Customer advocacy: Why do you need it? How do you get it?

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When we think of customer advocacy, we often think of what we can do to be an advocate for our customers: how do we find ways to assist them? But what's on my mind here is: What can we do to make our customers become advocates for us?

In today's high-tech, high-touch environment, we have lost control of the dialog that takes place concerning our products, our service, our prices, our brand, and our image. Things like Twitter, “rate this” blogs and “hate you” Web sites all have given consumers the power to pretty much say whatever they want about you — sometimes bordering on slander. The question becomes, how do we turn this open conversation around so our customers become our advocates?

Remember the old pyramid of loyalty? Suspects become prospects who become customers who become clients who become advocates. A customer buys their first product from us. We then market to them or they shop on their own, buy a second product or service, and become clients. They are happy with their products, appreciate our service and value and the next thing you know they're telling their friends. They have turned into advocates.

This couldn't be more important than in today's cyber world, where one or two dissatisfied customers can shout from the rooftops of cyberspace that we have somehow done them the greatest wrong. With just a few clicks of a mouse, we have become the Attila the Hun of the marketing world. While we need to monitor this and enter the dialog ourselves (more about that later), it is a very good thing if our advocates jump into the fray and become our defenders.

If you don't think this is important or pervasive, take a few minutes to Google “I hate (fill in name of your company or industry).” You could end up spending considerable time reading about your own company on someone's blog, watching a nasty parody about your company on YouTube, or learning how to follow the hate groups on Twitter. It can be both humbling and frustrating to see how your company or industry is being pilloried by someone who's had a bad experience; real or perceived.

Here's where your advocates come in. Imagine as you read those comments that you see someone take up your cause and, due to their good experience, start to turn the conversation in a positive vein. It could happen. Here's where it pays for you to be monitoring what people are saying about you: You can actually enter the dialog — with full disclosure of who you are — and provide the cyber-whiner with a way to satisfy their problem. But be sincere. Your objective should be to actually fix what the complaint is about. It's best to remember that the person went online with good reason, from their perspective. So you can't just be defensive, you need to be a problem solver.

Once you have successfully solved the problem, the individual may even become your advocate. Remember, these are people who like to share their feelings and experiences. Nothing works so well as to help someone understand the issues and help them get their situation resolved in a satisfactory manner. So enter the dialog (with appropriate language for the medium), and help create advocates for your company.

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