On Valentine’s Day this year, Nicole Dingley, Director of Customer Success at Wiley—a publishing and education technology company—gave each of her customers a gift card and asked them what it is that they love most about the company and product.

Within 24 hours, she collected over 600 replies from advocates, generating a set of testimonials that quickly made its way to the CEO, even though he was out of office at the time.

“Nicole,” he said, “this was the best vacation reading I’ve ever gotten.”

Nicole, however, has leveraged her award-winning advocate marketing program WileyPLUS Studio to do a lot more than just get testimonials. She has harnessed the power of her advocates to benefit many functions at Wiley, from marketing to customer success to sales to product.

She has used her customer advocacy program to build an engaged community, reduce churn, and effectively “duplicate” her Customer Success efforts. We interviewed Nicole about her robust strategy in our latest Advochat (Influitive’s monthly series of AMA-style webinars) to hear more about how she uses WileyPLUS Studio. Watch the video recording of the full Advochat session below:

How to build an advocacy program to scale Customer Success

Customer Success teams weren’t necessary when Wiley just printed books. But with the shift to digital, Wiley needed to ensure that customers had the support they need to fully leverage their educational tools.

With a growing number of customers and an increased need for support, Nicole’s team needed a way to scale their interactions with users to be able to provide quality support and build meaningful relationships.

Here’s how they did it, and how you can too.

1. Use a one-to-many approach to allow your CS efforts to go farther

“The beginning of the school year is our really busy time,” says Nicole. “So we use our AdvocateHub to create a special experience in order to guide people through that busy season in a fun, rewarding way.”

Since CSMs have a finite number of hours in a day, Nicole’s team relies on a one-to-many approach to make sure teachers are getting the high quality support they need.

As teachers begin preparing for the new year, Nicole creates a series of activities, or Challenges, in the WileyPLUS Studio to guide them through their back-to-school set up, which includes tasks like preparing assignments, activities, and setting up class sections—allowing teachers to collect points that they can later redeem for prizes.

“We guide them to a training program that we run out of Skilljar. There used to be a lot of manual one-on-one effort for our CSMs, including administrative activities and webinars,” remarks Nicole. “Our advocate program has enabled us to drive people to use this training, and we’ve been able to eliminate all the need for one-on-one training.”

Now customers can complete their training on their own, when it suits them best. “People can elect to do their training in the middle of the night if they want.”

2. Understand what motivates your customers and tap into those desires

In Nicole’s experience, “Community is one of the biggest motivators—people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Educators in particular are used to being a part of cohorts and communities, and they enjoy sharing ideas. So that’s a huge motivator.” (To read more about teacher communities, check out this blog about SMART Technologies.)

Understanding the types of rewards and recognition that will motivate your advocates to participate is key. Nicole has noticed that the feeling of exclusivity plays a factor. “People really like to feel like they’re a part of something different and unique.”

For some advocates, WileyPLUS Studio is a place to satiate their competitive streak. Nicole assigns point values to Challenges, which advocates can collect to level-up within the program, and redeem for prizes.

“They’re motivated to climb that leaderboard, which is kind of funny,” she mused. “You wouldn’t think people with a Ph.D in Physics would really care that much about being on a leaderboard, but they do.”

3. Use events to incentivize customers to join your advocate community

One of the ways Nicole likes to entice customers to join WileyPLUS Studio is with the promise of exclusive access to internal company events. “Customers are curious about what you’re doing internally as a company,” she said. Customers especially love to listen in on their town hall, called the WileyPLUS Symposium. “We’ll say, ‘registration only occurs for studio memberships.’ It’s an exclusive benefit.”

Another tactic leveraged by the Customer Success team is to identify and reward customers at conferences. “We want to reward our current customers, so we spend money on giving some really cool swag to our current customers that are going to be at an event.”

For example, Nicole told customers attending an event that she had special fleece sweaters for them, but required them to register for the community to provide their size and to connect them with other opportunities. “That drove a significant increase, probably about a 10% increase in our AdvocateHub enrolment last year,” she said. “So that’s a big win.”

And of course, the discussions that take place between members and the information that is available only within WileyPLUS Studio are an irresistible draw for some customers. “For example, we work with nutrition professors. If they want to join the discussion and be able to give product feedback around nutrition, we encourage their membership. We tell them ‘these discussions are exclusive to AdvocateHub members.’ It works really well for us. We have about 2,300 members in our community currently.”

4. Drive engagement with personalized experiences

Nicole begins her advice on engagement with a disclaimer: “The thing about an advocacy program is you’re really never going to get everyone to dig it, and that’s okay. It’s unrealistic to expect that you will.”

However, she mentioned some ideas to drive engagement by hosting necessary activities, like running an orientation for a new product, through the program. “But in the same breath,” she cautions, “we have to be respectful of people’s differences and how they want to engage with us.”

But catering to people’s differences within a program can be an effective way to drive engagement. Asking your customers what they’re interested in learning about, or the benefits that they’d like to get out of the community, and then creating challenges and campaigns that support them, can be powerful.

“I always say that an AdvocateHub is kind of like Play-Doh,” says Nicole. “You can make pancakes, but you can also make a dinosaur. There’s all kinds of different ways you can delight your advocates. It’s not just one thing, it’s a million different things that it could be.”

5. Create moments of delight to nurture advocates

Nicole stresses the importance of creating moments of delight, using opportunities to send customers something special and unexpected, in order to build the foundation for strong relationships.

“For instance, we like to recognize our customers’ anniversaries with us,” she says. “We actually collect this information in our AdvocateHub, and when their anniversary rolls around, we send them an anniversary gift. Also, any time there is a holiday or special moment like that, that’s a great chance for us to delight.”

Nicole has even been able to harness her advocates’ delight on these special occasions, simultaneously leveraging them for acts of advocacy, like providing testimonials (like she did on Valentine’s Day this year).

“It made them feel special, it made us feel special.” Nicole says. “And the love keeps kinda coming back to us.”

6. Connect advocates with each other to divert your CS team’s burden

Nicole has been able to leverage her community of advocates to help onboard new users. One way she does this is by hosting weekly discussions in the WileyPLUS Studio AdvocateHub around different product features, which advocates look forward to as “Tips Tuesday.”

A “Tips Tuesday” Challenge

“People will pile on and and say whether they use it and how they use it. But even better, advocates will actually start their own discussions in our AdvocateHub,” she says. “They’ll share best practices, and beyond that too. Sometimes it’s about our software, and sometimes it’s about something more.”

For example, one of her chemistry instructors posted a general discussion about building student engagement. A whole mix of different subject-area instructors responded, she says, generating over 100 responses. “People really wanted to connect with each other on how to build this. And Influitive gives us a forum to let them do that. It’s really powerful.”

By giving her advocates a platform to educate and learn together, Nicole has been able to build a thriving community of customers who love to connect with and support each other, reducing the Customer Success team’s burden and providing advocates with access to each other’s expertise. Plus, this expertise goes beyond what just the CS team provides since advocates can provide vertical-specific help.

At the end of the day, these advocates get more out of the product due to better support and education, and are much less likely to churn as a result.

7. Choose technology that allows you to scale your CSMs’ efforts

For Nicole, a way to engage and support her customers at scale was vital, so she chose Influitive’s AdvocateHub platform to help her. “All of a sudden, we had a chance to connect with people in a real-time environment, where we could engage them in discussion, share product information, and connect them with each other. WileyPLUS Studio allowed us to really duplicate ourselves,” she said.

Every company’s needs are different, and the technology they use should have the features to meet them. (If you’re searching for an engagement and advocacy platform that will let you build a tight-knit customer community, make sure it has these 10 features.)

The right technology solution means your CSMs can use their time more effectively than from 1:1 meetings. Instead, they can share their expertise widely with a one-to-many approach.

Results: Churn reduction, NPS increase, and more

There’s a reason WileyPLUS Studio won a 2017 BAMMIE!

By focusing on customers and enabling them to connect, share, and learn with each other (with some awesome swag and thoughtful moments here and there), Nicole was able to:

  • Reduce WileyPLUS user churn by 54%
  • Improve Net Promoter Score (NPS) for Studio members by 380%
  • Generate $250K in new business from reference letters written by instructors
  • Generate 917 testimonials

“Nothing’s more fun than advocacy,” says Nicole.

Watch the full recording of Nicole’s Advochat here.