We’ve all read articles on marketing and client service comparing the cost of keeping an existing customer to the cost of acquiring a new one. Across almost every industry, new customers cost more than old ones – so customer satisfaction, as a means to retention, is “job one” for most businesses.
In recent years, the stakes have grown even higher as economic conditions and the growth of social media have given customer opinions more significance. In the “old days,” an oft-quoted rule of thumb was that a customer who has a good experience with a brand would tell two friends – while someone who had a bad experience would tell seven.
But today Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn make it easy for a customer to share a positive or negative brand story with hundreds or thousands of people as quickly as one can hit the submit button.
If customer retention is a goal, then customer advocacy – turning buyers into believers – is essential. Many consumer brands have long understood the role satisfied customers can play as advocates for their product. Smart BtoB marketers, increasingly, are turning happy customers into champions – in effect, empowering customers to serve as extensions of their marketing teams.
The Avenue to Advocacy
New techniques for measuring customer satisfaction, such as the Net Promoter Score, can help identify potential brand advocates or promoters. Many companies are using this approach to proactively encourage customers to become advocates. BtoB magazine recently cited one company that emails ‘promoter’ customers to ask them to write reviews of the company. Apparently, 36 percent of them say “yes,” with 22 percent of that group agreeing to share their reviews.
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media outlets such as blogs, can also be used to identify happy customers who may be willing to promote your company.
If your company hasn’t rolled out a formal survey program such as Net Promoter Score, there are other ways to identify potential champions. For example, customer service teams can help connect marketing to customer advocates. If there is not an established connection between customer service and marketing, marketing should take the lead and build an interdepartmental approach for customer feedback.
The first step is to make sure there are easy channels in place by which customers can provide feedback – positive or otherwise. If it makes sense organizationally, marketing should be copied on customer feedback emails and comments. Alternatively, customer service can forward “kudos” emails so marketing can create a qualified customer list. Bear in mind it’s important to keep this “current” by making sure customers are still happy with your company before you approach them.
It’s important also to pay attention to customers who provide less-than-positive feedback or who feel they experienced inadequate support or service. At the very least, you’ll want to make sure issues are resolved to avoid unhappy customers turning into detractors. Even better, dissatisfied customers can become the most ardent champions if they see an honest and timely attempt to fix whatever was broken.
Happy Customer as Marketing Partner
In the BtoB arena, there are several ways to leverage happy customers as marketing champions. You’ll have to consider the customer’s availability and preferences to determine which tactics make sense.
One good approach is a webinar. Webinars remain an important vehicle for reaching prospects and sharing best practices and information. A happy customer can often provide more insightful, and more credible information to which the webinar audience can relate. Involving a customer also makes the webinar seem less “salesy” and more informational.
Happy customer stories also provide excellent and newsworthy fodder for press releases and case studies. Many publications will only cover your story or product if you can show demonstrable customer results. A customer who can discuss how they benefitted from your product is a more interesting and credible source than your own executives. Customers often relish the opportunity to speak at industry conferences. These events provide a venue for the customer to build their own thought leadership position and to network with their peers.
All of these tactics can incorporate social media elements by providing content for tweets or topics to “discuss” in a LinkedIn forum.
While securing customer advocates is crucial, the ultimate goal of customer retention is to form true partnerships. With that in mind, consider creating a customer advisory board – either for your entire company level, or for a specific product line or market. Advisory board members can provide “real deal” insight that can enhance the customer experience, improve customer retention – and expand your marketing team with an enthusiastic bunch of advocates.