With increased transparency and expansion of social media, retention marketing is no longer just about getting more sales. It’s also about:
Keeping existing customers active and purchasing to increase sales while reducing attrition and churn
Supporting the buying decision by making customers feel good about their purchases; providing more information to help use the product; and aiding returns if the order doesn’t meet their needs
Providing support and an advocacy venue for customers to express their opinions and refer friends
In part one, we looked at keeping existing customers active. Last time, we covered supporting the buying decision. Today, we’ll conclude with providing customer support.
At its core, customer advocacy is about giving customers a “Wow!” experience. This usually translates into selling a great product and providing excellent service that’s above customer expectations. Marketers must provide the means for customers to become advocates who spread the (hopefully) positive word to friends and colleagues. These communications are important as unbiased endorsements, which can have more influence on non-buyers than advertising.
Where Customer Advocacy Occurs
The challenge of aiding customer advocacy is that these communications aren’t necessarily focused on your firm. Consumers express opinions about your company and products in a variety of venues, including:
Personal communications, including conversations, e-mail, IM, and text messages.
Your Web site in consumer forums and message boards as well as in forward-to-a-friend messages and social bookmarking.
Customer touch points, online and off-.
Third-party sites where consumers congregate and express opinions, both positive and negative. This can assume a variety of formats, including:
Fan sites, either product-specific like Toyota Nation or more category-focused, broadly like TripAdvisor.
Ratings sites, such as BizRate and Zagat.com, where customers vote and post comments regarding the company and product.
Other social media sites where customers express themselves. Product-related comments may be a byproduct rather than the focus of the site.
Offline forums, including media (TV, radio, and print) and live events.
How to Support Customer Advocacy
Provide a forum on your site where customers can support your products. In addition to aiding advocacy, it can help pinpoint areas that might be an issue for consumers and present ideas for future product development.
Provide product-related message boards. This alternative can be useful as customers may be able to help other customers.
Develop special product-related events, including Webinars, classes, or fun activities. They can be promoted online and occur offline. Depending on how you create these events, they can become revenue-generating offerings. And depending on your business, it may make sense to support a related organization’s events.
Invite customer feedback, both positive and negative, at multiple touch points, online and off-. It’s important to read and respond to this input.
How to Handle Customer Advocacy on Third-Party Sites
From a marketing perspective, it’s critical to monitor what’s being said about your company, brand, and products outside of your site and at other company venues to determine how they’re received by customers:
Monitor the conversation broadly, both online and off-. This isn’t limited to your consumers and company, since a problem with a competitor could easily spread to your firm’s offering. Customers, journalists, and industry analysts are listening. You should, too.
Participate in the conversation. This can happen in a variety of ways, such as corporate communications, a company blog, or company participation on a third-party site. Understand corporate transparency and consistency are necessary to build credibility. This dialogue can extend beyond the confines of its initial forum.
Decide whether an issue warrants corporate response, regardless of how sophisticated your monitoring tools. You must decide what information should be conveyed to the public and who within the company should communicate it. Outside PR experts, particularly those who specialize in crisis communications, can be useful in these cases.
Don’t Forget Customer Referrals
Satisfied customers can be your best advocates. Give them the means to refer their friends, who often have similar interests and needs. Referrals may happen at a variety of places. Among them:
E-mail- or IM-a-friend. Use an icon to get users’ attention. Place it on all your site pages (except in the purchase process), as well as in e-mail newsletters. You only have permission to contact that friend once, so make the most of it.
Print-this-page. Include this option on your Web site’s product and information pages. Ensure the page includes company contact information (an easy-to-use URL, e-mail address, toll-free number, and physical address.).
Social bookmarking options. Offer several bookmarking options on product and information pages so customers can share the information easily.
Send a catalog. For companies with a print catalog or other offline materials, gather requests and build the house file.
Other customer touch points. Collect referral information at all customer touch points.
Customer Advocacy Metrics
Assessing the success of customer advocacy involves qualitative work. In many cases, this customer input can give you insights as to how you need to adjust your marketing to better serve the target market. Here are some suggestions:
Customer feedback. Track customer input from all touch points, both online and off-, and categorize it to determine whether there are issues brewing. Distribute this information widely within your firm.
Message board and forum traffic. Assess activity on your message boards and forums. Go beyond visitor and post counts. Use this information to determine changes to products and new extensions.
Third-party site activity. Use the most sophisticated tracking products you can afford. It’s likely the conversation about your firm will be much greater outside of your company site and related forums. Since the impact of these comments can snowball and potentially damage your firm, it’s critical to be on top of the situation.
Referrals. Track the number of received referrals. Also monitor which type of customers tend to be referrers and how referrals perform over the long term.
Customer advocacy can occur on your Web site, on third-party sites, or offline. It’s important to monitor it to ensure it helps support retention marketing efforts.
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