Every Business Needs Customer Advocates

“Advocacy can propel a brand unlike any other paid or unpaid media because it unlocks the networking power of one-to-one relationships with a key of trust.” – Rick Wion

Every business needs customer advocates – there is absolutely no disagreement on this fact now. Customer advocates are those happy customers who are at the peak of their loyalty and are more than willing to help and promote your business in every way possible. On the other end of the ‘spectrum’ are those customers who would be extremely unhappy with the company and would make sure that they let many people know of their poor experiences. While both groups must be managed and cared for, the fact is that customer advocates can help to soften some of the negativity from unhappy customers. Surveys and research have shown that at least 60-70% people most definitely share their experiences – good and bad – with others, but the number of people sharing poor experiences would be a lot more.

Given that, an increasing number of people go online to check reviews and comments from existing customers and users it becomes imperative for companies to have a larger number of positive comments and high ratings. These comments have an effect on the behaviour and buying decision of the prospective customers and could potentially change the ‘fate’ of a company. Poor comments would lead to a fall in trust, which in turn would mean that customers would either leave or reduce their spending with a company. With social media and its high visibility, both the good and the bad comments could change the perception of readers and prospective customers about a company. In the case of bad reviews, if someone decides to pass them on and share them with their friends and associates, it could cause serious damage to the reputation and prospective business of a company. Customer advocates, on the other hand could counter the effects of these negative comments, not just by posting glowing comments about a company, but also spending more with it.

While most companies in the past would have relied on their sales and marketing teams to sell their products and or services; that equation has changed now. We spoke about the importance of making customer service a marketing tool – which means that customers expect top class service and need this assurance at the stage of the marketing pitch. The better customers are treated, and the happier they feel when associating with a company, it would be a lot easier for them to become customer advocates, which would make them a potent channel for more sales for any company. Through top class service and quality products a company can convert an increasing number of their existing customers to brand advocates, who would then be happy to tell others about the advantages and benefits of doing business with the company. Such referrals give prospective customers a lot more confidence and trust in the company, since a large number of their initial apprehensions would be allayed.

As a company builds rapport and trust with their customers, it would be in a better position to ask their customers for referrals and references. Customer advocates would be happy to help a company by additionally, taking part and speaking at networking events organized by the company, promoting the company amongst their peers, making mentions of the company and its products on their social media pages, and other such acts of brand advocacy. For a company this translates to a lot of positive attention, brand awareness and reach, and a better chance of converting casual site visitors to actual buying customers. All these aspects are extremely critical to the success of any company given the increasing number of competitors and price sensitive customers.

While having customer advocates in the company’s customer base is essential, the mistake many companies make is to incentivize customers to speak well of the company. The incentives happen in the form of rewards, loyalty programs, discounts, freebies, and other such ‘attractions’. However, these incentives are not sustainable. They would only serve to attract the opportunity seekers and offer grabbers who would buy from the company only as long as these incentives were made available to them. Such ‘customers’ would never be loyal and hence would never convert to becoming customer advocates. Instead, companies must focus on creating happy experiences, providing top class service, and quality products consistently to all their customers. While products and pricing are easily overtaken, customer service excellence is hard to beat, and this would be the ‘weapon’ for any company to create customer advocates.

Service excellence is not that hard to achieve – it just requires commitment and dedication from every person working in a company. As part of the company culture, customer service should be every person’s job and be a key performance indicator for all job roles. Employees – especially the service staff must understand the importance of delivering on every promise the company makes. Responses to customers must be speedy and efficient, with everyone focused on ensuring that things work smoothly, and if something does go wrong, then fixing it promptly must be a focus area. Customers want to hear the truth. If marketing professionals were to ‘glorify’ all that the company does and offers, it could be misleading for customers – especially if they discover later on in the association that most of the claims are not true. The sure shot way to making customer advocates is to start at the beginning of the relationship – complete honesty and transparency in the dealings.

Customers approach a company not only to buy products and services, but also to find solutions to their business problems and to satisfy certain emotional needs. To create customer advocates, a company must take the time to understand their customers – the problems they face, the challenges they may be trying to overcome, their emotional reasons to buy, and other such aspects about their customers. For customers, a company that can tell them how it would solve their problems and what benefits it has for them would be the preferred ‘partner’. As mentioned, it takes quite a while for a customer to become an advocate / ambassador for any company – hence starting early to gain their trust, early in the relationship or may be even at the prospect stage if possible. We would say that since a company would be aware of the audience it would want to target, getting to know them before they become customers would help its chances of converting them to customer advocates for life.

Customers expect to be treated well and shown that they are important to a company. Keeping this in mind, a company must use every opportunity to highlight their customers, their achievements, and ensure that the company thanks them publicly for their support. Social media is a great platform that companies must use to get closer to their customers, and increase its own reach and awareness. By congratulating a customer on an achievement – business related or personal – a company would not only be giving its customers importance, but also gaining publicity for itself and displaying the value they attach to their customers. It is a win-win for both sides.

Customers are one of the most valuable assets for any company – without them, a business cannot exist. Making customer advocates is a lot more than just getting them to buy and stay with your company for a long time. Customer advocates are a value and unique selling proposition that possibly has no equal in the world of business today.

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