Customer advocacy is a new strategy for companies that truly want to understand their customers.
With customer service taking a hit due to Covid-19, according to the Harvard Business Review, brands can succeed by redirecting their focus towards building a loyal user base and driving customer advocacy as a cultural mindset within the organization.
What is customer advocacy?
Quite simply, customer advocacy is all about laser focusing on what the customer wants—from understanding what’s best for them to analyzing what they're prioritizing when purchasing. By truly understanding your customers’ goals, you can drive long-term loyalty and repeat purchases.
Moreover, customer advocacy can serve as a competitive edge for your brand to stand apart from the competitors. The end goal of driving customer advocacy is to change the overall company culture and make it customer-focused.
Understanding the customer advocacy framework
This section will look at the all-important customer advocacy framework—The Hierarchy of Advocate Needs—a prerequisite for organizations who wish to integrate customer advocacy into their business. In fact, according to Forrester, "Even an organization sold on the value of customer advocacy may struggle to choose a starting point."
This is where a hierarchical framework is helpful. It can outline exactly what your customer needs and help get a better understanding of their pain-points. Here's an example of The Hierarchy of Advocate needs which divides a customer's wants into five core areas:
You can divide these needs into four stages of the buyer's cycle and map the needs to the customer's buying journey accordingly. The four stages are:
- Exploration: In this phase, you need to focus on developing a deeper understanding of your customers by collecting data via surveys and analyzing it.
- Motivation: This phase involves analyzing your team's relationships with the user base and motivating the team to provide better support.
- Activation: Here, the primary focus will be to execute customer-driven solutions with the end goal of driving a more positive customer experience.
- Iteration: In the final stage, you should assess what is working and what's not to pivot and make iterations accordingly.
The takeaway: Getting the customer advocacy framework right will not happen overnight. It will require time, effort, and real-time customer inputs to get the system going. This framework can ultimately act as the lifeblood of your business and allow you to execute a rock-solid customer advocacy program within your organization.
Next, let's look at some of the key customer advocacy strategies that can take your customer program to the next level.
4 Strategies to ace your customer advocacy program
Strategy #1: Gather real-time feedback
Think of this as the 'exploration' stage where you're getting to know the customer—from understanding their needs and wants to their pain points and challenges, this stage requires businesses to get a pulse of their customers using surveys, polls, one-on-one interviews, among other things. Here are a few questions you can ask your customers:
- What is it that really matters to them with respect to your product/service?
- How do they rate the overall experience with your brand/offering?
- What is it that they like and not like about your product/service?
- What is their biggest pain point/challenge?
- What are the additional features that the customer wants to see in your product/service?
Here's an excellent example of how you can capture the customer's pulse by rolling out a personalized and strategic email:
The takeaway: The more you talk with your customers, the better understanding you will have of who they are and what they need. This data can then be used to extract actionable insights and drive a more customized and fulfilling customer experience.
Strategy #2: Provide a stellar customer experience
Delivering a great customer experience today is marked by convenience, speed, and personalization. For instance, take this use case; you recently went to an e-commerce store and made a purchase. It’s been a few days, but you didn’t see any updates over the product tracking system.
So instead of writing a formal email and waiting for 24 hours to get a response, you would definitely like to simply visit back the website, click on live chat and get your query resolved. Right?
As you can imagine, this adds a personal touch to the user experience and leaves the customer feeling happier and more satisfied as their queries get addressed instantly.
The takeaway: Elevating your customer's experience requires a healthy combination of using intuitive tools such as live chat software and augmenting your human agent's expertise to the maximum potential. The idea is to deliver a speedy and efficient customer experience that leaves your customers wanting to keep coming back for more.
Strategy #3: Foster your internal employees
Similar to how charity begins at home, so does customer advocacy. In fact, did you know that "Brand communication shared by employees via social media achieve 561% more reach than the same content shared by brands’ official social channels – and they also receive eight times more engagement?"
All in all, if your internal employees do not understand the true impact of having an advocacy program in the first place, your initiatives will all be in vain and will lead to an unproductive ROI. So, to foster an internal culture of customer advocacy:
- Build a customer advocacy team and drive employee advocacy marketing strategies that focus on how teams can be activated to drive brand advocacy.
- Share the internal relationships to demonstrate your company culture and attract top talent.
- Strategize about how to get your employees involved in advocacy programs.
- Collaboratively map your advocacy goals and objectives with the overall business goals, and communicate the same to your employees at all times.
- Figure out who the internal stakeholders are and make sure to align with them. This includes your sales team, marketing team, brand communications team, etc.
- Prioritize your technological needs and drive pilot programs to understand its efficacy with the existing technology.
- Figure out the relevant metrics to map out the performance and progress of your customer advocacy program.
The takeaway: There needs to be a cultural mindset within the employees and the organization at large to drive a successful customer advocacy program.
Strategy #4: Empower your customers with a robust platform
This stage entails amplifying your customer's voice across diverse channels and platforms so that it can literally be seen and heard. If your customers have something positive to stay about the brand, they need to be empowered with the right platforms to voice their thoughts, experiences, and opinions.
For instance, you can drive user-generated content on your brand's Instagram page. Or you can take it one step further by rewarding your customers for their advocacy efforts, as Starbucks demonstrates below:
The takeaway: There are numerous ways to encourage customer feedback--from motivating them to provide a video testimonial to featuring them in a webinar. Considering that 73% of consumers read an average of six reviews before buying from a company, arming your customers with the right channels can turn out to be a game-changer for your business.
In the final section, here are the top advantages of having a customer advocacy program.
Top benefits of customer advocacy programs
1. Better word-of-mouth
Customer advocacy programs encourage positive word-of-mouth publicity for your brand. In fact, research claims that word-of-mouth (advocacy) marketing has been shown to increase marketing effectiveness by as much as 54%. Plus, 58% of small-business owners recognize word of mouth marketing as the most effective way to communicate with customers as well as prospects.
This builds greater trust and credibility within the customers--a fact that Nielsen’s Report backs up, with 92% of consumers globally claiming that they trust earned media, such as recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising.
2. Increased engagement & loyalty
A.I is playing an important part in customer service, and its role will continue to grow as a recent study shows that by 2025, 95% of all customer interactions will be AI-driven.
In this ricing era of automated customer service, it’s vital to build user trust, as it fosters brand loyalty and engagement.
The more your customers have repeat positive experiences with the brand, the more likely they are to stick with your brand. This, in turn, boosts your brand's bottom line as well as ROI.
3. More UGC & social proofs
According to data, 67% of consumers surveyed say they are likely to purchase an item or service they see on their social feeds. Clearly, getting social proof has become an industry standard. Moreover, social proof also drives User Generated Content and helps instill a sense of confidence within the user. For instance, data claims that UGC-shared posts have a 28% higher engagement rate compared to standard posts. Additionally, they are 2x more likely to be shared.
4. Shorter sales cycle
Since the user already has unshakable trust with the brand, the sales cycle starts becoming shorter and shorter as users do not have to be convinced of the brand's expertise or USPs--they already know it and, more importantly, have accepted it.
The bottom line
As per data, loyal customers are worth up to 10x the value of their first purchase. Needless to say, not engaging in customer advocacy is a gigantic loss of opportunity for the brand.
If you wish to stay ahead of the pack while delivering a superior customer experience, you need to think of turning your prospects into lifelong brand loyalists--much to the likes of die-hard fans who swear by their preferred brands like Starbucks, Apple, Netflix, etc.
So follow the tips and strategies outlined above and give your customer advocacy program a fighting chance.
About the author: Savan Kharod is a Digital Marketing Professional at Acquire. He loves to share his knowledge and experience in digital marketing, social media marketing, customer service, and growth marketing. In his free time, Savan likes to backpack and explore new places. You can reach out to him on LinkedIn or Twitter.
And big thanks to M Accelerator for the cover photo. 🙌