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The journey to customer advocacy: An evolution in loyalty

loy·al·ty   \ˈlȯi(-ə)l-tē\  a loyal feeling : a feeling of strong support for someone or something

ad·vo·ca·cy \ˈad-və-kə-sē\ : the act of pleading for, supporting or recommending a cause or course of action; active espousal

With brand evolution comes change—change in perspective and vision. There is a key difference between the definition of loyalty and advocacy. While loyalty embodies a feeling of strong support, advocacy takes things a step further by recommending a course of action or promoting outright. This active support differentiates advocacy from loyalty and should be the vision for all brands. It’s one thing to have an emotionally attached customer come back to purchase goods from you again and again. It’s quite another to have customers actively engage in recommending your services and telling your story to friends, family and colleagues.

How do you transform your perspective to create advocacy? At bare minimum, a brand must deliver on its promise to consumers. Delivering on promises can create loyal customers and maybe even some advocates. As the goal evolves from loyalty to advocacy, brands must focus on creating memorable experiences for their customers. As important as delivering great experiences is, your brand must have a plan for when things go wrong. How companies deal with their customers in times of adversity can make or break relationships. Companies need to acknowledge their mistakes, apologize and amend the situation. Adverse situations offer an opportunity to strengthen the relationship and create even greater advocacy.

An interaction between a customer and a brand is at stake here. B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore argue in their seminal article about the Experience Economy that, “Businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers, and that memory itself becomes the product—the ‘experience’.” It’s one thing to create new products with shiny bells and whistles, but if a brand can’t deliver memorable experiences, those products aren’t worth much. As Jeffrey Philips eloquently states in his blog, Innovate on Purpose, “Any good innovator must climb Maslow’s hierarchy, moving from product innovation to service innovation to business model innovation, and then to the ultimate self-actualizing innovation, customer experience innovation.” In a world where products can be quickly replicated, customer experience can be the key differentiator.

In this era of hyper-connectivity, every customer experience matters. Each interaction is a part of the overall experience, and to be memorable and engaging, perfection is expected. Through technological advances to drive continuous availability, the evolution of e-commerce sites and the improvement of contact center training, companies need to strive to create a memorable experience each and every time they interact with their customers. While the artifact or end product may be forgotten over time, the memory of the experience can last forever.

The evolution to an experience-based system starts with the consumer and requires a thorough understanding of their needs and expectations. Low activity rates within some loyalty programs are due to the inability to keep pace with those needs and expectations. Consumers are more savvy and discriminating than ever before and they have lost their appetite for the “one-size-fits-all” transactional approach to loyalty so frequently used today. They want relevance with their experiences.

Consider this fact about brand advocacy: contextual experiences driven by “small data” create a new level of memorable experience. Never before have consumers carried such powerful tools like smart phones, Fitbit®, tablets or Google Glass. Technology allows us to know where our customers are and what they are doing. We need to harness that data to create and serve up relevant and memorable experiences.

Since loyalty is emotional, it can be very difficult to measure. Repeat purchases have become the benchmark metric, but unfortunately, that is not very accurate. Progress has been made in methods to quantify advocacy but the field is still in its infancy. Metrics like NPS (Net Promoter Score) or ACSI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) are a great start, but for an effective customer advocacy program, brands need to close the loop on the recommendation. If a consumer says they will recommend your brand, do they follow through? NPS and ACSI are good benchmark scores that enable brands to compare themselves with competitors, but there is more work to be done to inspire and measure advocacy.

Perhaps this is the big lesson—look inward at your processes and how they impact each of your customer touch points. Instead of racing to create the next big innovation, focus on better ways to deliver experiences. Create a culture of “surprise and delight” with your customers. As Sergio Zyman wrote in his book, “Renovate Before You Innovate,” begin by changing your mindset. My advice: change your mindset to move from loyalty to advocacy.

This article first appeared on loyalty360.org


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