Article

Customer advocates: The secret ingredient to sales and support success

Customer advocates can be true partners for your sales and support teams. Here’s how to build a brand advocacy program and foster a loyal customer base.

By Emily Miels, Contributing Writer

Published June 15, 2021
Last updated June 21, 2021

Imagine you’re in the market to buy a new dishwasher. You receive an email from Lowe’s claiming that a new LG model is a customer favorite. But then a few friends tell you their Frigidaire dishwashers are the best they’ve ever owned. Who are you more likely to believe? Probably your friends.

SEMrush’s research shows that 88 percent of people have the highest level of trust in a brand when a friend or family member recommends it. As customers turn more toward their inner circles and fellow consumers for recommendations, it only makes sense that brands rely heavily on user-generated content, influencers, and customer advocacy.

To build trust with consumers, a customer advocacy program is key. A strong community of loyal advocates can serve as an extension of your sales and support teams and offer unique insights and experiences that benefit other customers and your company.

In this guide to customer advocacy, we'll explore:

What is customer advocacy?

Customer advocacy is the act of building and nurturing relationships with loyal customers, who then act as spokespeople and champions for your brand, products, or services. This process starts by identifying who those loyal customers are. To pinpoint your customer advocates, look for happy customers who frequently use your products or services in innovative ways and see a big impact on their business as a result.

“Customer advocates are the people changing the business world,” says Valeria Gomez, senior customer marketing manager at Zendesk.

Oftentimes, these customers will come to you simply because they’re excited about your product and want to partner with you. A formalized advocacy program or submission process makes it easy for both your customers and your team to get in touch and make the most of the relationship. At Zendesk, we offer our Luminaries program to connect with the boldest and brightest in our community.

Other times, you have to reach out to potential advocates. You may notice these standout customers by tracking their behaviors using a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. For example, maybe they’re repeat customers or they left a great review. In those cases, it might be worth reaching out to build a stronger relationship with them.

“Customer advocates are the people changing the business world.”Valeria Gomez, senior customer marketing manager at Zendesk

Customer advocates can help you promote your product or service through a variety of outlets: blog posts, case studies, backlinks, and public speaking, to name just a few. This strategy works because people tend to trust other people—including their friends, family, colleagues, and fellow consumers—more than they trust brands.

According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, only 34 percent of consumers say they actually trust most of the brands they use. And Podium’s 2020 State of Reviews survey found that 85 percent of consumers have read a review in the last month.

Your advocates aren’t just spokespeople—they’re also your go-to customers for valuable product feedback and insights and for testing out new features and services.

Why customer advocates are important for sales and support teams

why customer advocates are important

Given the widespread distrust of brands and advertising, customer advocates are key when it comes to building awareness and trust. Their efforts complement the work of your sales and support teams and make it easier for your brand to build relationships with new customers.

  • Sales: Advocates boost brand awareness

    Customer advocates support your sales team by spreading the word about your product or service and sharing their real-world examples and experiences. They can empathize with fellow customers and provide honest input in a way your sales team often can’t.

    “It is a huge differentiator when you can relate to other people’s experiences during the buyer's journey,” Gomez says.

    There are a variety of ways for advocates to build brand awareness, both on a small and large scale. Advocates might have one-on-one conversations with their colleagues, company leadership, and other stakeholders to encourage them to embrace your product or service. Or, they might promote your product or service to hundreds—or even thousands—of social media followers or conference attendees.

    There are a variety of ways for advocates to build brand awareness, both on a small and large scale. Advocates might have one-on-one conversations with their colleagues, company leadership, and other stakeholders to encourage them to embrace your product or service. Or, they might promote your product or service to hundreds—or even thousands—of social media followers or conference attendees.

    “It is a huge differentiator when you can relate to other people’s experiences during the buyer's journey.”Valeria Gomez

    The Zendesk Luminaries program is all about connecting top customer advocates with leadership opportunities to share their stories. Whether it’s a large speaking engagement or a small networking event, “we give them that venue so that they can shine,” Gomez says.

    Sometimes, simply using the product or service is enough for your customer advocates to promote it and get others with similar interests curious about it. (For example, if a company is well-known for its really great customer service, other companies are naturally going to wonder how they do it and what tools they’re using.) Brand advocates who have a strong connection to your company may also continue championing your products or services as they change jobs and settle into different workplaces throughout their careers.

    Thanks to your customer advocates, potential buyers can see your product or service in action and hear honest opinions about it before they ever even connect with your sales team. They’re already excited and informed, which makes the whole sales process smoother.

    It’s not just potential customers who benefit from advocates’ feedback—your sales agents do, too. They can use that input to suggest improvements to your products or services and hone their sales pitches and messaging.

  • Support: Advocates offer insights and assistance to other customers

    Advocates can help your support team by sharing their own product expertise with other users. They’re a great asset when it comes to customer self-service, particularly your brand’s community forums, which are continuing to grow in popularity as a support solution. Advocates can jump in to address customer questions or concerns or share feedback in forums right alongside your support agents, which helps to reduce their workload.

    “Community forums allow customer advocates to collaborate with other peers by sharing best practices, lessons learned, and tips and tricks while also allowing them to connect with other members,” Gomez explains.

    Many online communities will use badges to identify customer advocates. That makes it easy for community members to tag advocates when they have specific questions.

    Advocates can also be core members of your “launch” team. As the first to try out new features, they can offer valuable feedback on the updates. That input can help you work out any bugs and address issues before those features are released to a wider customer base.

How to build a customer advocacy program

Building a strong customer advocacy program is all about relationships. Nurture relationships with your most loyal customers through intriguing opportunities and incentives, and take action on the feedback you receive from your advocates to improve your products and services.

  1. Use data to identify and connect with potential advocates

    You can’t have an advocacy program without customer cheerleaders. Find potential customer advocates by tracking and analyzing data in a CRM, which houses customer profiles and keeps communication and data centralized in one place.

    Look at data like frequent and repeat purchases, high engagement rates, ongoing communication, and high customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores and Net Promoter Scores (NPS) to identify loyal customers. Set up integrations and automatic alerts to help you flag potential advocates that meet your criteria.

    Once you’ve identified potential advocates, use AI and messaging tools to consistently engage with them and share information about your program’s incentives. With all the communication centralized in your CRM, it’s easy to nurture relationships.

  2. Provide customers with opportunities that support their goals

    A key piece of advocacy programs is making sure the customers also get something out of the relationship. Make advocacy worth the customer’s time by supporting their personal and professional goals through exclusive opportunities and rewards.

    Maybe your advocates are the first to beta test new products, features, or updates. Many advocate programs also center on leadership, such as speaking and mentorship opportunities. These might include speaking at a conference, guest-starring on a podcast, or even leading a training session.

    You might also invite advocates to join an online community where they can connect, brainstorm, and network with other enthusiasts who use your product or service. Sephora has a large online community of advocates who share insider beauty tips and connect in groups focused on specific skincare needs.

    Cisco has a Champion Program that provides advocates with a variety of career-related opportunities, including access to pre-launch technologies and the chance to co-host episodes of Cisco Champion Radio. Our Luminaries program here at Zendesk also focuses on offering unique networking and mentoring opportunities for users around the world.

    Some customer advocacy programs even include monetary incentives. Google’s referral program rewards customers with bonuses when they get others to sign up for and implement Google Workspace. Similarly, Dropbox allows supporters to earn more storage space when they encourage others to use its product.

  3. Embrace feedback for better sales and support

    Feedback from your customer advocates doesn’t do you much good if you never act on it. Use their input to improve your products or services and overall brand experience.

    The first step is to double down on what’s working well. You can use your CRM to see exactly where your supporters engaged along the customer journey. You can also connect with advocates via surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one discussions to get feedback about what attracted them to your product or service and what they love about it. In the same way, you can revamp what’s not working. Based on the data, you can track where your advocates become less engaged in the process, features they don’t like, and consistent pain points.

    Armed with that information, you can be more proactive from both a sales and customer service perspective. Your sales team can replicate what worked in the sales process and ditch what didn’t. Plus, they can use that feedback to come up with talking points that will resonate with new customers because they’re based on real-life struggles, wins, and examples.

    Meanwhile, your support team can use feedback from your advocates to improve training and address customer issues early on. That will help reduce the number of support tickets and speed up resolution time moving forward.

    Customer advocates are also great for fresh perspectives on your brand—remember, they’re the people “changing the business world.” Take their ideas and run with them across your business, from developing new features to improving internal processes for a better customer experience.

Keep support top-notch to attract more advocates

Customer advocacy programs are helpful when it comes to building trust. But keep in mind, they’re not a replacement for great customer service.

Fifty-seven percent of customers say that high-quality customer service makes them feel more loyal to a brand, so focusing on support will help you retain advocates and attract new ones as well. Ensure you have the tools, processes, and training in place to consistently offer standout support to customers.

Implement a world-class customer service solution

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