Positive customer referrals have to be earned.
Do you want to boost customer referrals and positive word-of-mouth? You’re not alone. It’s powerful to have a customer base that acts as a salesforce for your brand.
However, too many organizations are approaching this worthy goal the wrong way. Positive word of mouth — the kind that lasts — doesn’t come from social media campaigns, loyalty programs or clever ads. There’s nothing wrong with those efforts — and they have a place. But to be truly sustainable and effective, the enthusiasm that drives word of mouth has to be earned. It’s a by-product of a culture focused on customer advocacy.
What is customer advocacy? There are two common but very different viewpoints.
One comes from an internal perspective and is centered on the organization’s responsibility. It’s doing what’s right for customers, helping them, advocating for them and ensuring good experiences. You’ll hear this most often from those in operations and customer service.
The other is an external perspective. It is customers who tell the world about your brand and the products and services you provide that they love. The emphasis with this perspective is on understanding who your customer advocates are so that you can thank them, reward them and encourage them to continue spreading the good word. You’ll hear this view most often in marketing and sales circles.
So, which is correct?
These perspectives are two sides of a coin. They are inextricably related. You won’t have customers advocating for you unless you ensure you’re meeting their needs and expectations, creating products and services they love and helping them resolve any problems along the way.
Here’s the definition I use (first published in the article “What is Customer Advocacy?“):
“Customer advocacy consists of the actions you take to focus your organization on doing what is best for customers, which, in turn, rewards you with loyal customers who advocate for your products and brand.”
How do you earn positive customer word-of-mouth? How do you establish a culture focused on customers?
Empowering your employees is an important part of the answer. Employees who directly interact with customers have opportunities almost daily to be customer advocates. They should be inspired and equipped to answer some practical questions:
• How do you put yourself in your customers’ shoes?• How do you find the best value for them?• How do you escalate issues and get them resolved?• To whom do you reach out?• How much decision-making authority do you have?• How and where do you capture information that enables the organization to make overall improvements?
Customer advocacy also goes beyond individual efforts and customer service. It’s most effective when also instilled broadly into your operations. For example:
• A consumer products company discovered, with some simple analysis, that dissatisfaction with a cleaning product was due to the childproof cap, which was hard to remove. Customers would force the cap, often sheering off the spray nozzle. The customer service team detected and shared this information with their packaging supplier, who made a design change that eliminated the problem.• When a shipping company detects that a container misses a connection due to inclement weather, hampering flights, their tracking tools immediately reach out to customers to explain, minimize further inconveniences and reestablish expectations.
In short, customer advocacy consists of what you do, the tangible steps you take to improve customer experiences, to then solve problems and to use and enjoy your products and services. That’s what earns you customers who positively promote your products and brand.
Customer advocates — often called brand advocates — bring much value to your organization. Word of mouth is a large driver in purchase decisions. And customer recommendations are far more believable to prospects than are paid advertisements.
There is an important place for recognizing, thanking and engaging with loyal customers. Remember, you can’t even express a simple thank you unless you know who they are.
But first things first. Customers who are or could be advocates for your brand expect and demand excellence in your services and products. When something goes wrong, they expect you to make it a priority and fix it. And they expect you can do this without them needing to make a big effort.
Every organization wants to reap the benefits of customer advocacy. Far fewer put the effort and resources behind truly focusing on what’s best for customers. Do so, and you’ll earn the right to enjoy the powerful benefits that come from their loyalty and positive word of mouth.