Three Steps to Better Engagement
Here’s a news flash for the marketers of America. They’re on to us. That’s right, I said it. People have figured out that when we talk about our products and services we lead with the good stuff. Ok, they figured this out a long time ago, but before the Internet it was tough for people to get information other than what we gave them. Sure they might ask to talk to a reference customer (one we undoubtedly selected and prepared), or they might have asked an analyst, but sources of information were limited and controlled. The Internet and social media changed all that. Now it is easy for people to ask friends, colleagues and even strangers about a product and anyone with a grievance can tell their story to the world. In fact, McKinsey found that “word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions.”
In short, we’ve lost control of the conversation. What’s a marketer to do? Part of the answer lies in customer advocacy.
What is Customer Advocacy?
Customer advocacy happens when your clients share their positive experience with your company. It takes many forms from a formal case study to a positive answer when a friend asks, “Hey, what do you think of ACME Corp?” Do your clients follow you on Twitter and like you on Facebook? Those are forms of advocacy because they let prospects know that others are interested in your brand. Most marketers know that more advocacy is better than less, but figuring out how to maximize it can be a challenge. Here are a few first steps:
Step 1: Create Advocates
This probably goes without saying, but people won’t tell others how much they love your products and services if they don’t love your products and services. Creating advocates has to be part of the company culture and it has to be everyone’s job. Your products should perform better than expected, everyone must deliver on promises to customers and dealing with your company must be a pleasant experience. John R. DiJulius III noted In his book, What’s the Secret to Providing a World-Class Customer Experience, that while 80% of companies surveyed reported providing superior customer service, only 8% of customers surveyed described their experience with those companies as superior. Yikes. No Social Media Wizard is going to come along and solve fundamental service issues, but understanding the importance of advocacy can help shift the culture toward one of relentless customer care.
Step 2: Reward and Recognize People who Help You
I had a bit of a Homer Simpson moment when we launched our formal customer advocacy program. We ask our customers to do things like providing references and referrals, contributing a quote to a press release and retweeting our content all of the time, but it turns out…. people will do more things for you if you recognize and reward them for what they do. Doh! It doesn’t have to be a complicated program, but you’ll get the best results if you have a consistent, repeatable way to thank those who help. Software, like the AdvocateHub from Influitive, is available to help.
A note on rewards: they don’t have to be expensive. They don’t even have to be “stuff.” Your advocates might like a mention in your customer newsletter. They might like passes to an industry event. They might even like to provide goods and services as rewards for your other advocates. Sure, cash and prizes are great, but sometimes just a big THANK YOU to @favoritecustomer goes a long way. The best approach? Ask your customers what acknowledgments and incentives appeal to them.
Step 3: Don’t Stop
Once you’ve started to grow the number of customers advocates, why stop there? Your employees and partners can also make great advocates, but don’t forget to apply steps one and two. Your employees won’t sing the praises of your organization if it isn’t a great place to work. You must earn your employee advocates just like your customer advocates. In fact, according to the National Business Research Institute 40-80% of customer satisfaction is affected by employee attitudes.
The concept of rewarding and recognizing applies to employees and partners too. Sure they work for you or are under contract, but positive advocacy crosses the bounds of what can be expected in the normal course of duty. If you want proactive engagement, you’ll get more if you provide an incentive.
Customer (and employee) advocacy will increase in importance as buyers rely more on the Internet, their peers and social networks for product information and advice. A solid strategy that encourages people to help amplify your message will provide an important competitive advantage in the modern marketplace.
Do you have an advocacy program? How do you reward and recognize your biggest fans?