UPDATE: We now have a more comprehensive post with everything you need to know about customer advocacy.
While there’s plenty of chatter about Customer Success being your “driving purpose” in a post-sales strategy, we have a slightly different take. Your customer’s success is a critical step on the road to garnering their loyalty and, ultimately, their advocacy. Attaining this end goal starts with how you manage your customer experiences.
In a recent LinkedIn forum discussion, Customer Success enthusiasts debated the definitions of Customer Experience and Customer Success. As we ignite the fire under our own passion for Customer Advocacy, we want in on this conversation.
Let’s start with our take on the vocabulary being used in discussions about managing existing customers.
- Customer Experience (CX): We like Gartner’s definition.
The practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.
This is the starting point of any plan for retaining customers. While it’s often talked about in a B2C context, customer experience is a very defining step in customer retention and growth. Meeting and exceeding expectations is key.
- Customer Success (CS): Is “Customer Success” a function? A department? A mindset? Phil Nanus at TSIA distinguishes between the department that is tasked with helping customers be successful (cs – lower case) and the state of success that customers experience with your solution (CS – upper case).We see customer success (CS) as an enterprise-wide discipline. It’s all the things you do across an organization that facilitate your customer’s success. It’s not limited to onboarding or adoption. Rather, it’s a top-down, culturally and strategically instantiated approach to helping your customers experience success as a result of using your solution.
- Customer Loyalty: This is the byproduct of customer success. If your customers don’t leave you, they are Loyal. There may be lots of reasons customers remain loyal. Facilitating customer experiences which make your customers successful is the recipe for loyalty.
- Customer Advocacy. Now, this is the promised land! All that comes before (CX, CS, Loyalty) leads toward the goal of customer advocacy. This is where customers become vocal on your behalf. It’s when they start to help you sell. Getting your customers to this state is not simple.
(Our eBook on Customer Loyalty provides greater depth about how to garner loyalty and then convert loyalists into advocates.)
When you put this all together, what does it (ideally) look like in the B2B landscape?
In B2C, the connection between customer experiences, loyalty and advocacy are straightforward.
Consider your favorite airline. While routes and pricing are pretty significant reasons you choose an airline, you are also likely to be loyal (or not) to one over another based upon your experiences. Do they depart on time? Do you appreciate the leg room? How do you feel about their in-flight service? If you – personally – like your experiences, you are likely to refer the airline to others. If you don’t, you will surely tell your stories, as well. Your voice has power, and the airlines know that. They seek to make your experiences positive because they want your vocal support (advocacy).
In the B2B world, the route from experience to advocacy isn’t much different. Just as customers of B2C products want to know they are getting a good return on their investment AND feel positively about their overall experience, so, too, do B2B customers. The key differentiation is that it’s not just an individual’s experience that’s forming the basis for loyalty (though a single power user’s voice can be very influential). Rather, it’s about all the users and sponsors within an organization and how they experience your solution (and your team). Because of the collective nature of B2B relationships, it’s vital that customer experiences are predictably positive for all people within an account. For a B2B customer experience to form the basis for customer success, it must be both effectively and affectively processed – seen as a favorable value AND positive emotional experience. For the entire account to share this success, it must always be delivered the same (branded) way so that everyone within the account receives a similarly positive experience. When that same experience (and product) results in success for the customer, you are on your way to garnering loyalists.
While customer loyalty is key, it’s just half the story. Customer Advocates are the ones who help you grow your business through their vocal support and referrals. Developing a culture of advocacy is the way to do this. This is an enterprise-wide effort and involves:
- Being an advocate for your customer (think mutual advocacy)
Much like in human relationships, business relationships respond to modeling. What you do for your customer, they are likely to do for you.
- Internally collaborating in the interest of customers
Even if a customer is happy with your solution, they can be dissatisfied with their experiences with your business. When teams don’t work collaboratively to deliver a branded (and standardized) customer experience, customers can feel disoriented, frustrated, and unlikely to advocate.
- Anticipating your customers’ needs
Nothing makes a customer more likely to become vocal than when their needs have been met and their expectations exceeded – and they didn’t even have to ask for it. Know what your customers will need and deliver proactively. (These are table stakes. If you don’t do this, you’re not likely to garner loyalty to begin with.)
Customer Advocacy is NOT just nice words. It’s the way of capitalizing on existing loyal customers to grow revenue. We have a lot to say on this topic.