New customers are nice and all, but smart brands know how important it is to earn loyal customers that keep coming back. The most obvious benefit of customer loyalty is that you’ll get more sales from people who choose to buy from you again and again. But the potentially bigger benefit of your most loyal customers is that they could become customer advocates—people that love you enough to rave about you to their network of friends and colleagues.
Customer advocates aren’t just good for word of mouth. In many cases, enthusiastic customers are happy to become partners in marketing, helping to fuel content that provides persuasive social proof to your prospects and builds trust in your brand.
Seven Ways to Work With Your Customer Advocates
Before you can work with your customer advocates, you need to identify who your most enthusiastic customers are. Once you’ve pulled that off, the important work really begins. Here are seven strategies for getting more from your relationship with customer advocates.
1. Get to know them.
Every customer advocate you find will be unique. They’ll have different strengths and goals, and each will have a unique relationship with your brand and products. In order to find the most effective way to work with them, you need to understand all of that.
The first step Lindsey Boyd, Brand Marketing Specialist of Khoros, takes when the company identifies a new brand ambassador they hope to work with is to set up a short welcome call. A few minutes on the phone helps you learn about who they are as an individual, how they use your product, and the types of opportunities they’re interested in.
And something Boyd strongly recommends during the welcome call is asking them what their goals are. “One of the things that was really important for us with the ambassador program is not to make it where it’s all about how they can help us as a company, but also what they can get back as a benefit.”
When you make the relationship mutually beneficial, it solidifies the positive feelings they have about your brand and their willingness to work with you. Taking time to understand who they are and what they want is a necessary step in making that happen.
2. Create a referral program.
When making a purchasing decision, few things are as powerful as a good friend’s recommendation. Customer referral programs leverage that to impressive results. Referral leads convert at 30% higher rates than other leads, and have a 16% higher lifetime value.
A referral program does three great things all at once:
- It rewards your most enthusiastic customers for sharing their love of your product
- It encourages those customers to buy from you again, usually by offering a discount or credit for each customer referred
- It starts your relationship with the new referred customer off on the right foot, since their first experience with you includes savings or rewards
Referral programs are a good way to turn the positive feelings your customer advocates have about you into actual conversions.
3. Interview them for case studies and testimonials.
Referral programs encourage your customer advocates to recommend you to the people they know, but the influence of a customer advocate can extend far beyond their own immediate circle. Case studies and testimonials are some of the most useful marketing materials available because:
- They share the stories and words of your actual customers. These are people who don’t benefit directly from your business by making more sales; the only reason they have for saying you’re awesome is that they mean it
- They’re people your prospects can see themselves in. Whether your primary audience is small business owners or fashion-forward 20-somethings, your case studies and testimonials will highlight people who have similar challenges and interests to the leads considering your product. When they see someone like them using and getting value from your product, it’s easier to see themselves doing the same.
4. Enlist them to help you create content.
Customer advocates have experiences and insights that can be useful to your other customers and prospects. Enlisting them in the content creation process gives you the chance to address your audience’s concerns and interests in a more authentic way.
And in some cases, being highlighted in your content can help your customer build their own brand. They may be genuinely excited to participate and be featured in this way, and they have an incentive to share the content with their own networks.
As part of Khoros’s brand ambassador program, Boyd started a blog series featuring interviews with some of their top brand ambassadors. The posts touch on the customer’s relationship to their product, but is more about highlighting who they are as an individual, giving readers the chance to feel a genuine connection.
5. Create a gamified system of rewards.
You know that feeling of accomplishment you get when you actually claim a reward you’ve been working toward? Many brands have found creative ways to recreate that feeling for customers in rewards programs. Implementing a rewards program that gives customers the chance to earn points, freebies, or higher savings for taking the actions you want them to is a smart way to incentivize your customer advocates to do more.
Sephora’s popular VIB program gives devoted customers a chance to buy their way to better savings and special gifts. And top customers are awarded with the exclusive VIB Rouge status that results in better rewards. The tiered system doesn’t just give customers something back for what they spend, it provides a status symbol that comes with special treatment for the customers that attain that top label. That gives anyone prone to spending money with Sephora a good reason to step up their spending to reach that level.
Gamification doesn’t have to just reward spending. You can create a program that includes other actions you want to encourage, like leaving reviews or mentioning your brand on social media. A little extra incentive makes customers who like you much more likely to take the steps you want them to.
6. Provide early access to new products and features.
Your customer advocates are the best people to turn to for early feedback. They care about your brand, but are unbiased enough to provide authentic feedback—they don’t have to worry about internal politics or offending a boss.
Providing them early access to new products and features does the double duty of giving a special exclusive that makes them feel appreciated, and allowing you to collect valuable feedback. With this valuable insight, your team can figure out how to improve upon the product before the official release date. It’s a win-win for everybody.
7. Develop a customer community.
All of your customers have at least one thing in common: your product. But that’s not all. B2B companies have customers that work in the same industry and have many of the same challenges and responsibilities. B2C customers will often have similar interests and lifestyles.
One way to potentially provide a lot of value to your top customers is to find ways to connect them to each other. With online forums, social media groups, and live events, your customers can make valuable professional connections, form new friendships, and answer each other’s questions.
The Instant Pot community on Facebook has over one million members who share recipes, help newbies learn the basics of using the pressure cooker, and share their thoughts and experiences cooking with it.
On the B2B side, RampUp brings together more than 2,500 users of various martech platforms, helping marketers of all stripes learn from each others experiences. Our major conference concluded in February but you can catch us on the road this spring and fall.
The Golden Rule of Working With Customer Advocates
The main theme in all these strategies is finding ways to work together that are mutually beneficial. Your relationship with customer advocates shouldn’t be all about you. Look for ways to give something back. By providing your customer advocates a higher level of value, you gain more loyalty and promotional support in return.