How to turn customers into brand advocates

You’re in a small, unfamiliar town. You’re in the mood for a steak but aren’t sure which restaurant serves the best. So, you scan Zomato for high ratings and complimentary reviews from other people before making your decision.

According to McKinsey, word-of-mouth drives 20% to 50% of all purchase decisions. This means we actively seek out recommendations from friends, family, and even strangers before we hand over our money and loyalty. And when making buying decisions, 62% of us trust our peers, and 52% of us trust an organisation’s employees.

In other words, your existing customers and staff are the ultimate influencers when it comes to winning prospects and increasing profit. That’s because, when we have a good – or bad – brand experience, we’re inclined to tell others about it. A good review, prompted by excellent customer service, could instantly boost your business’s competitiveness. A bad review, however, can cause untold financial and reputational damage.

Rising importance of customer advocacy

Customer advocacy – when your customers praise you, organically, authentically, and without expecting anything in return – is increasingly important in the age of the customer.

It’s an age where brands are becoming obsessed with keeping their customers happy. They hope that happy customers will share their experiences with others through customer-created content, like reviews, testimonials, case studies, and social media posts.

Research has found that personalisation and customer service will be stronger competitive differentiators than price by 2020. Also, a 12% increase in customer advocacy represents a two-fold increase in revenue growth. This suggests that happy customers means happy shareholders.

Yet, according to Dimension Data, while 81% of companies recognise customer experience as a competitive differentiator, less than 10% have an optimised digital business strategy. That’s because getting customers to talk about their positive experiences is a lot harder than getting them to buy from you – they have to want to do it.

Back to basics

Converting customers into brand advocates is surprisingly simple – and it starts with improving your customer service.

Start by focusing on getting the fundamentals right, like:

  • Responding quickly to queries and complaints,
  • Listening to customers and resolving issues promptly,
  • Making it easy to do business with you, and
  • Providing a consistently excellent experience.

Put bluntly, with customer experience driving the business strategy, customers should never have a reason to complain about your service.

Culture change

In the race to put the customer first, businesses often forget one crucial success factor: buy-in from their own staff and executive leadership.

Being a truly customer-driven business might require a change in company culture, from one focused on profits to one focused on delighting customers. And when it comes to delighting customers, your staff are on the frontlines – an unhappy employee can do immense damage to your brand’s credibility and reputation.

This means keeping staff happy is as important as keeping customers happy. You should be asking your teams the same questions you ask your customers – what’s working, what’s not, what can we do better, are you happy, how can we keep you – and act on their feedback.

Provide customer service and marketing teams with the training, tools, and support they need to provide excellent service and reward those who go out of their way to delight customers. Encourage your teams to produce their own content and amplify it across your customer touchpoints to give your brand a human touch.

Snowball effect

Businesses that provide remarkable customer experiences are essentially building an expanded and highly effective sales team that doesn’t cost them anything and drives impressive results.

It’s a snowball effect. One customer shares a great experience and influences a prospect to convert into a customer. That customer in turn becomes another brand advocate, who influences his or her own networks, and so the cycle continues, driving down customer acquisition and retention costs and building a tribe of loyal brand supporters.

Over the next two years, personalisation, ease, and speed will be the biggest customer expectations. Meeting these expectations means shifting from being customer-focused to customer-committed and doing everything you can to keep your customers happy and talking.

Get a head start by implementing these effective customer advocacy strategies: 

  • Involve all areas of the business, from sales and marketing, to customer support and product development teams, to the C-Suite. Customer experience should form the core of a business strategy and should not be run in isolation.
  • Surprise one customer a day. Free delivery, a discount, a birthday gift: the smallest things make the biggest difference.
  • Encourage customers to share their experiences and amplify their content.
  • Build a tribe, where existing and potential customers can engage with each other and share ideas about how to use your product. This will unciver ideas about how to improve existing products or what new products you could launch.
  • Reward customers for completing surveys, sharing experiences on social media, and referring your brand to friends and family. Customers referred by other customers have a 37% higher retention rate.
  • Include customers in advisory boards for valuable input on product development and business strategy.
  • Upskill staff in interpersonal skills and customer service – and reward those who are called out for great service by your customers.

Teams that are given a certain amount of autonomy, along with great training and a clear focus, can deliver outstanding customer service. And when customers are delighted by your service, they tell others about it – and that’s more effective and authentic than any advertising campaign.