Published: April 21, 2021 | Comments
Customer advocacy is a hot topic in marketing and customer experience circles—and especially so following the economic upheavals of 2020 and early 2021. Many of today’s most forward-thinking leaders—Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Emily Weiss, to name a few—see it as the only true and sustainable way to win customers and market share over the long term.
I define customer advocacy this way: Customer advocacy consists of the actions you take to focus the organization on doing what is best for customers, which, in turn, rewards you with loyal customers who advocate for your products and brand. My encouragement is to not view customer advocacy as a “project” or “initiative” of its own. Picture it instead as an ingredient—it’s the secret sauce to add a delightful complement to a recipe you already have. It should be part of, not a replacement to, all of the aspects of customer experience you have going: product development, marketing, communication, customer service, and others.
Customer advocacy plays out in many different ways, small and big. For example, it can help guide individual interactions; a reservation agent mentions to the customer that the afternoon flight would save $150. It can be the catalyst to more involved functional-level initiatives; this could, for example, lead to the decision to provide weekend hours in a contact center. It can also be the driver of dramatic change, and help fuel turnaround stories like with Apple, Schwab, and Home Depot.
In contact centers, customer advocacy generally plays out interaction by interaction. The key is empowering your agents — but with the right approach. The idea of empowering employees to be customer advocates sounds good to many leaders in concept, but doing so is easier said than done if barriers are in place. These barriers can include lack of training, misguided performance targets, and limited decision-making authority.
There are five components that are essential to develop employees into customer advocates:
One is to have and reinforce a vision that defines what focusing on customers means. USAA, the insurance and financial company consistently rated among top organizations for customer service, operates by the mantra, “We know what it means to serve.” That simple statement helps guide every decision.
Training and coaching
A second essential component is to instill a deep understanding of what customer advocacy is, and how it works in your organization. This has to be practical for every employee and every job role. For example, address questions such as:
- What does it mean to put yourself in customers’ shoes?
- How do you find the best solutions for them?
- To whom do you reach out when resources and assistance from other areas are required?
Customer advocacy is about taking action to do what’s best for customers. You can’t expect employees to be effective unless they have the authority and means to make decisions. For years, Ritz-Carlton has given staff $2,000 of discretion, per employee and per guest, to resolve problems as the employee feels is appropriate. As a senior manager explains, “Sometimes the most delightful ‘wow’ moments happen in the blink of an eye. If employees are not empowered and need to cross layers of approval, these moments could be lost forever.”
Many executives are, at least initially, concerned with this level of empowerment, but I’ve seen the cost of adjustments go down and customer satisfaction go up when decisions are quick and happen through the employee directly involved.
Employees appreciate the trust. They want to make good decisions that are right for customers and the organization. Because they happen on the spot, you are saving resources and aggravation by minimizing involvement of supervisors and managers to sign off on decisions. And customers notice; immediate decisions are impressive. The key is to have clear quality standards and values that lead to good decisions.
Goals and objectives
The right goals and objectives—ones that support and encourage customer advocacy—are also essential. When you establish metrics, you’ll get what you measure. Do your quality standards and measures of success truly align with doing what’s best for customers?
Tools and processes.
You’ll also need supporting tools and processes. This does not necessarily mean you have to have the latest technology, but several capabilities are especially helpful. These include knowing the customer's history and preferences, the means to capture helpful information on customers and issues, and good communication tools for internal collaboration.
Customer advocacy doesn’t happen on its own. But if you’ve aligned these five components, you’ll be strongly on track to developing your contact center agents into customer advocates.