Putting Customers on the Podium: 3 Tips for Successful Customer Advocacy Programs
One of the essential CX truths is that customers like to hear from other customers. At the B2B technology company for which I work, it means more than throwing a cocktail party and having a few other networking events at the annual user conference. In fact, at our most recent user conference in June, customers filled most of the program. They shared the main stage with our executives, hosted numerous breakout sessions and kept a brisk schedule of interviews with analysts and the press.
Of course, there are risks to putting your customers “out there.” But there are also benefits when you enlist them to be your company’s best spokespeople. The key is giving them the tools they need for success. Here are a few tips we’ve learned after several years of intense focus on customer advocacy as an integral part of our CX program.
1. Bring customer advocates into the CX fold
It was my boss Ryan Hollenbeck’s idea to have two staff members who are dedicated to customer advocacy join our small CX team. Ryan is Senior Vice President, Global Marketing, and one of the executive sponsors of Verint’s CX program. When he pitched the idea to me several years ago, it was so “outside the box” that it took me a while to see how these two professionals would fit into the work I do, but in retrospect it is some of the best advice I have ever received.
Before we had an advocacy program, we had sales, marketing, and our external communications team all looking separately for customers to tell their stories. There was little collaboration, and often we’d end up annoying customers if we “double-dipped,” that is, if different internal organizations ended up going to the same customer to serve as a reference.
We no longer have that problem. What’s more, by making the customer advocacy program part of our CX responsibility, we do a better job of keeping communication consistent and extending our customers’ individual voices to all those who need to hear them.
2. Help them prepare and make them comfortable
Customer advocacy is good storytelling. Some of our customers are doing their jobs day to day and don’t realize what a powerful story they have. We help them develop their stories. Sometimes it’s simply acting as a sounding board to discover their best nuggets about how our solutions deliver value. Sometimes it involves some gentle nudging to go beyond the ROI story and tell how they met their mission and vision as a company by partnering with us.
Sure, ROI stories are important, but sometimes, as in the case of one of our clients, a major Canadian health insurer whose employees are so passionate about helping people get the healthcare they need, the human side of the story is what’s most compelling to the audience.
If customers are planning an interview with the press, we’ll send them sample questions and articles the editor has written. If it’s a presentation at a main event, breakout session or webinar, we’ll hold several rehearsals and give them guidance. Some of them have their own slides prepared and that’s fine. We don’t take the time to put our company’s brand on them. Others appreciate the assistance and we help them design their own slides. We support them however we can.
The key is to make them comfortable. Some of our customer advocates are executives polished in making presentations, but more often they are direct users of our products who might not have as much public speaking experience.
At conferences, we always set up a green room where they can rehearse and have a few quiet moments backstage before they go on. If they want to wear a polo shirt and khakis to make their talk, fine. Business suit? Great. We try not to dictate because we want them to wear what they feel most confident in. We always err on the side of letting them be themselves. If it’s an on-camera event, most of them are savvy about not wearing patterns that are going to moiré on screen. You know what? They’ve never let me down.
3. Let them use the medium that suits them best
Some of our customer advocates only want to retweet our blogs. However, we do manage even those small efforts by sending them the recommended tweet that our communications team supplies us. Others like doing media interviews. Others are looking to increase their own visibility with speaking engagements. We understand that and we encourage it; they are often our most dynamic speakers.
It was exhilarating to see one of our customers bloom before our eyes in a year’s time. He started out submitting an award nomination and then signed up to be a speaker. A little later he offered to do a case study and eventually was doing media interviews. We were more than happy to support his story because at every event he reinforced our messaging, too.
We offer bonus points for advocacy activities that customers can accumulate and redeem for gift cards or free passes to our annual conference. We also post a leaderboard online where customers can track their progress and even compete to see who can gather the most points. Still, it’s good to know that sometimes participation in our advocacy program is its own reward.
The marriage of customer advocacy and CX is a growing trend
Recently, I’ve heard more of my CX colleagues talk about adding an advocacy program to their CX efforts, so my company is not unique. I think it’s a sign of the evolution of CX. We’re no longer just about finding and fixing potholes in the customer journey. We’re taking a step forward, creating new ways to add excitement to that journey. We want to capture our customers’ delight when they experience it.
That’s why formalizing our advocacy program within CX makes good sense. We can manage it to be sure we don’t overtax our customers. We can keep a knowledge bank of their legal requirements, such as any that limit how many people can speak on behalf of their brand. We can build relationships with their communications team to be sure we’re playing by their rules.
These are minor points. When you can go public with customer quotes like this one—“Verint actually is partnering with me, staying with me on this journey. I firmly believe they mean customers for life, and that is so rare in the tech industry today and truly in any industry”—the benefits far outweigh any hurdles that must be cleared to get them.