Six Ways to Turn Customers into Brand Advocates

Customer Strategy
Customer Experience
In the era of word of mouth, organizations need to find ways to turn their customers into advocates for the brand.

Customers are more than the value of what they spend. Instead, especially in this age of social media, customers can become an extension of the brand's voice through their comments and reviews. More importantly, customers are more likely to believe their peers rather than brand messages.

Therefore, organizations need to stop seeing their customers simply as cash cows and instead make every attempt to turn them into brand advocates who will share positive information about the brand, both with their friends and family, but also in a wider fashion over social channels.

As Don Peppers, founding partner of Peppers & Rogers Group, notes, a lot depends on customer satisfaction. "The ability of organizations to turn existing customers into brand advocates first and foremost depends on the quality of the service or product they're offering," he stresses. Ann Ruckstuhl, LiveOps Inc.'s chief marketing officer, agrees. "Brand advocacy is not something you wish for but that you earn through delivering an exceptional customer experience," she says. It is therefore essential for brands to ensure that they're really delivering on their promises and even exceeding them in order to turn their customers into advocates.

So is there a magic bullet way to turn customers into advocates for a brand? Unfortunately there is no secret recipe, but there are certainly steps that organizations should take to create brand evangelists who will happily share their enthusiasm for the organization with their contacts. Experts share these six tips to leverage the most loyal customers and turn them into advocates for the brand:

    1. Invest in your existing customers

    Many companies spend a lot of time focusing on acquiring new customers but don't put as much energy into retention strategies, making sure their current customers are happy and would therefore not consider switching brands. As Peppers notes in this blog, some customers are prone to defect, which means that the remaining ones are more likely to be loyal to the brand. Their loyalty, together with the information they have about the brand since they've been doing business with it for a while are two ingredients that can help turn customers into advocates. Ian McCaig, Qubit's CMO and co-founder, highlights the importance of knowing your customers. "Be able to detect, understand, communicate with, and serve your customers at every point in the purchase lifecycle," he says. Understanding customers and using this insight to improve their experience will help turn them into brand advocates.

      2. Wow customers with unusual experiences

      Customers expect great products and services from the companies they do business with. Unless organizations deliver on the basics, they will lose customers let alone fail to create brand advocates. The most forward-thinking organizations are finding ways to surpass expectations. "When you go above and beyond expectations, you create a positive feeling," notes Rhonda Basler, director of customer engagement at Hallmark Business Connections. Basler uses the example of Crayola, which decided to create a video to celebrate the company's one millionth Facebook fan. Apart from reaching more than 70,000 Facebook users, the video led to engagement through comments, likes, and shares and even triggered some people to talk about the video.

        3. Arm customers with information

        The most valuable customers are not the biggest spenders but those who have the expertise to share with their peers, notes Peppers. In this blog Peppers refers to a study published in the Harvard Business Review which found that customers who spend the most aren't the ones who generate the greatest value through referrals. Peppers explains that the "value you generate for a company by referring others to it will be based not on your spending value, but on your own reputation and "authority" among your friends." He highlights the need to give customers information about the brand. This will not only help to encourage customers to do business with the company, but they may share that knowledge with other customers. "The less knowledgeable the customer is, the less likely it is that the customer-even if he or she is very highly satisfied-will ever generate much "word of mouth" value for your brand," Peppers explains.

          4. Invite vocal customers to become advocates

          Not every happy customer has the appropriate traits to become a brand advocate. Basler notes that organizations should identify customers who are vocal about the brand, for example ones who take time to fill in surveys, since they are the ones most likely to be able to talk about the company. Surveys, she explains, are a good place to recruit advocates. "Look deeper than NPS but read every single open-ended comment," she stresses. Further, the way a customer talks about a brand can give important information as to how that person feels about the company, and whether he should be nurtured and given the tools to become an advocate for the brand."You have to know who you're asking to be an advocate," Basler stresses.

            5. Transform negative experiences into positive ones

            Not every negative experience is doomed to lead to the loss of a customer. In fact, if organizations are able to address a negative experience and ensure a positive conclusion, they could leave a strong positive impression on the affected customers. "Turning a negative experience into a positive one can be extremely impactful," notes Peppers. This is mostly due to the low expectations that customers going through a negative experience are likely to have. "It's not all that hard to surpass their expectations and create an experience that's easier to remember," he explains. While this doesn't mean organizations should strive to create negative experiences, they shouldn't disregard someone who complained when searching for customers who could become brand advocates.

              6. Don't forget any channels

              Customers are interacting with brands across multiple channels and touchpoints and expect the same service experience across the board. Thus, organizations need to make sure they understand their customers' history across these different channels and create a true omnichannel experience. "You need to know who your customers are across the different channels," LiveOps' Ruckstuhl says. One important step, she notes, is creating a single customer profile.

                Finally, organizations shouldn't forget the power that their employees have on potential customers, and they must ensure that they too are advocates for the brand. "Agents should also be brand advocates," Ruckstuhl stresses. Striving to turn customers into brand evangelists will only have limited success if employees are not speaking highly of the brand.

                EXPERT OPINION
                EXPERT OPINION