There’s an important difference between a client and an advocate. Advocates do more than simply buy from you. Advocates are engaged customers who demonstrate their vendor allegiance through such activities as spreading positive word of mouth, recruiting new prospects and helping their vendors improve. How can a firm nurture trust to help sustain these important advocate behaviors?
Truth is, we ‘train’ people how to treat us.
When a client refers you to another potential client, consider it the big deal it is! Most firms have gotten far too casual in both identifying and acknowledging referrals. That’s bad business for two reasons. When a referral goes unacknowledged, we reduce the likelihood the client will repeat the behavior in the future. But that’s just one transgression. The other is the violation of the customer’s ‘tit for tat’ rule of trust that says: When I do something nice for your business, let me know you know.
Of course, it’s not possible to know the source of every referral and/or acknowledge it every time, but having a referral identification process in place can go a long way! Consider these guidelines for rooting out advocates and thanking them:
1. Query new prospects and buyers to identify advocates. The question “how did you hear about us?” is key to smoking out advocates. (Or when you discover customers recommending your brand online, take note of those customers, too!)
2. Name that person to your advocate list and keep the list distributed to your front line. At staff meetings, routinely discuss which customers are on the list.
3. Immediately thank the referral by sending a written thank you note or at minimum, a phone call or personal email. It makes no difference whether the particular referral bears fruit or not, the advocacy deserves a thank you.
4. Personally greet advocates when they visit on site. (For example, a car dealership ‘flags’ advocates who bring their cars for servicing. A senior dealership staff member greets these advocates while they are at the dealership. This acknowledgement is in addition to their interaction with the service team.)
5. Send periodic value-add correspondence. In the age of seemingly impersonal email newsletters, etc., a ‘how-to’ article along with a hand-written note sent through the mail can carry a ‘specialness’ factor that cyberspace cannot match. Of course, the sheer size of your advocate list may dissuade you from this approach. But consider the 80/20 rule. There is likely 20% of your advocates that drive 80% of your referrals. This group may warrant this special correspondence. Remember, the hand-written, personal touch to this communication is what makes it special. (Again, a personal email, while perhaps not as ‘stand out’, can work here as well.)
6. Host ‘thank you’ events for advocates. If geographically feasible, occasionally gather your advocates together for an informal drop-in. (If your advocate list is long, consider sub-dividing the list into several mini-events.) Maybe it’s happy hour at a local wine room, or a lunch at a popular café. Whether the advocates attend or not, you’re telegraphing an important message: We recognize and appreciate your actions on our behalf.
This tip is an excerpt from Jill Griffin’s new book, Taming the Search-and-Switch Customer: Building Customer Loyalty in a Compulsion-to-Compare World available on Amazon or by calling 1-800-956-7739.