Don Peppers, best-selling author of the book Customer Experience: What, How and Why Now, believes that like friendship, customer advocacy is priceless.
Don is an inductee in the Data & Marketing Association Hall of Fame, and holds the title as SatMetrix’s “world’s most authoritative expert on customer experience” for 2015. So, he definitely knows a thing or two about how to connect with customers.
He argues that if you can build an emotional and personal connection with an advocate, they may one day think of your business as their best friend.
Once you’ve achieved bestie status, Don says that customer advocates will sing your praises aloud and actively promote your product or service to other customers. Why? Firstly, they identify with your brand and believe in its benefits. Secondly, they’re doing a good deed for others by sharing where they can also get these benefits.
Like a true friendship, “advocates don’t expect any kind of compensation or material gain,” says Don, who will be speaking at Advocamp, the largest customer experience, engagement, and advocacy conference in the world, on October 3rd.
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So you need to thank them in unexpected, and more meaningful ways to show them that you know exactly who they are and how much they mean to you.
In this post, Don shares what inspires him emotionally and symbolically to become an advocate for a brand. We’ll also provide Don’s top three tips on how to become besties with your customers and nurture brand advocacy by building trust, empathy, and making a human connection.
Why Don advocates for his favorite brands
Building an advocate-brand relationship isn’t that complicated in Don’s mind. “A customer advocate wants your business to succeed because they’ll benefit themselves from your success. It’s really that simple,” he says.
If you take a look at what motivates customers to advocate for their favorite brands, you can build the kind of bestie relationships that Don has with his favorite products and services.
Don proudly admits that he is an avid advocate for brands like Amazon, USAA, Tesla, Apple, JetBlue, and American Express. Each of these brands have, at one point or another, reached out to help him protect his own interests, even when it wasn’t economically beneficial (in the short-term) for them to do so. They’ve also forged an emotional bond with Don, based on shared values and personal attributes.
Below, Don shares key lessons from each of his most memorable and impactful interactions with his favorite brands—and how they won him over:
Amazon created real trust with proactive refunds. For example, “Amazon notifies me when I’ve already bought a book that’s in my current cart,” says Don. “They also automatically issue refunds that I am due, without even waiting for me to call in.”
USAA built loyalty by offering cost savings, even when it meant less profit for them in the short term. “USAA once advised me that I should buy less home insurance from them than I thought I needed because I had overlooked the value of the land my house was built on (and the land value itself didn’t need insurance protection from fire, theft, flood, etc.),” Don explains.
JetBlue delivered an experience to remember: JetBlue once owed Don a refund credit for a very late flight, but instead of making him go to the website with his ticket number, or sending in his boarding pass, they automatically credited the refund to his account. That’s great service!
American Express is on the customer’s side. For example, “My wife and I use American Express as much as possible because if anything goes awry with a vendor—such as a failed or late delivery, a needless expense, or a broken piece—Amex is our insurance policy that we won’t be ripped off,” says Don.
However, Don’s friendships with those brands didn’t happen overnight. To achieve the same level of affection that he has for his favorite products and services, you must develop a strategy that helps you to emotionally connect with customers and create advocates.
Next, let’s dive into Don’s top tips on building strong relationships that foster customer advocacy.
How to become besties with your customer advocates
Don believes that within 10 years, customer advocacy (along with the emotional connection that advocacy represents) will become a key competitive differentiator, if not the key differentiator, for brands.
“At this point, however, companies will no longer be able to justify their spending based on immediate cost savings and revenue upticks,” he says. “Instead, they will have to begin estimating the actual value of a customer’s long-term loyalty and support.”
To remain relevant in the future, you must begin building that support system now. Here are the three steps Don recommends for converting loyal customers into genuine customer advocates:
When JetBlue automatically credited Don a refund for a very late flight, the company was demonstrating true empathy for their customer. Don was in a hurry to get where he was going and didn’t have time to go through the process of visiting their website or sending the company his boarding pass. JetBlue was seeing the situation through the customer’s eyes.
Those efforts paid off because Don is now a vocal advocate for JetBlue in person and online.
In a post that Don recently published on LinkedIn, he explains that “empathy is the fuel that powers every successful effort to manage and improve the customer experience, and the more genuine empathy is shown, the deeper a company’s understanding [of the customer] is likely to be.”
He adds that as some companies improve their technologies to provide more accurate and useful customer insights, others will have to choose between making that effort and being left behind by their competitors.
2. Build trust through transparency
Don believes that trust has become critical in our highly interactive age, not just because the world is more transparent (so businesses can’t get away with things like they used to), but also because no one has time for untrustworthy interactions.
“You don’t have to count your change at the register anymore, and you shouldn’t be surprised by a company’s late fee kicking in, or a product warranty suddenly expiring, either,” he says.
So, be sure to clearly outline any additional fees or other customer contract info (e.g., terms of service, privacy policies, shipping details, late fees, etc.) up front, so the customer knows exactly what to expect before they buy from you.
3. Make a human connection
Your business should be bending over backward to make human connections with customers, rather than relying solely on mobile apps, online self-help, and voice bots.
Also, instead of visualizing every human-to-human interaction as a cost, you need a long-term strategy that seeds new opportunities to scale technology-based interactions into emotional connections.
Don outlines exactly how to delight customers with your humanity in this post. “An enjoyable – or delightful – customer experience involves pleasure, not just satisfaction,” he explains. “And where does pleasure come from? It comes from some kind of emotional connection within the experience itself. It comes from your humanity, as a business.”
To make a human connection with your customers, you should consider eliminating their problems or obstacles, and identify opportunities to delight them with something enjoyable or unexpected.
Keep building and nurturing those relationships long-term
Once you achieve an emotional, trusting, and human connection with customers, you must continue to nurture and grow those relationships.
Like best friends, customer advocates can turn on you if you’re not there for them when they need you the most. Like Don’s USAA example, you must demonstrate that you will protect their interests ahead of your company’s profits.
Don suggests that as new technologies help to streamline CX, the biggest winners will be the brands that are already removing friction from the customer experience (e.g., making things easy and painless). “And taking friction out of the CX has the added benefit of reducing a company’s operating costs, which are quite easily measured,” he says.
So, if you start investing in your customers now, you’ll be miles ahead of your competitors when they enter the game.
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