way

Falling back in love with customers

Somewhere, pension providers fell out of love with their customers. Maybe it was because of advisers or because of admonishments about failing to treat their customers fairly, but insurance companies and event master trusts seem embarrassed to be talking to their own users.

This paranoia is endemic. I heard this afternoon of a simple mistake that has meant that one insurer has been misinforming members about phasing dates on tens of thousands of occasions. Rather than own up to their mistake, the PR is rolled out “we are currently reviewing this aspect of communications”.

Pension PlayPen is an intermediary, but our intermediation is like snapchat, it fades to nothing as soon as the story has been told! We believe in allowing pension providers to have a direct relationship with their users (payroll style). The trouble is, that’s the last think most pension providers seem  to want to have!


Or maybe it’s just something about Newcastle!

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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