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9 ways companies are activating their customer advocates

Blog by Ian Luck
January 26, 2023

The Net Promoter System® (NPS) is a fantastic tool for identifying customer advocates. Customers that score you a 9 or 10 are your promoters and if incentivized will spread referrals and positive word of mouth about your brand and products.

However, while many companies know who their advocates are, a common stumbling block is how to incentivize them. We’re here to help, though! We’ve compiled the stories of nine companies that are each employing a different way to create word of mouth or referrals.


Give away your product for free (not all of it of course)

We start with the ride-sharing app, Uber because it’s referral program is so simple and yet ingenious.

Uber has built referrals right into their product, for each new customer that signs up to the app is automatically given a personalized referral code. And every time a new account is created using a referral code, both parties receive $20 credit towards their next trip.

There is nothing more to it than that, but it’s a strategy that’s highly effective. For not only does it provide value to both advocates and their contacts, but it also instantly raises the loyalty of new but maybe apprehensive customers.


Let your product do the talking

What better way to spread the word about your products then giving existing customers a platform to show others how they use it. The company I’m talking about is GoPro and the platform is YouTube.

For those that don’t know, GoPro sells small high-definition cameras that can be mounted to almost anything. People can capture any adventure they may have. And on the company's YouTube channel they can submit their own videos to share their adventures with the world.

GoPro’s experience is a visual one. And, by curating user submitted videos, from all over the world, they demonstrate show the versatility and quality of their product. It's a great strategy because it goes beyond customers simply speaking about the product to actually showing the world how it can be used.


Turn customer feedback into reviews

Kuoni (not to give them a big head, but one of our best clients), is an award-winning travel company that uses NPS feedback to create online reviews. Yes, it is possible to solve two problems with one solution.

At the end of a Kuoni survey, the customer is asked if they would like their score and comments published on the Kuoni review site. Each customer review is published along with the company’s total Net Promoter Score. And yes, while some reviews won’t always be positive, the site can proudly boast about the quality of these reviews.

For, review sites lack measures to prove the authenticity of reviews and are often filled with many fake customers (be it good or bad reviews). But by creating reviews from NPS surveys Kuoni’s reviews are 100% real.

The Kuoni story is a great one because instead of having first to identify promoters and then find a way to activate them, Kuoni makes it all happen in the one process.


Bad publicity is still an opportunity

We seek out happy, loyal customers to spread positive word of mouth. However, no company is perfect, and there will be problems in the experience they provide, but with the right touch you can still impress unhappy customers and neutralize bad word of mouth.

In 2012, the UK mobile service provider O2 experienced a blackout for almost 48 hours, affecting hundreds of thousands of customers. Not surprisingly, these customers took to Twitter, and it seemed as though O2’s social media team was up against the perfect storm.

O2, though, took everyone by surprise by responding to those in the Twittersphere with a tone and style that was honest, friendly and playful.

@O2 Oi! O2! Because of you I missed a call from my dear old mum. For that I think I owe you a pint. Ta! :)
— Jeb Bearstone (@MrJeb) 12 July 2012
@MrJeb Um... you're welcome, we think. But if your mum asks, we'll totally deny this tweet.
— O2 in the UK (@O2) 12 July 2012
@O2 Your secret's safe *taps nose*. Cheers!
— Jeb Bearstone (@MrJeb) 12 July 2012

The result over the weekend was a shift in customer sentiment about the negative consequences of the network outage to its “think outside the box” approach to crisis management.


Make advocates a part of product design

Starbucks do it differently. Rather than have advocates promote existing products, they let them create new ones. Starbucks created in 2008 and ever since it has been an advocate-driven think tank, where people can submit ideas for new products and coffee combinations.

Obviously, this doesn’t create much advocacy outside of the website, but it does create products that already have huge acceptance before even being released. Before the site, product launches would cost millions of dollars to market. Now products that are created are done so because they already have thousands of fans at MyStarbucksIdea.


Put your star customers up on stage with a conference

If you are looking for a B2B company that is good at advocating their promoters, then you can’t go past Salesforce (which itself is an understatement). Dreamforce, the company’s annual conference is a tour de force for the company with over 1,500+ customer-led sessions and 170,000 registered attendees.

And while the event probably costs Salesforce a small fortune to put on (although the tickets aren’t cheap) the whole week is essentially one big space in which experts share their Salesforce success stories and newbies come to learn more. There are training sessions, keynotes from the CEOs of high-profile companies like Microsoft, YouTube and Cisco, and numerous exhibition halls where companies sell their Salesforce integrated products.

All this adds up to a huge amount of buzz about Salesforce, and part of the reason why it is maybe the top CRM system for business today.


Create a rewards point system

Not all B2B companies, however, have the budget of Salesforce but use advocacy as a way to market their product without the costly marketing budget.

ReadyTalk is a web conferencing platform that was up against big industry players such as WebEx and GoToMeeting. What they needed was a way to give customers a voice and reward them for their word of mouth brand recommendations, so they developed the Summit Club. And only customers who were considered “brand fans” were asked to join the Summit Club.

Once a customer joined the club, they were given different challenges and ways to earn points. Points could be traded in for different rewards, incentivizing the customers to continue spreading positive word of mouth and most importantly, establish a relationship that was mutually beneficial.

Did it work? Well, in just four months ReadyTalk had a network of 470 brand advocates, which led to 190 qualified referrals.

Duane Reade

Employ influentials to target social media

Duane Reade is a drugstore chain with 250 locations across New York and New Jersey, and when the company rebranded itself it knew it had to get the word out.

So they brought on a VIP blogger team to generate content for their social media platforms, QR code landing page, blogs and Google+ (yes, this was a few years ago when Google+ still had some reach), alongside traditional PR tactics. And the strategy paid off, with over 2,000 pieces of original content, there was a 28% lift in year-over-year sales with a 5x ROI.


Because your employees are also priceless

Who are the advocates of your company? The customers that love you, right? Well, there’s also another group that companies are finding out are just as important and effective: the employee.

As of 2013, MasterCard had a social media and marketing strategy that created exposure to roughly 40 million people per week. But the real big plan was to make their 7,500 U.S employees comfortable with social media and turn them into brand advocates.

Many companies look at employees taking to social media as a risk. MasterCard, however, sees it as an opportunity. To facilitate, the company relaxed their social media guidelines and started social media education sessions. With one notable mention being a “reverse” mentoring program, in which younger employees at MasterCard taught older MasterCard professionals. To step-up your knowledge, you can check out these examples of mentoring programs in the workplace.

About the Author

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Ian Luck
Ian has been in the CX market for over a decade evangelizing best-practices and strategies for increasing the ROI of customer programs. He loves a loud guitar, a thick non-fiction book, and a beach day with his family. You can catch him around the north shore of Boston, MA.
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