6 Ways to Use Customer Advocacy to Skyrocket Your eCommerce Business
by Ron Dod
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It’s been a long-held belief that upset customers are far more likely to share their negative experiences than customers who have had a satisfying and delightful experience with a brand.
The benefit to this belief is that, over time, brands have made a concerted effort to step up their customer service game and try to keep customers happy at all costs. Because of those efforts, we’re seeing a trend toward more customers sharing positive experiences.
And that can significantly outperform negative word-of-mouth.
One study from Bain & Co. found that brands with a customer-centric approach to business experience revenue growth up to 8% higher than market average. They attribute this growth to the long-term impact of a happy customer.
While a customer with a negative experience might share that with a handful of people once or twice, the customers you delight will continue to share their brand experience time and again for a dramatically longer period. Based on Bain & Co.’s study, that kind of brand promotion generates up to 14x more value over customers sharing negative experiences.
What Is Customer Advocacy?
Customer advocacy is an evolved approach to customer service in which companies shift their focus toward customer-centric operations. This focus takes place at an operational level, meaning every department is on board and tasked with improving the customer experience—to the point where it becomes part of the company culture.
As a result of customer advocacy, brands see improvements in customer loyalty leading to:
Increased average order value
Increases in customer lifetime value
More frequent orders from returning customers
More social mentions and social engagement
Uptick in customer referrals
Higher conversion rates
All of that equates to a boost in an eCommerce retailer’s bottom line.According to JitBit, a 12% increase in advocacy can contribute as much as a 2x increase in revenue growth—not to mention that loyal customers are worth at a minimum10x more than the value of their first purchase.
Given how information can spread instantly, virally, through online channels like social media, it makes sense to focus on delighting customers. Ignore advocacy and rely on traditional reactive practices, and you wind up with far more critics.
Don’t rely on your customer service team to reactively satisfy the needs of customers. Customer advocacy means being proactive and making all your departments responsible for maximizing customer satisfaction in order to create brand advocates.
In short, customer advocacy means a relentless focus on fulfilling the needs of your customers before they make it known that they have a need. It also means never cutting corners, misleading customers, or using deceptive practices to make a sale.
How to Create True Customer Advocates
You know who sells your products? Your customers. At least, that’s the ideal outcome with good customer advocacy. When you get them onboard, gain their trust, and encourage engagement, customers will endlessly sell for you, which significantly reduces the cost of customer acquisition.
According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer,62% of consumers trust the recommendations coming from peers while only about 50% of customers trust brand employees—and virtually no one trusts brand executives like the CEO. If the recommendations come from someone they know and trust, that number jumps up to92% of consumers.
Want to build a customer advocacy program and get your customers talking? Here are some changes you should start making today.
Segment your customers.
Unfortunately, many brands (around 80%) don’t have any kind of a customer advocate or brand advocate strategy. Worse yet, more than half of these companies don’t know how to identify their brand advocates.
As an eCommerce retailer, you have a wealth of customer information at your fingertips. Not only do you have sales records showing things like purchase volume and frequency, you also can tap into your social metrics and brand mentions to find the customers already talking about your brand.
Use the data you have to identify your happiest, most loyal customers—those most likely to jump onboard a brand advocacy program. Take the time to reach out and discover what they love about your brand (and products) so you can identify what you’re doing right.
Don’t ignore the poor-performing customers; segmentation gives you the opportunity to reach out to those customers (including those you’ve lost or are in danger of losing) to find out what you can do better to improve their experience.
The best way to create brand advocates is to give them something to talk about.
They’re not likely to talk about low prices, or even the high quality of a product—other people aren’t going to understand or be able to perceive quality when they don’t own the product or have anything to compare it to.
Instead, optimizing your approach and changing the way you do business can surprise and delight them in other ways. A look back at some historical business and industry changes can give us a solid example.
Take Dell’s approach to production in the 90’s: With theirjust-in-time manufacturing approach, they were able to shorten the supply chain for faster delivery. This shift in production reduced inventory overhead, which allowed Dell to reduce the retail price without reducing quality.
Lean ‘just-in-time’ manufacturing was a game changer for Dell and many other companies.
A modern example is how Zappos succeeds in customer service—they surprise the customer by being “fast”—specifically, fast response times to customer concerns and inquiries.
In a world of long wait times to get results (or even get an agent on the phone or an email response), Zappos is crushing the customer service game.
Their response times are off-the-charts fast. Froma Forbes interview with Tony Hsieh (Zappos CEO), you can see just how fast, with these average response times across a variety of customer service channels:
7,394 calls answered within 25 seconds
1656 chats answered within 31 seconds
988 emails answered within ~4 hours (company goal is 1 hour)
That doesn’t even include the dedicated social teams at the ready to delight customers.
Those numbers are from a single day of operation. Customers are happy to spend with Zappos—and keep spending—because they know they can reach someone when needed. It’s a brand built on customer satisfaction.
Bonus: Those customers are also happy to share their awesome experiences with others. That’s the secret to Zappos gaining more than 75% of its revenue from customer referrals.
When you know your customers’ problems, you know how to help them. You also know how to be proactive and create a customer referral program that surprises and delights them.
Use technology to scale advocacy.
As your customer advocacy programs take off, you’ll find a lot more customers becoming outspoken advocates for your brand.
Keeping track of the performance of those brand advocates and communicating with and rewarding them can become time-intensive. Among the companies who do have advocacy programs, many struggle to sustain and scale them.
Create a more scalable solution that not only makes it easy for you to track and find advocates but also makes it easy for your advocates to talk about their experiences.
BrandChamp is one platform for doing both. Not only can you track your top-performing advocates, you can communicate on the fly and set and optimize rewards, and customers can use the platform to quickly complete tasks like social shares across a number of networks.
Improve advocacy with educational content.
Customers talk about brands and products for a variety of reasons. The key to building a strong customer advocacy program and growing brand advocacy is knowing what motivates your advocates.
Some of the reasons advocates share content:
Offering advice to others
Praising a favored brand or product
Sharing branded content
Tuning in to customer conversions online and the content they share can give insight into what motivates the dialogue.
In most cases, a brand can reinforce this behavior by educating customers and sharing valuable content. They’re already talking about products they use on a regular basis and helping other consumers solve problems. When you give them additional resources and useful information, they can be more helpful.
For many eCommerce brands, it costs little more than time to proactively populate a knowledge base built into your help desk software.
Highly satisfied customers are more than willing to share information about your products and your eCommerce brand without any direct incentive to do so.
Still, part of developing a customer advocacy program is including rewards that encourage more sharing and discussion. Likewise, a better reward system for advocacy will attract new brand ambassadors and spur the creation of new word-of-mouth outreach.
While you need to manage your profit margins responsibly in eCommerce, you can improve your rewards in a way that attract more (and more active) micro influencers. Here are some ways to look beyond giving the standard discount:
Influencers (even micro influencers) love attention, so give recognition and exposure for their efforts.
Provide insights and exclusive access to promotions, products, and discounts.
Offer exclusive rewards that no one else can get.
Provide exclusive early access to job and internship opportunities.
Invite them behind the rope at brand events and tradeshows you’re attending.
Offer custom rewards, like branded merchandise with their name on it.
Give rewards to charities the influencer supports.
Most importantly, make your rewards attainable without a tremendous amount of work. Make it easy for your advocates to earn their rewards in order to keep up the engagement and keep them active.
Be authentic and true.
Above all else, the best way to build a customer-centric eCommerce business that promotes advocacy is to deliver what you promise and promptly fix what’s not working.
Companies who marketing themselves as customer advocates need to adhere to this. Customer trust and loyalty rely on doing what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Customer enthusiasm stems from it—they won’t spend the time talking up your customer experience if there’s any doubt in their mind that you can consistently deliver that experience.
The core of customer advocacy is the relationship. It’s what makes them fall in love with you. Consistently delivering a customized experience will cultivate the growth of that relationship and brand advocacy overall.
The eCommerce brands finding the most success and year-over-year growth, like Zappos, recognize the benefit and value of a truly customer-centric approach. It’s not just in customer service or even clever marketing. It’s a complete operational shift that puts the focus consistently on the consumer.
The end result is a steady flow of customers who become advocates, driving word-of-mouth marketing that is not only cheaper but deployed faster, at all hours, with global reach, at virtually no cost to you.
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Ronald Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end eCommerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.
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