The Power of Customer Advocacy

What is customer advocacy? What role does it play? I've been getting those questions a lot lately, and though the term is not new, it seems to be enjoying renewed attention.

If you do an online search for customer advocacy, you'll find many definitions. They all tend to fall into one of two general categories. One is an internal perspective, focusing the organization on what's best for customers, creating great customer experiences, advocating for them, and helping them resolve problems. This is the prevailing view in customer service and operations circles.

The other is an external perspective, defining customer advocacy in terms of customers who advocate for us, spreading the word about our products, services, and brands. This perspective is common among those in marketing and sales.

So, which of the two is correct? Both! Both are essential and closely related. They are two sides of the same coin. You can't have customers who promote your products and brands without identifying and meeting their needs, helping them solve their problems, and focusing on what is best for them.

We can define customer advocacy this way: Customer advocacy consists of the actions we take to focus the organization on doing what is best for customers, which, in turn, rewards us with loyal customers who advocate for our products and brands.

Examples of Customer Advocacy

Customer advocacy can play out in small and big ways, as in the following examples:

  • It can help guide individual interactions, like when the reservation agent mentions to the customer that, if they'd prefer, the earlier flight would save them $200.
  • It can be the catalyst to more involved decisions, such as keeping a customer service department open on weekends to match customer preferences.
  • And it can be the driver of dramatic change. When the late Steve Jobs returned to Apple and turned the company around, he eliminated some products in which the company had invested heavily and focused on others that were aligned with customer needs. He said, "You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around." That is customer advocacy at work.

I also sometimes get the question How do customer experience, voice of the customer, and customer advocacy differ from each other? Don't they really mean the same thing? The answer is no, but they do work together.

Customer experience refers to all of the experiences customers have with your organization, including products, services, processes, policies, the expectations you set, and other factors. It's the big picture and is often called the end-to-end customer journey.

Voice of the customer (VOC) is the process of capturing input on what customers experience and seeking to understand their needs, wants, and perceptions. It provides vital information you need to understand customers.

Customer advocacy is about taking action. It's informed by voice of the customer and refers to the tangible actions you take to solve problems for customers and improve their experiences. Ideally, customer advocacy extends across the entire customer journey, from the first touchpoint and setting expectations, to problem solving after the sale.

Customers are advocates when they positively promote your products and brands. Brand advocates, as they are often called, bring much value to the organization.

Research shows that customer recommendations are far more believable than paid advertisements. According to research by McKinsey, word of mouth drives anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent of all purchase decisions. A Bain study found that advocate customers spend two times more than regular customers, and, because they stay longer, they have a customer lifetime value five times greater than regular customers.

And yet, research also shows that fewer than half of all companies know who their brand advocates are, and far fewer than that recognize and engage with them. This is missing a huge opportunity.

The benefits of brand advocates are powerful. Once those customers are satisfied, trust you, and are loyal, then they get others excited.

I would encourage you not to view customer advocacy as a project of its own. Instead, see how it can become an inherent and essential part of product development, marketing, customer service, and other activities that you already have in motion. Customer advocacy is the ingredient in the recipe that enables you to focus on what's best for customers and earn their loyalty, and then to enjoy the enormous benefits that come from them advocating for your brands.

Brad Cleveland is a customer service consultant specializing in contact centers, support desks, and other customer-facing environments. One of the two original partners in the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), Brad acquired ICMI outright in 1996 and served as its president and CEO from 1996-2008. Today, Brad consults and speaks to a broad range of organizations and associations and serves as a senior advisor to ICMI. He is author/editor of eight books, including Call Center Management on Fast Forward. His current research is focused on the future of customer access management and the impact of social media; his blog can be followed at

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