How To Turn Your Customers Into Advocates – Part 1

It is no secret… it costs more to win a customer than it does to retain one. You may spend considerable capital to advertise your product or service to fill your pipeline with interested prospects, with only a certain percentage actually closing. After all that investment, effort and manpower to get the sale, doesn’t it make sense to do what you can to keep them spending with you?

There are many avenues of creating customer retention; loyalty programs, coupons, customer referral rewards, auto drafts, subscriptions, to name a few very effective ways. However, you may want to consider adding another tool for your arsenal: Communities.

Providing customers a place to gather, whether online or in person, will create a bond around a common interest. This is the best way to turn Loyal Customers into Advocates. According to Dictionary.com, to advocate is “to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly.”

Wouldn’t it be great if an undecided prospect read, or was personally given, a recommendation by one of your customers? In Fred Reichheld’s “The Ultimate Question,”  he breaks down customers in to three categories; Detractors (people who speak negatively about you), Passives (customers who like you but can be swayed elsewhere) and Promoters (fans who are loyal to you). The goal is to turn the majority of your customers into Promoters. Creating communities can help you accomplish this.

Online Communities

While using Social Media is an excellent tactic, I’m not referring building communities through Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc. While those are essential, I am talking about building a community on your own property, your website. Once you get prospects and customers on your site, there are several ways to keep them coming back:

Message Boards

Adding a message board to your current website is guerrilla marketing at its core: takes more effort than money but has huge potential for positive results. Message board software is usually very affordable and, in some cases, free. The effort it may take to get one rolling can be a little time consuming, and there is the need for daily monitoring. However, message boards have the potential to pay you back with loyal customers who visit your site regularly.

The great thing about message boards, once you get a crowd, they are mostly self-sustaining. You can set up categories for where you feel topics would be best placed but, ultimately, it is your customer/client/fan base which suggest topics that keep people engaged and coming back. Give people a soap box and they love to be heard.

To encourage repeat visits, make sure to set up levels posters can reach, depending upon how many posts they leave. For example, if you own a sporting goods store or sports bar, everyone starts as a “Rookie.” Then, when they reach 25 posts, they earn the title “Pro.” 50 posts gets them “Veteran,” and 100 posts gets them “All Pro,” and so on. You would be amazed at how “status” is perceived in online communities and what lengths some people will go to get it.

Some suggested message board categories:

  • Product Reviews – Don’t be scared of allowing this on your site. You want to be able to monitor all feedback, including negative. People will find negative comments about you online so, it is better to be able to address it quickly on your own site. Plus, it gives you more credibility to prospects who come to your site seeking additional information.
  • Latest News – Current headlines that are product/service/industry related. If people love your company or product enough to visit its message boards, they will want to keep up on all the latest buzz. Ultimately, you want them to view your site as a news source which they know they can find the information they are most interested. Posters will add information themselves, often trying to “out scoop” the other members.
  • Technical Support – This is not to replace your customer service department, rather, give customers a quick reference for common issues or questions. An up-to-date and interactive FAQ, of sorts. You will find your customers love helping each other.

Blogs

Blogs on your site are incredibly valuable. If informative or entertaining, they keep people coming back. If popular, they generate many inbound links, which not only drives traffic to your site but increases your ranking in organic search results. I suggest you encourage your customers to write blogs on your site, as well. Allowing your customers to be the occasional “expert” and be published is a tremendous thrill. (These would need to be reviewed before being published, of course.) Not only will this build loyalty by those who are published but, by turning them into Advocates, you are creating a sense of credibility for those undecided prospects.

All blogs should allow comments, as well. For those who don’t have the time or interest in writing a blog, they still find a sense of community by having their comments read by people who share the same interests or passions that they do.

Articles

Does your company publish a newsletter or write articles? If so, you can add a “Letters to the Editor” column online. Like Message Boards and Blogs, readers like having a platform to react to what they read.  Often, it can result in exchange of valuable information or, even, playful banter. Both are excellent reasons for readers to come back on a regular basis.

And, if they are coming back regularly, chances are they are more likely to make a purchase. And, ultimately, isn’t that the goal?

Check back for Part Two, where I take a look at how you can build loyalty and Advocates through local guerrilla marketing tactics.

Rick Verbanas has brought his passion for marketing to Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and not-for-profits. He strives to stay current in the latest marketing best practices, and provides a weekly roundup for your news and enjoyment. To subscribe to future blogs, please enter your email address on the left hand side of the page.

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