EXPERT INSIGHTS

Jun-10-2022

Customer advocacy: What it is and why it's important

Jackson Kushner

Introduction

Every brand wants to make their customers happy, and most will be satisfied knowing their customers have great things to say about them. However, the efforts should never stop there. While positive customer feedback is essential to brand success, taking proactive measures toward turning these satisfied customers into advocates is key to long-term loyalty and attracting new customers in the process. Customer advocacy is not a complex notion. With the right touch of marketing and an advocacy program behind it, it can propel a business ahead of its competition.

What is customer advocacy?

Customer advocacy is a specialized approach to understanding the customer and putting their needs first. Essentially, it allows every aspect of your business to become more customer-centric.

In order to infuse customer advocacy into all aspects of your business, you need to adopt a framework to bring it to life. First, consider what exactly your customer needs. Much like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for human development, advocates have their own needs and motivations as they progress through the customer lifecycle and your advocate marketing program.


Why is customer advocacy important?

In today’s intensely competitive world, there’s no room for anything less than amazing customer support. This is why 32% of CMOs rate customer experience as a top three priority. Businesses that adopt a mindset of customer advocacy are constantly able to find new ways to support their customers and ensure their needs are not only being met but exceeded. Customer advocacy can elevate a business’ brand awareness, market and industry credibility, and recognition, and spreads word-of-mouth marketing much more effectively and efficiently than ever before. Advocacy plays an increasingly pivotal role in influencing consumer behavior, and therefore in increasing a business's profitability.

Putting customer advocacy to work

It's important to view customer advocacy not just as a project of its own, but within the context of the business. Brands should take care to understand how it can become an inherent and essential part of product development, marketing, customer service, and other activities that they already have in motion.


Customer experience refers to the entire suite of interactions that customers have with your organization, including products, services, and processes. End-to-end CX describes the series of interactions between a business and its customers throughout the entire duration of their relationship. Customer experience management is a system of strategies, technologies, and processes a company uses to track, oversee and organize every interaction between a customer and the organization. Voice of the customer (VOC) is the process of capturing input on what customers experience, and seeking to understand their needs, wants and perceptions.

Customer advocacy is about taking action. It’s informed by the voice of the customer and refers to the tangible actions you take to solve problems for customers and improve their experiences. Ideally, customer advocacy extends across the entire customer journey, from the first touchpoint and setting expectations to problem-solving after the sale. Customer advocacy is the ingredient in the recipe that enables you to focus on what’s best for customers. With customer advocacy, you will improve customer loyalty, and can even enjoy the benefit of customers advocating for your brand.

Customer advocacy in SaaS and B2B

SaaS and B2B industries are ever-evolving spaces and one of the best ways to keep up is customer advocacy. SaaS companies must make their customers feel a part of the brand. With subscription-based business models, the power lies with the buyer. At any time, if a business fails to deliver value, the customer can easily switch to another product and thus making customer advocacy all the more important.

Whatever the customer says can and will be heard around the world. This makes it incredibly important for SaaS and B2B businesses to turn their best customers into advocates. This is considered one of the most important parts of customer advocacy. Because social proof and word-of-mouth are so important in the space, companies should look within their network of customers rather than focusing on paid media or influencer posts.

Companies must move towards hyper-personalization of their products and processes. Personalization helps pave the way to advocacy; luckily SaaS brands have immense data on their customers which makes the personalization process a bit simpler. 


Customer advocacy and the pandemic

The pandemic caused businesses to go through tremendous changes. Businesses were forced to revisit their overall customer experience strategy and tactics. It shifted the priorities and behaviors of consumers, and these shifts often changed how customers perceived certain companies. Successful businesses pivoted to best serve their customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and those with customer advocacy programs paid a lot of attention to customer advocates. These businesses focused on supporting their advocates in their own roles by driving extra value so that their advocates were able to share much-need information with their connections. Successful businesses saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate the two-way street of strategic customer advocacy, with both the company and the advocate benefitting from the deepening of their relationship.

Who owns customer advocacy — customer success or marketing?

We all understand that every experience and touchpoint is important for customer success. But who should own customer advocacy?


Even with these opposing viewpoints, most businesses agree that both departments need each other. You won’t have customers who promote your products and brand without identifying and meeting their needs, helping them solve problems, and focusing on what is best for them. Marketing teams and CS teams must work together to better understand the customers’ evolving needs to better nurture the relationship. CS can be in charge of customer happiness and even generating advocates and marketing can then generate results from advocacy.

Types of customer advocacy

Hard selling is less appropriate these days, as users have the capability to research a product, understand its nuances, and have a conversation about it. There are many new strategies businesses can use to harness the voice and experience of their customers; all of them include creating content that appeals to potential buyers.

Social sharing

Advocacy through sharing a business's blog posts, articles, and other content on their platforms. According to the 2022 Employee Advocacy Benchmark Report, having an employee advocacy program increases the total social engagement for a brand by 25% to 40% at minimum.

Testimonials

Sharing their experiences through a statement or quote. This can be a video testimonial or a customer quote. This is shareable content that can be shown on websites and social media.

Case studies

These are similar to testimonials in that they share a customer success story, only with more detail. Case studies are important when businesses offer a complex solution or product. These can be used by teams to showcase a business's strong points.

Referrals

A referral is when a customer advocate recommends a business’ product or service to their peer directly.

Webinars, podcasts, and conferences

If your organization hosts an event, inviting your customer to come to speak on your behalf is a powerful form of advocacy. Viewers trust an outside look and it’s also an opportunity for brand promotion for the customer. The 2021 LinkedIn-Edelman B2B Thought Leadership Impact Report states that 47% of buyers say thought leadership helped them discover and purchase from a company that was not a leader in their industry.

Reviews

Reviews are customer feedback on a specific product or service that can be shared. Reviews can include a detailed overview of the product, support capabilities, the customer experience that was provided, shipping, and additional information.

Customer advisory boards

A customer advisory board is a group of customers who come together on a regular basis to share insights and advice with an organization. Usually, these members are high-level executives at their organizations and therefore can provide in-depth market insight that helps shape the future of a business’s priorities and strategies.

Digital community forums

A community forum is an online meeting space where people can discuss, share knowledge, and talk to each other about a wide variety of topics including specific products and services.

What is a customer advocacy program?

A customer advocacy program is a marketing and customer success strategy that intentionally converts loyal customers into vocal advocates for a brand. They allow companies to formalize and scale the process of asking customers to speak about products they love.

Advocacy programs can increase a company's revenue in many ways:

They improve retention, loyalty, and cross-sell and upsell opportunities among current customers. Plus, they also generate valuable social proof from customers like reviews, referrals, and testimonials that can fuel demand generation and acquisition more effectively than traditional marketing tactics.

Companies continue to rapidly invest in customer advocacy and online customer community programs. The 2022 Intuitive State of the Customer Report states that 85% of respondents have a customer advocacy program, while 82% have an online customer community. Compared to 2020 results, where 74% of respondents said they had a customer advocacy program and 72% had an online customer community, there has been double-digit growth in both areas. This shows that customer advocacy and online community programs continue to mature at a rapid pace, and are poised to approach a near 100% adoption rate over the coming years.


It's easy to see why businesses are all about their customer advocacy programs. But what is the goal of the customer in this type of program? Every customer turned advocate has to get more out of the program than what they put in. That is the key to successful customer advocacy. Customers have their own motivations and businesses should use personalization to tap into these specific motivations.

Types of advocate personas

An advocate persona is meant to embody the needs and priorities of people who have already become customers. These advocates are enthusiastic customers, partners, and employees who will happily share their experience of your brand with their networks. Here are a few examples of different personas.

  • Status seekers: Customers with a large network who can be brutally honest. Their honesty attracts their following, they won’t be afraid to point out mistakes. They are strong speakers and are likely to do well at podcasts, webinars, and live events.

  • Educators: Every product online forum has a few people who focus on helping others understand better. This dedication to teaching is a great trait for advocacy. These clients are patient, willing to help others, and are great spokespeople. 

  • Validators: They are a business’ authentic customers, groomed through various months or years of using the product or service. Their experience makes them credible and fair.

  • Collaborators: These individuals are building their own network through reciprocal arrangements. Collaborators can be influential advocates and are ideal for business reviews and other joint ventures.

How to implement a customer advocacy strategy

Most companies want a mindset focused on customer advocacy, but it's often difficult to know where to begin. Here are some strategies for a holistic approach to customer advocacy.

1. Define a goal

    Define a primary goal for your advocacy program. Do you want to generate more revenue, grow awareness, or something else? Businesses need to take time to consider how their vision aligns with their goals to enhance their customer advocacy. You should also map out your customer advocacy vision to ensure the entire organization is on the same page. This can help show how customer advocacy can touch every aspect of the business. When mapping out the customer advocacy vision it's important to outline the steps you need to take to execute the strategic advocacy priorities and the metrics you will use to measure them. This allows businesses to better measure success as new advocacy initiatives are introduced.

    2. Define the persona of the advocate

      As mentioned earlier, there are different types of personas. Businesses can build a persona by evaluating needs within their customer life cycle and analyzing customer details like demographics, transaction history, and net promoter scores (NPS). Advocate personas should help the brand understand what will drive engagement and build stronger relationships with their customers. Once you determine what they value most and how they’d like to advocate, you can start to build a program.

      3. Recruit advocates

        Once you understand the type of customers you want to recruit, the next step is to invite them to participate. When inviting potential advocates, businesses should focus on emphasizing the benefits to the customer. This is where incentives come in; in exchange for a customer's time and effort, businesses can offer them perks such as preferential service levels for support issues, opportunities to speak at events, or advanced access to product development. Businesses can also highlight the promotional value of becoming an advocate, such as the publicity and recognition of their own accomplishments within their market.

        4. Launch the customer advocacy program

          Once a business has recruited advocates and set goals for their program, they are ready to put their customer advocacy program into motion. Businesses should assign a point person or group who can spearhead customer advocacy efforts and focus on building and nurturing a balanced group of customer advocates. One of the most important aspects of this launch is choosing the right technical solutions to support the customer advocacy program. Naturally, as we saw above, many businesses choose brand communities, which have built-in gamification features that can enhance any customer advocacy program.

          5. Track success

            Allow at least six months time for the program to get into motion. Businesses should check in with the progress toward the goals they set by analyzing outcome metrics such as revenue influenced, win rate, sales cycle compression, NPS, and customer advocates’ influence rating. Customer advocacy tools can help a business prepare and interpret reports with these metrics, as well as suggest areas to focus on improving.

            Tips for a successful customer advocacy program

            Constantly collect feedback

            Businesses can use feedback to understand customer issues. Before a business can advocate for their customers, they first need to understand them. In order to improve customer retention and promote advocacy, the CS team needs to routinely talk with the customer base to build trust and understand their needs. Once the data is collected it needs to be organized to extract actionable CX insights. Organizations need to unify all their sources of customer data to ensure each department is working with customer advocacy in mind.


            Create avenues for advocacy

            Go beyond the product or service to create avenues for advocacy. Businesses must start facilitating conversations and building brand communities. Brand communities aren't just a place where users connect to answer questions, but they are also where a powerful group of advocates grows loyalty and trust by building their own reputations as helpful, trusted advisors and consultants.

            Make it worth their time

            Businesses must find new ways to bring value to their customer advocates. They can have them speak to the media or at an event so that their brand gets a mention. Businesses can also offer them something unique, such as one-on-one time with key executives. It’s important to always remember that advocacy is a two-way relationship.

            Create the most seamless experience

            Creating the most seamless customer experience is key to building advocacy. Many industries are in the midst of a digital transformation. Businesses must respond to shifting demands with rapid digital adoption, and take the customer journey to the next level. When a customer’s experience is innovative and easy, it will speak for itself. Customers will take notice and become advocates.

            Use surveys

            Using reviews and survey data is a simple, established way to initiate customer advocacy, which can help businesses with customer nurturing as well as provide crucial feedback to understand how your business can retain clients, improve operations, and show customers you’re putting them first. Businesses should be using top-of-the-line surveys that make customers feel heard and that touch on very specific points. Information that businesses gather through surveys will help with building out personas and discovering new trends within groups of customers.

            Leverage proactive listening and engagement

            For businesses to really understand what their customers want, they need to constantly be listening. Businesses should proactively listen and engage with customers throughout the entire customer life cycle, from the moment they buy to the moment they renew and beyond. Real-time listening helps businesses help their customers achieve desired business outcomes more successfully. When outcomes are achieved, they are more likely to become invaluable advocates.

            Use customer advocacy tools

            Customer advocacy software, sometimes referred to as “advocacy marketing” or “referral marketing” software, is used by companies to enable their customers to promote their message, content, or products through word-of-mouth. These tools are used to help business marketing, sales, and success teams gather referrals and testimonials that can be used with prospects. These tools are used by businesses in a wide range of industries. The software can be used to help acquire new customers, develop brand identity, and engage loyal users.

            Tools for customer advocacy

            More and more brands are now turning to tools and platforms designed for brand advocacy to help manage many of the systems involved in a brand advocacy program. When choosing an advocacy tool businesses should look for the following features:

            • Online communities and forums: The tool should help brands create digital spaces where customers can get answers, connect with peers, and share new ideas.

            • Personalization: The tool should allow for easy engagement and communication to establish an ongoing personalized dialogue with advocates. 

            • Integration: The tool should help businesses easily visualize and report on all activities completed and the ROI of those activities while integrating with current CRM and marketing automation platforms.

            • Referrals: These tools should have the ability to set up and manage referral programs in order to find and attract the best advocates for each brand.

            • Social media listening: The tool should provide unlimited access to real-time social insights to keep businesses in lockstep with their market, competition, and audiences.

            • Social management: The tool should help businesses engage customers with meaningful social marketing content and campaigns that drive affinity and accelerate business results.

            Khoros helps you create loyal brand ambassadors

            Khoros can help build brand awareness with their user-generated knowledge hub. Khoros’ unique syndication capabilities also create uniquely interactive, dynamic, and peer-driven experiences anywhere a brand wants. By embedding these customizable community conversations into e-commerce, support, and content hubs, customers can get the invaluable peer validation that builds trust and confidence no matter what path they take to purchase. Khoros helps you create loyal advocates and ambassadors to provide the most effective way to engage people around a shared purpose.

            Would you like to learn more about Khoros?