A Sustainable Customer Advocacy Program

“The more advocates you have, the fewer ads you have to buy.” – Dharmesh Shah

Anyone in the business world understands how important and crucial to success customer advocacy is. Putting in place a sustainable customer advocacy program enables business owners to leverage the power of their loyal customers, transforming them to brand ambassadors. These ‘brand ambassadors’ then spread awareness of the brand and encourage support from a wider audience, which in turn leads to an increase in revenue, profits, and growth for the company. Research has revealed that customer advocacy is 50% more likely to convince other customers and in fact is possibly the top reason for between 20-50% of buying decisions. Research also showed that customer advocacy is the most effective and potent reason to make a buying decision for those buying a product for the first time and or the product price is higher than other similar products. Further statistics reveal that a whopping 92% people would trust the recommendation of a person they know, when making a purchase. When compared to this media advertisements have about 47% trustworthiness and online advertisements are trusted by about only 33%. These data are reason enough for any company to put in place a consistent and sustainable customer advocacy program.

A customer advocacy program does not only encourage the loyal customers to gain new customers for the business, they too provide repeat business. They come back often with more business, renew their contracts, buy new and upgraded products and services – overall they contribute immensely to the financial growth of a company. As the number of such ‘advocates’ grow, the company and its brand gain popularity and become highly regarded. Through a sustainable customer advocacy program, a business can further strengthen the bonds and emotional connection it has with the customers. A customer advocacy program ensures that such customers feel responsible for the success of the company and will do whatever it takes to safeguard and promote the image of its brand. Customer advocates in many ways become multi-channel and highly effective promotional routes for any company. Their reach and impact would be a lot greater than any other form of advertisement and marketing events and efforts.

Creating a customer advocacy program is a wise and highly impactful decision on the part of brand to create and enhance meaningful relationships with these ‘dedicated’ brand supporters. The more engaged this set of customers become, the harder they would strive to influence others to associate with the brand. Does your company have a customer advocacy program? If yes, what were the things you considered when building it and how do you ensure its success? Like with any business program, this imperative too must have an objective or a set of objectives. Some companies could require a sharp and sudden boost for a newly launched product or some major initiative – the objective here would be to create hype and reach as many people as possible. In such events, companies often use celebrities or other influential persons to endorse their product / initiative, which enables them to gain the ‘coverage and hype’ required. However, these sudden bursts of enthusiasm from the ‘public’ must not be confused with customer advocacy. The ‘craze’ soon dies down post the drama. Of course, companies do gain some benefits and some even see a sharp surge in buying during the period of ‘promotions’.

To create long term and sustainable customer advocacy however, takes a lot more effort, time, and resources. A customer advocacy program will ensure that your loyal customers support your brand and company wherever they are, use every opportunity they get to let others know about the company and brand, and would counter any negativity that may arise. This enthusiasm can spread easily to other stakeholders and even employees, who would be happy to go the extra mile to let others know what a great company they work with. In fact, some companies are as great because of employee friendly work environment and facilities. The happiness and satisfaction of their employees spills over to their customers and the employees are possibly their most vocal and potent brand advocates. A customer advocacy program is therefore a two-fold program – encourages loyalty and advocacy of both internal and external customers.

We have discussed several times in the past that not all customers are equal, especially with regard to becoming profitable and loyal. So when creating a customer advocacy program, it is vital to ‘screen’ the customers before ‘inducting’ them into the program. Even if the group of loyal customers be small, they would be more effective as brand advocates than a large group of disengaged or opportunistic customers. It is important for a company to understand whom other customers and buyers would trust the most and be influenced by. Data collected revealed that at least 62% buyers would trust customers who were their peers / contemporaries, while 52% buyers revealed that they would trust the company’s employees –basically, they would trust people most similar to themselves. Therefore, the trust level for top line persons, such as Presidents or CEOs of companies would not be as high. A customer advocacy program ensures that the company leverages the strength of the positive opinions of its customers to gain the trust and engagement of prospective customers.

A sustainable customer advocacy program comes about when companies cover all channels through which customers would and could share their experiences. In addition, a company could solicit feedback and encourage customers to share their positive experiences with their brand – a company could be pleasantly surprised as to the impact it could be making. By ‘uncovering’ these stories and experiences, a company would be able to portray its brand in a better manner and highlight its strengths based on actual customer testimonials. The stronger the tide of positivity becomes, the more willing would customers be to become brand advocates.

To encourage customer advocacy, a company must ensure that it allows its customers to have a voice – the ability to share their experiences and receive due thanks for doing so. In speaking well of the brand and company they are associated with, customers also gain opportunities to spread news about their own brand and company. It is unlikely that anyone would pass up the opportunity to gain recognition for them while getting more benefits. To ensure that the customer advocacy program is sustainable, ensure that you have resources dedicated to collecting and collating real-time statistics and data around the efficacy of the program. By providing real data, a company can build trust and credibility for itself and further encourage customers to become brand advocates and strengthen the resolve of customers who currently may be part of the brand advocacy program. Ensure that the data and stories are shared with a wide audience and in a creative manner. Customize the stories and data to suit the respective channels of communication and the target audience.

Every piece of data and every story your company shares must have a purpose. They must be of high quality even if the number of such stories may not be too many. A customer advocacy program works more effectively when the experiences shared have a strong positive impact on the customers and target audience. The experiences and stories that satisfied customers share are as valuable as any other asset a company may possess – they have the potential to turn loyal customers to raving fans who have the power to spiral the profits and reputation of a company upwards. A customer advocacy program must focus on listening attentively to customers and then finding innovative ways to spread their stories and experiences that would not just benefit your company, but also the business of your customers. The better your company can do this, the more customers it would be able to ‘induct’ into its customer advocacy program.

 

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