The stakes for small businesses to deliver superior customer service continue to rise. A report by the Walker consulting firm predicted that by 2020, customer service, rather than price and product, will be the key differentiator between brands. The report showed that while 91 percent of unhappy customers will leave a company, 86 percent will pay more for a better customer experience.
While customer service giants such as Zappos or Nordstrom have set the bar high, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are equally committed to creating positive experiences for customers. According to Blue Corona Marketing Solutions, 43 percent of SMBs say that improving customer experience and retention are their top strategies to improve revenue growth.
One way for SMBs to set themselves apart from their competition on the customer service front without breaking the budget is by cultivating advocates for their brands among current customers and employees.
Start with the Basics
First, it’s important to get a sense of what’s working or not for your customers. Start by monitoring your customer touchpoints through surveys or social media to learn more about what obstacles might be impeding customer satisfaction. Using a Customer Relationship Management System (CRM) can be helpful in capturing customer data and in creating reports showing areas of customer concern.
Brand Advocates are Cheerleaders for Small Businesses
Once you assess your current customer service experience, look to some of your biggest fans—satisfied customers and your employees—to become advocates for your brand. The rewards can be great: Bain and Company reported that companies that provide an excellent customer experience grow revenues 4 to 8 percent above their market.
Customer advocates can lend credibility because their opinions carry weight with potential consumers. According to Nielsen, two-thirds of survey respondents trust consumer opinions online, ranking after the recommendations of family and friends and branded websites as trusted sources.
Customers already excited about your brand are also more likely to sing your praises on social media. Since the average internet user has 8.5 social media accounts, brand advocates can extend your reach and impact on potential consumers.
Launch Your Customer Advocacy Program
To help identify potential customer advocates, start by reviewing which customers post positive feedback or online reviews, consistently open your marketing emails and buy your products. You can start by reaching out through social media and developing the relationship by sending product samples, providing discount codes they can share with others, and encouraging them to post content about your business.
Look for advocates beyond your current customers, as well. That can include researching hashtags or keywords to identify those talking about your industry and inviting them to participate in joint marketing efforts such as guest posts or webinars.
Once customer advocates are on board, continue to deepen the relationship with your brand cheerleaders. For example, you might offer your advocates access to exclusive offers, in thanks for their partnership.
Your Greatest Marketing Asset: Employees
In addition to customer advocates, your own employees could be an untapped treasure in sharing information about your company and products with their own personal networks. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer showed that more people trust a regular employee than a CEO: 54% to 47%.
To launch an employee advocacy program, it's best to train and encourage—but not mandate—employees to participate. Start by touting the larger business benefits of employee advocacy, and rally your staff around those goals.
Businesses can also make it easier for employees to share content by creating a library of approved content and then recognizing employees who participate.
Employee advocacy programs are a two-way street. According to the Hinge Research Institute, nearly 64 percent of employees in a formal advocacy program credited it with attracting and developing new business. The Hinge research also indicated that almost 86 percent of employee advocates thought that participating helped their careers by expanding their professional network and increasing their industry knowledge.
Focus on Results
Finally, monitor the effectiveness of your brand advocacy programs in order to keep improving the program's effectiveness. The key is to identify measurable key performance indicators such as an increase in web traffic, the number of likes and shares and brand mentions, as well as a lower bounce rate (visitors who exit your website).
Launching customer and employee advocacy programs can be a low-cost way to extend your company’s marketing efforts, but it’s important to take advocate feedback and use it to continually improve the customer experience. That customer focus can translate to improved brand awareness for SMBs and the potential for even greater revenue growth.