Customer advocacy cannot be enforced. You can only hope to generate it. You cannot pay a customer a premium to become an advocate. Generating customer advocacy is first and foremost a learning process, a journey from ‘A’ to ‘somewhere’.
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Two strategies for change
There are two strategies for change, implementation, and co-creation. Implementation lends itself for internal challenges, think for instance of the implementation of a new system. You define the ‘as-is’ situation, the ‘go-to’ situation, create a roadmap, a project team, and start executing.
Customer advocacy on the contrary is addressing external challenges, and centers around the why of a company. You cannot ‘implement’ the why. Fortunately, you cannot (yet) implant chips in the brain of employees to make the why of an organization authentically and intrinsically stick to the capillaries. It is a co-creation between and a journey of all people in the organization. The role of a leader is to create the environment in which people can grow.
Compare it to the concept of a garden. You make sure that the soil is fertile, that there’s enough light, and enough water. All the people in the organization are intrinsically bought into the conceptual garden. As a leader it’s key that you make space for people to decide whether they want to be a tree, a bush, grass, or a flower, which flower, and which color, and when they bloom. Leaders are the gardeners who create the environment in which the garden can grow and flourish optimally, without guarantees (control) but certainly influence. Management by objectives. A climate of safety and trust. When people build trust and weaken their defenses, you see an increase in openness and honesty, more autonomy, assertiveness and self-direction, more vulnerability, intimacy and freedom, a release of roles and stereotypes, and an increase in mutual involvement.
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Journey of four phases
The journey consists of four phases, seeing differently, thinking differently, doing differently, in order to be different, as human beings and as a company. Four phases in which a company questions and changes the way it does business in a journey with story-telling and co-creation at its core.
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Look through the eyes of the customer. If you imagine that you are a customer of your own company, what do you see? What is the feeling that you get about the company? How do you, as a human being, feel treated? What is the story it tells you about your company?
Looking through the eyes of the customer, how does that affect your thinking about the company? What matters to customers? Do customers have a preference for your company? Why? If your company ceases to exist tomorrow, will it be missed by your customers? What is it that customers will miss?
Looking through the eyes of the customer, thinking from the customer’s perspective of what they will miss should your company cease to exist tomorrow, what would you do differently? What should you do differently to give customers that unique feeling? What should the company do, that will make customers prefer your company over other alternatives, want to stay, buy more and autonomously recommend your company to their family and (off- and online) friends?
Your company succeeds in consistently giving customers an experience that is personal, relevant and unique to them as a human being, time and again. It is an experience that is so unique that customers gladly come back for more, and autonomously recommend your company to their family and friends. The reputation of your company is unique, not only do your customers stay, and spend more, but also their trust is such that operational cost decrease. Marketing and sales cost decrease, because ‘it’ sells itself. New customers are attracted because people they trust recommend your company to them.
Congratulations are in order. Your organization is successfully transformed into a healthy ecosystem, in which things and people, doing and being, quantity and quality, output and impact are balanced. It has been possible to trigger not only the minds, but also the hearts of your employees, customers and the organization as a whole. And the people in your organization have learned how to create and sustain a healthy ecosystem.
Image source: Fred Reichheld, Winning on Purpose:
The Unbeatable Strategy of Loving Your Customers
Questioning the way business is done does not stop here. Be on the look-out for my next blog in this cycle where I will address what else it takes to genuinely care for the two most important stakeholders of your company, employees and customers, and generate the advocacy of both.