You may have heard of customer advocacy and see it as a function belonging solely to Marketing, when in fact, its results can be used to bolster other departments like Customer Success, Sales and Product Development.
A well-managed customer advocate community can be your go-to source when you need anything from referrals, to references, to reviews, to candid feedback on your product or services. We wanted to hear from the community management pros about the strategies that helped them guide their communities to where they are today.
That’s why in our recent “Ask the Community Experts” webinar, I chatted with three of these all-stars—all of them previous BAMMIE award winners—on how they’ve managed to build thriving digital communities that provide value to both their business and their customers.
The panel featured Wiley’s Vice President of Customer Success Nicole Dingley, PowerDMS’ Director of Customer Marketing Ray Lau and ADP’s Senior Strategy Analyst of Client Experience Sarah Schreiner.
Check out our previous Q&As with Ray and Nicole to get their insights on scaling your customer community in its early stages—although even the most seasoned community managers can benefit from their tips.
ADP is a human capital management software and services company. They provide solutions to help make processes like payroll, benefits, and tracking employees’ hours more efficient for companies. ADP’s customer advocate community known as ADP Ambassador, managed by Sarah and her team, has been around for the past four years.
The community has grown significantly since its introduction, with over 3,800 customer advocates joined. Its impact on the business—having saved the company over 9000 hours of admin work and driven testimonials and product feedback submissions by the hundreds—led ADP to shift its organizational structure around advocacy.
Read on to learn why ADP has made customer advocacy a priority for its business, and discover Sarah’s tips for nurturing a community of exceptional customer advocates.
Q: What challenges did your organization face before implementing your customer community?
Sarah: Before launching our advocate community, we were originally looking to build out and scale a reference program. It’s funny to look back on that now, because we ended up with something so different and much more expansive than we originally thought.
With our customer community, we are of course building out our number of references, but we’re really seeing a lot more value in the engagement we’re getting from our user base. Many of these users weren’t originally on ADP’s radar, so being able to grow our community and find a scalable way to engage our clients has been huge for us, although different from what our original focus was.
Q: What’s the greatest success you’ve seen or obtained through running your customer community?
Sarah: The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the success of our customer advocacy program is the transition we’ve seen from thinking about advocacy in terms of its benefit to sales and marketing, to instead thinking about its impact on the entire business.
We’ve really turned our attention to how our clients’ perspectives can have an effect on the way we build our products, the way we go to market, and the way we build our service model.
We started bringing our clients into our community with the idea of building out a reference program. First we invited our promoters—folks who came to our events, were partnering with us, and were generally happy with our product. Then, clients started telling us that they wanted to engage with us more deeply and participate in activities that would impact their day-to-day work.
Most of our customer advocate community is made up of who we would call practitioners—think payroll managers and people making sure their employees all get paid or get their benefits selected properly and on time. They all use our technology to do their jobs.
As we started to build out this community—giving our clients opportunities to provide references, leave reviews, or answer surveys—we found that they actually became very interested in helping us with requests. They began wanting to engage with us even further by sharing their feedback on our product experience and really giving us their honest insights.
This provides our product team with a really quick and easy way to get client feedback. Something that could have been very difficult or time consuming before (a process spanning several days or weeks) now takes only a day. Clients are actually excited to spend an hour with our team reviewing new products, and our product folks get more time back in their day to iterate and make impactful changes on the product.
We originally thought of this kind of feedback as additional asks, or things we wanted to be careful about putting in front of clients so that we weren’t asking for too much at one time. Seeing that our clients personally benefit from engaging with us in this way has been one of our most significant successes.
Q: What advice do you have for others looking to launch a customer community?
Sarah: One way to prove the ROI of your customer community is to look for areas of inefficiency or squeaky wheels within your business, then find ways of solving these issues by involving customer advocates.
In our case, we had some inefficiencies with a particular product use case. Our client success team was getting inundated with emails from our product team looking for specific types of customers who could support them with certain asks. We were able to fold some of the value from our customer advocate community into one of the company’s overall initiatives, while simultaneously reducing the noise for our client success team.
Instead of emailing hundreds of clients looking for the right person to fulfill their request, the product team was able to turn to the community to get what they needed in a much more efficient way.
My advice to anyone looking to launch a customer community would be to listen to your peers, try to identify areas of complaint or inefficient processes in the business, and think about how your group of customer advocates could provide support.
Q: Where do you think a customer advocate community sits within a company’s organizational structure?
Sarah: At ADP, our customer advocate community sits within our client experience team, which is like a division of its own. Essentially, we are peers with the services, client success, sales, and marketing teams. We are fortunate that client experience has its own space within the business, which is beneficial as we’re not necessarily tied to a specific division’s set of goals.
Instead, we’re really able to take a step back and understand where our clients are seeing gaps in our product, client success, sales, and services. We then swoop in to provide our support wherever it’s needed.
It’s a unique scenario that positions us very well to be a partner across the business. That’s where we’ve seen much of our success—going to our peers in various divisions and sharing opportunities within the customer community with them.
There are definitely challenges to the fact that our team doesn’t sit within marketing, which typically has purview over what is traditionally known as advocacy. But, I think there are also many benefits to playing the role of partner across our company.
Q: What are some of the benefits customers need to see to join the community and stay engaged?
Sarah: There are different things that will appeal to different people, depending on what their roles in their organization are and what they hope to accomplish. A big motivator for customers to engage with your community is the prospect of getting access to your entire organization. For us, that means giving clients previews of new products, collecting their feedback, and making them feel part of the team.
I think involving your customers in your organization goes a long way in terms of overall value. Customers will recognize that if they are active within your community, there will be opportunities for them to get closer to your company.
Also, when first starting out with your community, you won’t know exactly what’s going to engage your target audience within your client base. We often ask our customer community what types of rewards they’re looking to see, and where they find value. In doing this, we continue to pressure test the assumptions we’re making and what we’ve learned in the past.
I would advise anyone launching a customer advocate community of their own to aim to hit the key incentives customers tend to look for—access, rewards, recognition and education—but keep learning about your audience’s personas and what their interests are.
Q: How has your career developed given your interactions with customers?
Sarah: I found that one of the greatest benefits of being in the customer advocacy space is the opportunity to work and partner with various departments throughout our organization. As an advocate marketer or someone within advocacy, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to be successful without building partnerships outside of your own space.
For my team, this meant working very closely with other divisions across ADP. We’re a large organization and the success we’ve shown within our division has led to the expansion of the concept of customer advocacy across ADP as a whole.
Now, not only are we working with all kinds of departments within our midsize area of ADP, but we’re also looking at working with others across ADP in roles similar to mine. The success of our customer community has really increased the visibility of the impact my team and I are making on our entire organization.
Q: How long does it take to realize the way you’re trying to engage customers or create advocates isn’t really working and what should you do next?
Sarah: I think it’s pivotal to measure overall engagement and growth within your customer community, particularly if you intend on operationalizing your customer advocacy program. We track these month over month.
Thankfully, Influitive’s admin reporting makes it easy to track growth and engagement, but it can sometimes feel like these areas aren’t necessarily where the value of the program is. But, to build out an engaged community, key metrics such as overall joins and overall engagement within your program are going to be really important to watch.
Q: When were you ready to try to get leadership’s buy-in to invest in the software needed to scale your program?
Sarah: When it comes to getting leadership buy-in, I think it’s important to understand how an advocate community is going to fit into your company’s wider goals. At ADP, we’re fortunate to have a lot of transparency in terms of what the company at large hopes to accomplish year over year, and what the expectations are for each division.
Our advocate community aligns nicely with some of those goals and metrics that are already in place at a high executive level. So, showing an understanding of the company’s wider goals and figuring out how customer advocacy can support them makes it easier for an executive to justify sponsoring a program like this.
And, if a customer advocate community doesn’t fit into your company’s goals right now, maybe that’s a sign that there are other things to be tackled first. It could also be a sign that customer advocacy isn’t something your company is currently thinking about, but perhaps should be.
I would definitely suggest looking to the existing resources within your company that identify the priorities your leaders already care about, so that you can look to fit the idea of a customer advocate community into something that’s already top of mind.
Q: What KPIs would you recommend for someone in the first year of managing a customer community?
Sarah: Our team tracks the number of engagements we see in our community month over month and how they support each functional area of our business. So, I report on the number of content pieces that we’ve put in front of customer advocates supporting initiatives within product, sales, marketing, internal business engineering, and client success.
Using these kinds of month to month KPIs can really frame how your program is doing for leadership, and demonstrate its value across divisions.
Fuel your entire business with the power of your customers
You can find the full recording of our “Ask the Community Experts” webinar here. Be sure to check out our other Q&As from this series, showcasing stories from members of the Influitive community who have successfully tapped into their customer network to fuel their business strategy. For more in-depth resources on how you can grow your organization with the power of your customers, you can check out our Customer-Powered Enterprise playbook.