Customer advocates are the crème de la crème of any customer base. In every group of customers, there exists a sub-group which represents your core audience. They are typically early adopters and customers who initiate and maintain word-of-mouth advertising. They are fiercely passionate about the product, enthusiastic about their support and are willing to help out other customers.
The benefits of having such a group of customers are obvious. Aside from creating new ones – a slightly more expensive proposition – how can companies nurture their existing customer advocates?
1. IDENTIFICATION: The first step is to identify who this group is. People answering 9 or 10 on a Net Promoter survey program have a high likelihood to recommend and are strong candidates to be advocates. Technology today has made the identification process even easier - re-tweets, Facebook shares and online activity through blogging, media sharing, etc., are additional identification channels for advocates. Care must be taken to differentiate between your best customers and advocates. Advocates might not necessarily own every product or service you have, but their level of support for your brand is what makes the difference. That customer who solves an issue on behalf of another customer? – that’s your customer advocate.
2. FORMAL RECOGNITION: A next step would be to formally recognize that this group exists and to design a multi-level engagement strategy to meaningfully connect with and empower them. The simple act of recognizing that this group exists can have a strong impact on how supportive your advocate will be. Give them an official voice through an authorized platform to express their opinion and engage with other customers and this will let them know that you as an organization are listening to them. An organization’s role here is to facilitate this process and make it as easy as possible. For example, Logitech, a computer hardware manufacturer, has customer advocates who post product tips and hints on the official Logitech online forums. In addition to creating involvement, these advocates also provide a higher level of service at a reduced cost for Logitech. Showcasing support through a formal channel is a simple way to lend authenticity and your backing to an advocate’s voice.
3. MEANINGFUL INVOLVEMENT: An engagement strategy could also include involvement at different stages of product or service design and creation. Involving your advocates with the sales process could involve giving them priority access to product launches. Conducting a focus group to test a product? Make sure your advocates are a part of the audience. For example, Intuit has a Customer Council to ask customers for their feedback on its upcoming product roadmaps. Select customers from this Council are then invited to Intuit’s offices, all expenses paid, to help Intuit understand how create a better product from the ground up during the development process. During the two-day session, Council members meet with Intuit’s senior leaders and hear from product managers about products and services still under development.
4. ONGOING SUPPORT: As a final step, support your advocates each step of the way. If they have taken the time to support your brand, reciprocate that favor. This goes beyond helping them share their content and involves support from within the organization. Empower your workforce to understand and monitor their feedback continuously and with a higher priority to stay on top of possible issues before they have an impact on your business.
Nurturing your customer advocates is a great way to do more with less –customer advocates are a very valuable resource and the process of creating one is not easy because of the fine line that exists between a product PR spokesperson and a vocal customer advocate. For companies that create a meaningful and honest relationship with their advocates, the rewards can be well worth it.