Build Customers That Advocate for You

If it seems that every company is talking about customer experience, it is because Customer Experience (CX) is one of the very hot issues in business management. As evidence of this – customers receive several requests each week to respond to surveys, and social media posts.

CX research has measured the “stickiness” of customer retention. Customers stick with companies, not only for the product and services, but for the emotional value of the relationship. The more the relationship goes beyond transactional, the more it becomes emotional. Obviously, companies want to minimize or even eliminate negative customer experiences. Neutral customer experiences do not build your competitive strength, or customer attachment. Your goal should be to design as many positive customer experiences as possible … ones that create customer advocacy.

For a customer to become an advocate for your company’s products and services, it requires passing the “warm and fuzzy” tests.  Advocacy requires trust and confidence. Advocacy happens when a customer feels good about exchanging their money for a fair deal. Advocacy happens when a customer feels understood, valued, and appreciated by you. Advocacy is built when you follow up, to understand how your customers experience your company, your products, and your services.

Twenty years ago, quality initiatives were all the rage, much like customer experience is now. We learned that evaluating processes, adjusting, and measuring outcomes were vital – every step of the way. Continuous measurement … and continuous improvement was the mantra.

It is the same with CX – evaluate every customer touchpoint. Examine how you sell, how you solve problems, and how you serve. Go beyond the simple feedback of surveys, and hold in depth customer conversations to peel back the layers of complexity. Use objective outside analysts to help you uncover problem areas. Positive customer experiences can reinforce your customer relationships, and help you build advocates for your company.

Frameworks That Drive Customer Advocacy

Every business struggles with creating new clients. Whole departments and countless resources focus on selling – on finding and persuading prospects that your company can satisfy a given need, solve specific problems, and that your value proposition is a “fair exchange.”

Whether your business is small or large, or you are selling to consumers or other businesses, the challenge is constant. Create more customers.

But, then the big challenge is to keep the newly onboarded customer. This challenge is frequently underserved, with less resources assigned to assure customer retention. Given the cost and extreme effort required to land a new customer, focus on delivering heightened customer experiences that emotionally connect your new customer to their initial decision to give you their business.

Improved customer retention is about meeting … and even exceeding customer expectations. Beyond the actual delivery of a service or product, it is about how the customer perceives the interaction with your company. It is about consistently creating a positive emotional connection with your brand promise.

How Is This Accomplished?

First, it takes a commitment from leadership that customer retention is a top priority. Second, there must be a candid assessment of customer-facing processes and points of contact, either direct or via an employee’s work product. An independent third party typically best accomplishes this, to assure truthful feedback and objective analysis. Fourth, get candid input from your customers. Again, this requires third party objectivity. Finally, a strategic customer retention plan is then devised, dedicating resources to move forward a variety of initiatives that address specific priorities.

As each company is different, retention initiatives will be different in each company. Often, the changes are simple and exceedingly low in cost – from small changes in customer-facing processes that give a greater voice to minor or major shortfalls in customer service, to training employees to better understand that their individual behaviors can have a negative or positive impact – providing them a clear understanding of company expectations and how best to elevate performance.

The ultimate business goal goes beyond achieving customer retention. It is to achieve customer advocacy, wherein your customers are so thrilled with your company that they actively recommend and support the ongoing success of your business to other prospective customers.

Want a Strong Business? Work on Your Gaps

A business culture is all the thinking, decision making, and actions within that business. Put simply – it is observable and measurable behavior that happens every day.

It is not a secret … strong business cultures are more successful than weak ones.

The short list of attributes of a strong business culture are:

  1. Clear vision, and achievable mission
  2. Leaders who inspire
  3. Supervisors who coach rather than manage
  4. Employees who work from talents and strengths
  5. An engaged workforce, aligned to the business purpose
  6. Job specific training
  7. Career paths
  8. Rewards and recognition
  9. Customers who become advocates

Almost every person has some awareness of what is not quite right, or what is missing from their lives. The striving to be better, to live better, and to have more of what we want stimulates the progress of individuals, companies, and even society.

In a competitive business environment, there is no place for complacency. Being GAPWORX … we want to have conversations with business leaders who are CURIOUS about how their business culture stacks up – their strengths and weaknesses. All businesses have gaps, and we think every business should work on them.

We help our clients work on cultural gaps, and that directly affects what we call Customer Building. Some employees have job-specific selling roles and responsibilities, others for serving. But generally, to fulfill the company brand … Everybody Sells and Everybody Serves.

I would be surprised to learn of any business that did not have to continuously create more customers. I would also be astounded to know of any business that did not have to continuously serve those customers well … to keep them.

Gap analysis is quantifying (measuring) the difference between what is, and what is desired. Qualifying (understanding) the rational and emotional discomfort about gaps, is why problem solvers and action takers succeed better in reducing their gaps. The awareness is … “I don’t like my results, I want something better, so I must do things differently.” That is simple psychology. Even though it is not complicated, it is still not easy.

The correlations are clear … strong business cultures create engaged workplaces. Engaged employees who are aligned to vision and mission, and who feel they have a place in the company – create stronger customer relationships.

If you want to sell more prospects and keep more customers … first understand your cultural gaps, and work on them.

Solving Gaps

Let’s look at gaps from the lens of HOW a business can solve them.

Literally, we work on GAPS. We think you should, too.

We believe that gaps – also called challenges, problems, issues, roadblocks or even headaches – once resolved, can significantly accelerate individual and companywide achievement. We see gaps as impediments to progress, and if removed, good or even great things can happen.

The good news is that some business gaps can be resolved quickly. Others can take more time and resources. Many can be resolved with minimal investment.

What resources do you need to make positive changes in your business? They fall into several broad categories – Expertise, Experience, Time, Objectivity, and, of course, Financial. All are important. Look outside your company if you are missing one or more.

Solving your company’s problems starts with Awareness, by understanding which organizational gaps are limiting individual, team, or even companywide performance.

Sometimes a gap is so commonplace, that it almost goes unnoticed or is assumed as being normal, or as one business owner said to us, “I just came to expect a certain level of complaints from new customers.” Your gaps might be about falling revenues, low margins, a significant spike in customer complaints, employee attrition, the loss of one or more key clients, or a host of other concerns. A few key questions come to mind.

  • What is causing the GAP?
  • Which GAPS are easily resolved?
  • Which GAPS are larger challenges?
  • What GAPS are the highest priorities to resolve?
  • What internal resources are needed to affect a given change?

If internal resources are missing, rely on external expertise.

As gaps are observed (or periodically), leaders and managers in your company should be asking these questions. In some instances, it may be important to get feedback from external stakeholders, including vendors and customers. If input is needed from your customers, use external resources to qualitatively interview for increased objectivity. Customers will almost always NOT provide candid answers … if an employee is posing the questions. And shy away from a reliance on surveys. Qualitative interviewing will consistently bring better results.

When the questions are answered, the gaps are typically more clearly defined. Then you can be more strategic, make better decisions, and solve problems holding you back from desired levels of performance.

Again, solving performance-robbing business gaps starts by moving from having limited awareness to having a greater understanding by gathering more information. Then you can plan, and prioritize which processes, systems, and employee behaviors that need to be changed to create opportunities for the outcomes you want.

Working on company gaps is an effective means to accelerate financial strength.

THE PEOPLE CORNER – Leadership … the Balance

In our business practice, we outline the differences between quantitative and qualitative measurements. It is a bit like comparing what you can get your hands around … compared to what you feel.

We have a concept called the GAPWORX Balance which observes and details what you do (the Metrics) – how well you do it (the Aesthetics.) It is the contrast of the work … and the style.

Leadership requires a wide range of capabilities. Among them are knowledge, experience, dedication, discipline, insight, and decision making. Less easily measured are observable behavioral qualities such as courage, resiliency, and consistency.

Using an analogy, it is one thing to use brute force “to make the trains run on time.” It is quite another matter to win the “hearts and minds” of the people, and to win the war.

Too often leadership emphasizes the metrics of analysis, strategy, and action – at the expense of inspiring people and gaining their trust.

Archimedes said “Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the earth.” He was talking about using a lever to force an action. But he also knew that a lever is useless without a fulcrum – the foundation and pivot point which makes leverage work.

The old business ways of “command and control” were about strict organizational structures, and telling employees what to do. Modern leadership emphasizes soft skills, such as emotional and social intelligence, and knowing that people perform best when they have purpose and meaning to their work. Leaders help their employees build strengths through training, and providing effective feedback. Today’s leadership models are better levers and fulcrums to achieve organizational results.

The Peter Principle describes how an employee progresses “up the ladder” until they finally reach the rung of their limits, and they become “incompetent.” Leaders continually climb until they reach the top rung. Whether the leader is successful, or is replaced by another, is achieved by balancing the quantity of capabilities … with the quality of the person.

A good leader must understand that followers might not remember everything you told them, but they will always remember how you made them feel. A good leader must first be a good person.

Fortunately, leaders can improve the balance of what needs to be done … and being a better person. Being a better leader comes through self-awareness, motivation, and feedback from trusted resources.