Does your brand have an active advocate community? If so, that’s wonderful. But it’s only half the battle.
The next step in your advocacy journey after discovering your advocates, is to nurture strong relationships that prime them to want to give back.
Start by delighting customers, freely giving value, and building relationships. After you’ve sufficiently engaged customers, mobilizing them later on won’t be difficult. You’d be surprised by how strongly reciprocity makes people want to help those who have helped them.
And you can leverage your customer relationships to help you source referrals, references, product feedback, contributed blogs, and case studies in the future.
In this blog, we’ll give you 6 proven tactics to forge excellent customer relationships. Plus, we’ll take a look at 6 examples from innovative companies who have engaged their customers in creative ways that paid off.
1. Provide recurring educational content
Much like prospects, your customer community needs to receive consistent content to stay connected and loyal to your brand. Since your blog is likely targeted at prospects, it won’t work on its own. Plan to develop and deliver helpful, user-focused resources that will address your customers’ pain points with your product, but also larger issues in their day-to-day jobs.
Educational content plays a vital role in retaining customers. If you can help your customers be successful, they’ll accomplish amazing things using your product. And if your customers depend on your product to achieve their goals, they will stay customers for a long time.
If you can customize what content they see based on specific interests they’ve expressed in the Discover phase, they’ll see more value in your programs—and your overall engagement will grow. If you’re strapped for resources, you can ask your customers to help you create this content.
How Cisco delivers continuous educational content
Sonia Chavez, Advocate Marketing Manager at Cisco, was tasked with engaging IT professionals and encouraging them to continue their education with the B2B internet solutions company. She launched an advocate community to build stronger relationships with certified users and inspire them to master new skills.
The most popular activities in the community include: accessing educational content, taking exclusive technical “pop quizzes,” and receiving points for registering for additional exams. Advocates can redeem points for rewards, such as tickets to Cisco Live (their international conference series), training materials, and exam vouchers.
“We also track who participates in our program, where they are in their career, and what they would like to achieve,” says Sonia. “Then we provide them with tailored content and challenges based on factors like their certification level, past behavior, expressed interests, or products they use. This strategy helps us provide them with the most relevant content and compelling opportunities.”
As a result, 247 members have taken an additional Associate or a Professional Level exam. Cisco is helping customers reach their career goals faster and affecting certification retention overall. Of customers who took an exam, 54% said the advocate community influenced their decision to take an exam and 72% said they were encouraged to take the exam sooner.
Sonia provides advocates with exclusive and repackaged educational resources, and they can earn points for absorbing the information.
2. Recognize advocate milestones and achievements
Much like how you’d recognize big events for your family or friends, it’s important to celebrate customer achievements and milestones. When an advocate finishes onboarding or has success with your product, find ways to recognize them in front of your entire community. Or, you can recognize customers internally with your own employees. For example, Influitive awards a new Advocate of the Month each month to the member of our customer community who is the most engaged. Advocates are always honored and delighted to be recognized and have their picture posted in our office.
You can also go the extra mile by remembering their birthdays, anniversaries, etc., and personally sending them a small gift or note of congratulations. Most won’t expect it in the context of a business relationship, so the surprise will strike an emotional chord with them.
How PowerDMS creates magical moments for customers
Ray Lau, Customer Advocacy Marketing Manager at PowerDMS—policy management software that helps organizations reduce their risks and liabilities—uses information and feedback he collects through his advocate community to create “wow” moments for his customers. This strategy includes sending them birthday cards, or gift cards if they’re going through a hard time.
“Showing kindness helps people connect with businesses because kindness connects with people,” says Ray. “Companies that do this will have a strategic advantage over those who don’t.”
PowerDMS’s results prove that it’s true: the company has a remarkably low churn rate of 2.3% and a customer satisfaction rating of 97%. Advocates also influenced more than $800K in sales opportunities in 2017 by referring others to PowerDMS, acting as sales references, and writing glowing online reviews about PowerDMS.
Remembering details about your advocates’ personal lives is a huge customer experience differentiator.
3. Make customers feel like a VIP member of your company’s inner circle
When customers feel special, they’re more likely to see you as a one-of-a-kind vendor. To achieve this status, consider giving them:
- Sneak peeks of your product roadmap.
- VIP seating at your next event if they get a friend to sign-up.
- 1:1 time with your exec team in exchange for doing UX/UI testing.
- The chance to enter contests only available to customers.
Experiences that make them feel like a valued insider will have more impact than a once-a-year holiday card.
How Ceridian gives advocates VIP event access
In 2017, Ceridian’s Customer Success team wanted to boost on- and off-line engagement for their annual INSIGHTS customer conference, a premier event in human capital management. In particular, the company wanted to drive 1:1 customer meet-ups so they could learn from each other.
To do this, Ceridian built a special XOXOLive – INSIGHTS 2017 online experience within their Customer Success XOXO program which launched one month before the event. Prior to the event, Ceridian posted activities in the XOXOLive experience that encouraged members to submit nominations for the XOXO Awards, share content about the conference on social media, and sign-up for meetings with other customers. As a thank you for their participation in the experience, XOXO program members were invited to a special area for an exclusive book signing and chair massages during the event.
“The XOXO experience allowed us to give conference attendees a new level of value,” says Nick Venturella, Customer Success Operations Manager, Ceridian.
By giving their customers more ways to interact before the event, 180 customer networking meetings were scheduled, and social media shares from customers helped #CeridianINSIGHTS become a trending topic on Twitter. The XOXO program’s overall NPS also increased by 22 points while the event experience was live.
Ceridian customers getting some stage time during the INSIGHTS conference.
4. Gamify the product education process
For customers to be successful, they need to regularly use and master your platform. Gamifying the learning process makes the path to success clearer and more enjoyable. Expecting customers to read all of your knowledge base articles or seek out product hacks and tips on their own is less effective.
How Dell EMC ensures customers absorb their newest content
JP Gallagher, Senior Manager, Customer Engagement at Dell EMC—a leader in infrastructure, data storage, hybrid cloud, and data protection solutions—gets his advocates to engage with new content around products by asking them questions about what they’ve just read, and awarding them points if they get the answers right.
“For a new product launch, we created a quiz to see if our customers actually read the blog material,” says JP. “We stumped a few of our customers, but hopefully this provided them with more of a mental impact on the new capabilities of our technology.”
A quiz to test advocate knowledge.
5. Plan re-engagement campaigns for inactive advocates
Even the best engagement programs will lose some user interest now and then. Having a strategy to re-engage users who haven’t logged in recently will help you rebuild your relationship with them. Plus it’ll give you the chance to collect their feedback to understand how you can improve your programs.
How Forcepoint uses small tokens to re-engage inactive users
When customers have been inactive for six weeks or longer in Forcepoint’s advocate community, Sarah Howell, Customer Experience Coordinator, reaches out to see if she can coax them to rejoin. “I try to get them to come back into the program by awarding them some points, or sending a gift in the mail with a card to let them know about some upcoming content we’ll be launching in the program,” she says.
Caption: The note Sarah sends to re-engage advocates.
6. Frequently ask customers for feedback—and make them feel heard
Inviting customers to have an impact on your company and product will make them feel closer to your brand. Continuously asking customers for their feedback—and showing them how their insights are influencing your decision-making—will make you seem like true partners in their success. It will also help you better understand how customers feel about your offerings.
To garner the most customer feedback, make your requests fun, easy, and clear, and embed them into as many experiences and touchpoints as possible. Make it a habit to regularly ask for feedback on:
- Your product roadmap and features.
- Their experience with your team and engagement programs.
- Your content and marketing strategy.
Customers who give the most in-depth feedback are likely to be your greatest potential advocates.
How Pearson targets feedback requests at specific product users
Pearson, the world’s largest learning company, does more than sell textbooks. The company also offers technology and services to help students reach their highest potential. Before Pearson launched an online advocacy program, their product development team didn’t have a central system for collecting meaningful user feedback for their online learning products.
To increase the chances of students sharing feedback, Lindsey Erlick, Senior Manager, Student Advocacy & Marketing at Pearson, surveyed new members about their interests and which products they used. Then, she created segments so she could target specific student groups with relevant content and requests. This approach was helpful when the product team wanted to hear from students in certain majors who used specific products. Lindsey could quickly ask students to take polls, join focus groups, and serve as beta testers through the program.
“These challenges generated higher response rates than our previous survey methods,” says Lindsey.
Within a year, Pearson received more than 3,250 pieces of feedback from users, which have helped Pearson put students at the heart of every product decision they make—while also making students understand that Pearson values their opinions.
Let advocates know how their feedback will impact your company or products.
The key to a long-lasting advocate community
Now that you know how to grow your budding advocates into full-fledged brand promoters, you’re ready to start making “asks” that benefit your company. The sky’s the limit—from referrals to references to product feedback, there’s no end to the value that your advocates can provide.
But a word of caution—nurturing and mobilizing your advocates is not a linear process. It’s cyclical. After making “asks,” you need to reward and continually nurturing your advocates to protect against depleting your community, or burning out your advocates.
With a solid strategy to nurture your advocates, however, they’ll be happy to keep advocating for your company again and again.
Curious to learn more? Download The SaaS Vendor’s Guide To Customer Engagement, Retention, and Advocacy for a thorough look at how to discover, nurture, and mobilize your advocates—plus 19 additional examples from top advocate marketers.