Make customer advocacy the pinnacle of your business (courtesy of MIT Sloan Management Review)
Anybody who has been in the field of marketing would be familiar with the term customer champion. However, few have truly understood what it means in the context of today’s organisation.
Being an advocate for customers doesn’t merely mean spending all your days (and nights) at your client’s offices, or conducting an endless round of surveys, focus groups and tea sessions. It isn’t just about understanding what customers want and desperately trying to fit one’s products and services into that itty bitty space called “consumer desire”.
Rather, being an “outside-in” advocate means lobbying for one’s customers within the organisation. Think of them as being like consumer/client rights representatives who appear to work for the interests of the buyers rather than the sellers.
The public perception of customer champions should be like an emissary of the company who acts like a bridge linking what customers want with what companies want. At times they would even play the role of facilitators, moderators, and even mediators (in cases of customer-company disputes). Customer champions should be where the interfaces between an organisation and its stakeholders are.
To be a great customer champion, one should have the following qualities:
1) Possess a thick skin. Customer advocacy requires you to speak out against company policies which increase profits at the expense of the customer. You HAVE to be the bad guy.
2) Be passionate about service. The greatest customer champions are normally service excellence champions – the rare breed of humanity who likes jumping through flaming hoops to satisfy their customers.
3) Have a clear viewpoint (or two). Customer champions need to be seen, heard and understood. They need to state their case for the customers in coherent and unequivocal terms without being offensive, abrasive or belligerent.
4) Be excellent communicators. Now this doesn’t mean that customer champions only exist in the marketing or PR departments. Anybody who is willing to raise his or her voice – in person, text, audio, or video – can be an effective advocate.
5) Are good problem solvers. Customer champions are not incessant complainers. They help to think of practical ways to solve issues in discussion with their colleagues in the rest of the company.
In an age of abundant choices and numerous companies falling head over heels for their customers, paying lip service is the surest path to corporate ruin. Companies need to go beyond customer service and relationship marketing to customer advocacy.
Anybody – from the shopfloor worker to the executive suite director – can be a lobbyist for the customer so long as they have a voice and use it.