As companies strive to improve their customer experience, the desire to do more than satisfy customers is becoming increasingly important.
But at the same time it is remarkable how few companies systematically capture the profits of turning someone into a brand advocate. This is an expensive oversight. It leaves companies with the investment for improving their customers’ experiences. But they miss out on the (financial) returns this can generate.
So as a quick inspiration list, I have jotted down a few suggested ways to maximally profit from your brand advocates.
1. Don’t forget to make that special sale.
Typically, brand promoters are the most profitable clients around. They buy more, do it more often and stay loyal for longer periods of time. They are easier to cross- and upsell. They negotiate less. They’re easier to service in case things go wrong. In other words, they represent the dream customer.
But in their desire for uniform systems and experiences many brands give them exactly the same commercial treatment as any other customer walking through the door. By omitting to offer tailored deals, upsells, or renewals, these brands leave money on the table. That is, if they can tell who among their customers are promoters in the first place.
Remarkable: in a recent project, a company found that by tailoring “one” aspect of their sales approach to promoters in “one” European country, they could generate double-digit millions in extra annual revenue. Before, they didn’t get that money, simply because “they didn’t ask”.
2. Integrate their voice into your media mix
Another aspect of promoters, is that they are often willing to recommend their friends to purchase your brand. But even those companies which have correctly implemented a recommendation based Voice-of-the-Customer approach (e.g. Net Promoter System), often forget to encourage the customers who said they would recommend, to actually do so.
This is not about harassing your promoters for a list of all their friends and family members (an occasional request can be OK). It does mean setting up communities where existing customers talk to new potential buyers about their experiences. Introducing customer testimonials into your sales process. And most importantly, creating stories and content that help your advocates have more interesting (digital) conversations with their friends. Because if you don’t add value to their conversations, they won’t talk about you in the first place.
Remarkable: a medical equipment company we worked for, found that by including promoter testimonial videos in their approach to potential hospital clients, they significantly increased their chances for being considered in a tender.
3. Learn from what you got right
You don’t get people to become promoters for your brand by merely satisfying them. Every time someone scores you a 10 on the recommendation scale, someone, somewhere in your business has done something unique. Has touched a customer’s heart and mind in a way that pushed her beyond satisfaction.
But while many companies rigorously track and follow up on the customer experience mistakes they have made, they forget to track these moments that the business gets it right.
That’s why it’s important to also establish a closed loop system that tracks what your business did every time it creates a promoter and runs tests to see if doing the same to other customers creates the same outcome. This way you and your people can bring your business to an ever higher level.
Remarkable: when asking its customers about their key reasons for promotion, a company we worked with ended up co-creating their complete new sales literature together with these customers. This lead to a completely revised service proposition and even an updated brand promise.
4. Get your people to work for more than money
Somehow, somewhere, each of us wants to make a difference. This doesn’t need to be a big difference. Very often, helping someone or making them smile may add a sense of purpose to our day. It simply makes us feel good, beyond the money we may have earned.
In a business context, there is usually not much room for this type of talk. Meetings get filled with improvement efforts and if there’s good news to be had, it’s usually because the company beat a KPI or reduced costs. No one talks about the customer’s success.
This while the comments that promoters make about a business are a true treasure trove of positivity. Unleashing them throughout the business can truly energise the workforce and - for the number crunchers - reduce absenteism, increase focus and boost productivity.
Remarkable: a life insurance company we worked with regularly informed their staff about the ways they cared about their customers. This programme got so successful that the staff proactively started looking for new opportunities to care, organically leading to new products, and profits.
5. Don’t forget your own people
When talking about promoters, most companies talk about the people out there.However, by making sure that the company’s employees and suppliers also become promoters, companies can capture significant reputation and commercial gains.
Each of us - on average - directly influences our tribe of 150 people, who each in turn have 150 contacts. This means that one employee can affect the opinion of up to 22,500 people, and - in a gentle way - help them become customers of your brand. They probably will do it at only a fraction of the time. But the total number is a good reminder to make sure that your own people are actually promoters of your brand and that it’s worthwhile to give them the tools to promote it.
Remarkable: an Austrian company we worked decided to map the influence of their direct workforce in the country. Effectively, only by looking at the network of their employees, they touched 100% of the country’s population.
Customer-centricity starts by listening to the customer. But in many organisations it seems that the further you get away from the customer (research) department, the less people actually listen.
Looking at the way some customer voice data gets presented, I can’t really blame the tune-outs. Let’s face it, you have to be a certain type of person to get excited by a 30-slide research agency presentation with a multi-variate analysis of the reasons why 24.5% of the customer base is moderately satisfied. Not to mention to deal with the often overly detailed customer dashboards which - to the uninitiated - look like a colourful version of NASA mission control.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not challenging the importance of thorough analysis, dashboards or even bar-charts. What I am saying is that, while these may be interesting to customer geeks like myself (and you?), they may not be that interesting or relevant to others.
To truly get people to listen to the customer voice, I propose that a special effort should always be made to present in a way that’s engaging. This means:
1. Bringing customer data to life with stories
Knowing that 14% of customers for a given telco operator get bill-shock when seeing their roaming charges, will get one type of reaction from your colleagues. Hearing the story of a father who - faced with (incorrect) roaming charges - was unable to buy his kids new school clothes when coming back from holidays, will hit much closer to home. Especially when realising that it was the telco’s automated direct debit scheme which had left him penniless. Going even further and letting the father tell this story himself, will make the room go silent.
While analytics are important, it’s the real customer stories - good and bad - that will move your colleagues to action. People care about people, not about data (and yes, there are plenty of scientific research charts to prove this :-)
2. Presenting customer data as a call to action
Even with emotional engagement, your colleagues may not see how they can contribute. After all, organisations are silos and customer feedback usually doesn’t neatly fit into a job description or a set of department KPI’s. Not to mention that while people around you may be great at their job, they may not be trained in the interpretation of customer data.
You can resolve this by always presenting customer data as a call to action. Describe what needs to happen in terms and challenges that directly connect to people‟s jobs, departments and KPIs. If multiple departments are required to make something happen, get them all in one room. Then present your findings in a way that makes it clear that - collectively - they own 100% of the problem.
3. Looking beyond the bad news
In many organisations there is a tendency to focus customer related communication on the things that are wrong. Sure, this may drive continuous improvement. But it also turns the customer into that annoying teacher who keeps pointing out the mistakes you made, but never says you did a good job.
To keep caring, your colleagues need to feel that their efforts are appreciated. Not just by the business, but also by the customers. That’s why any customer voice presentation should always include at least a few success stories where the business got it right. Either by fixing a wrong or by doing something delightful.
Doing the above is no magic potion for customer-centricity. But it will make sure that next time someone comes to present the customer’s voice, people will listen.
In many companies, customer-centric change starts as a moral debate.
"Customer-centricity will be good for us", someone says. "Customers should be at the heart of everything we do" a PowerPoint or off-site speech echoes.
But while these statements get encouraging nods from colleagues, CEO’s and even boards, they usually don’t drive sustainable change. Sure, people pay attention to arguments that "It’s the customers who pay the salaries" and "They will judge us in the court of social media". But this attention is transient and often only results in short-term initiatives. In the long run nothing seems to change.
Making a customer’s life easy and agreeable sounds admirable, but what often rings louder are the implications of added costs, complexity, and the headache that comes from organisational change. This leaves the business virtually unchanged and the customer advocates deflated.
Anyone who wants to truly make his business customer-centric needs to realise this harsh reality. Great intentions and enthusiasm are crucial traits in any customer advocate. But the traditional customer rhetoric is inadequate for the financial reality of a boardroom.
Just think of the following scenario:
Imagine you’re the dedicated CEO of a medium-sized or larger company. Like any good leader, you understand the value of a balanced approach. You know that your customers are important. But you also know that you need to weigh their needs against those of your shareholders, your people, and the many KPI’s in your business. In short, you know that to succeed, you need to make the most of the limited resources you have available.
Now imagine further that you have € 1,000,000 to invest. Two proposals come to the table. As each would require the entire available budget, you must choose. The first proposal is for a new piece of machinery, which reduces the manual labour component in your production and would allow your factory to make demonstrable efficiency gains in excess of € 2,000,000 in the next 12 months. The second is a customer project, which will demonstrably increase the happiness of your already quite satisfied customer base.
Even if you’re the most hard-core customer advocate, you will need to acknowledge the dilemma. In your gut you know that customer satisfaction is important. But it’s also hard to pass up the opportunity of triple-digit ROI. Particularly if the customer satisfaction initiative is hard to quantify in a business context which only really listens to euros and cents.
By now, I must have presented this dilemma to at least 2,000 executives. Without exception, every single one ended up choosing the savings programme. Admitted, many did so reluctantly and in the knowledge that they couldn't be sure they were making the right choice. But in the absence of financial data which allows comparing the proposed customer initiative’s ROI with the savings programme, the latter always wins. After all, it’s measurable, it fits accepted wisdom and it sounds great in the boardroom.
So, if you want to convince your business to become more customer-centric, the conclusion is simple. Unless your company already has customer obsession baked into its DNA, any significant customer-centricity initiative needs to be backed by a business case that Shows the Money. It needs spreadsheets with customer values and ROI projections. Templates outlining costs and revenues.
Without these, you may still get sympathy, but in the end won’t get the resources, attention and executive support that are needed to implement your views. Which - harshly put - means it’s more economical for the business not to bother.
About this blog
Whenever inspiration strikes, I use this space to share my thoughts on customer experience management, storytelling or what ever else crosses my mind.