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guide

How to turn customers into brand evangelists: a customer experience guide to the promoter economy

Anton
de Young

Can a single tweet topple a great company? It hasn’t happened yet, but a chorus of unhappy tweets from a group of unhappy customers can do a lot of damage to a company that isn’t providing the kind of customer experience that consumers now demand. In fact, Gartner Research recently stated that “customer experience itself is proving to be the only truly durable competitive advantage” and a recent survey they conducted shows that 89 percent of the companies they talked to expect to compete mostly on customer experience. It’s that important.

The power shift that occurred as the internet became the foundation of the many channels we now have for providing feedback about the products and services we choose to buy and use — a choice of channels we never had before — gives consumers a bigger voice and that has a bigger affect on businesses. You’ve heard the social media horror stories. It can get rough out there. However, there’s a flipside to this.

Those same communication channels can be used to help businesses thrive. An unhappy customer can become an evangelist — if you handle their unhappiness in the right way — and happy customers can promote your business in ways that feel more honest and authentic than traditional marketing efforts.

Happy customers can promote your business in ways that feel more honest and authentic than traditional marketing efforts.

Customers generally trust other customers more than they trust a business. They’d rather watch a shaky handheld smartphone video of another customer’s review of your products than taking your word for how awesome your products are. The thumbs up from another customer can be the most persuasive form of marketing.

In their search for authenticity, the real story, savvy consumers lead with squinty-eyed cynicism. They’re well informed and they’ve developed their BS detecting muscles. Testimonials and reviews and ratings from other customers help them become better informed and better prepared to make the buy decision, or not. In this arena, consumers control the message – not businesses.

Defining the promoter economy

Consumers praising a business's products and services online is what we’re referring to when we say promoter economy. It’s customers helping businesses market and sell products and services by sharing their positive experiences. They help to build brands, establish trust, and connect businesses to new customers.

This has also been referred as word-of-mouth marketing and evangelism marketing. Those consumers who provide praise online and have influence on other consumers have been referred to as brand evangelists, and that’s the term we’ve chosen to use in this guide.

Satisfied customers promote brands

You could say that brand evangelists are satisfied customers and that satisfied customers promote brands. Assuming that’s true, the key here is customer satisfaction and the challenge is to offer a superior customer experience that leads to high customer satisfaction. But this of course involves many parts of a business and is easier said than done. Where to begin?

Happy, satisfied customers help to build brands, establish trust, and connect businesses to new customers.

About this guide

The focus of this guide is on the role that customer service and customer experience plays in building great customer relationships and ensuring high customer satisfaction, which leads happy and loyal customers to become brand evangelists. This guide covers the following topics:

You of course have to have all the other bases covered as well, such as great products and services, competitive prices, the right marketing strategies, and so on, but those parts of the puzzle are well beyond the scope of this guide.

Rants and raves — the value of customer feedback

Where there’s internet, there’s unsolicited feedback. It comes in as product reviews and rants on ecommerce, social media, and various other sites; as support requests to customer service; and also through the conversations you’re having with your customers on other communication channels.

This is all good because your customers are providing valuable feedback that can help you build better products, a better customer experience, better relationships — and encourage satisfied customers to become brand evangelists. You just need to listen, respond, and act on the valuable feedback you’re getting.

You just need to listen, respond, and act on the valuable feedback you’re getting.

PWC recently reported that “67 percent [of consumers] say that either reading or writing social media reviews and comments influences their online shopping behavior”. Even if we’re not posting reviews ourselves, we’re reading them and they’re influencing our buying decisions. The potential is there for these consumers to have a positive effect on the brands they do business with. Key to that is the customer experience.

Respond to unsolicited feedback

All customer feedback should to be responded to in some way, but unsolicited feedback, especially negative feedback, should be given special attention and handled as quickly as possible. Ignore trolling, but not legit problems and gripes from your customers.

Since your customer service organization is the first point of contact when something goes wrong, that feedback is usually their job to handle – their first concern is managing the customer relationship and trying to keep them all happy and satisfied. It helps to know how (and how not) to respond to that negative feedback. Customer satisfaction and your brand reputation are on the line.

Receiving negative feedback from a customer can be a gift; an opportunity to build a better relationship. As business strategist and author Jay Baer points out, dealing with negative feedback and solving a customer’s problem can make a customer more loyal than before and help turn them into your brand evangelists.

Receiving negative feedback from a customer can be a gift; an opportunity to build a better relationship.

You can find some very useful advice about responding to negative feedback in these two Relate articles:

Don’t ignore social media feedback

Social media of course can be the source of the most damaging negative feedback, especially if you ignore it. In a recent Relate Live keynote, Veronica Belmont pointed out that 89 percent of the messages sent to companies on social media are never responded to. Negative and public with no response; that can’t be good for your brand can it?

Responding to legitimate feedback is not optional. But, you have to take the right approach when responding. For example, scripts and canned responses are not the best way to handle social media feedback. Veronica provides insights into this and the human aspects of your customer relationships in Let’s get real: the not so secret relationship of brands and customers online.

We’ve also developed a guide with best practices for interacting with customers on social media: How to interact with customers on social media.

Ask for more feedback

Some brands actively encourage their customers to review them on sites like Facebook and Amazon — some even encouraging their customers to do that by offering them discounts.

Request to review a product on Amazon

Source: Kattee.com

And sites like Amazon take it on themselves to ask for product reviews from their shoppers. You’re as likely to receive an email request for product feedback as you are the order confirmation.

But’s there’s even more that you can do to understand how your customers feel about your products and your company. You can ask your customers how things are going and how they feel about their experience, and your brand, using customer satisfaction ratings (CSAT) and the Net Promoter Score® (NPS).

    Customer satisfaction (CSAT) measures important customer interactions, purchases, and support interactions. Are customers happy? Are they not? Are there trends to be found when looking at the CSAT ratings across your entire customer base? Which reps are doing a better job satisfying your customers? You can read more about setting CSAT surveys in Using customer satisfaction ratings.

    Net Promoter Score® (NPS) measures of the overall health of your customer relationships. The NPS survey simply asks “How likely are you to recommend my company to someone you know?”, which helps you understand if the customer is loyal and is likely to return. It’s also a great tool for measuring the effect they may have on your brand in the promoter economy. Will they advocate for your brand? Unlike transactional requests for feedback, NPS surveys are done every once and awhile (yearly or quarterly for example). You can read more about NPS in NPS Best Practices: What is Net Promoter Score℠ and how does it help me?.

You can think of CSAT ratings as the short-term measurement of the interactions you have with your customers, and NPS surveys as the long-term measurement of those relationships. You can read more about each of these types of surveys in Measuring happiness: What’s the difference between CSAT and NPS?.

Other sources of feedback

Beyond CSAT ratings and NPS surveys, you’ve got other options for discovering how your customers are feeling about your products and your company.

    Cancelled accounts - If you’re a subscription-based business, you inevitably lose some customers and they cancel their accounts. When these customers cancel their accounts (including those who’ve canceled trial accounts without becoming subscribers), collect feedback about why. Too expensive? Not enough features? Unhappy with the support you provided? You can do this within the user interface itself (in the Cancel Account screen, for example) or by sending a follow up email. Even though you’re losing a customer you’re gaining valuable feedback, especially when you spot trends in that data.

    Usability testing - Your Design and UX teams play a key role in providing a great customer experience at the user interface level, which, when poorly designed, can be a huge frustration for customers. It should go without saying that pre-testing your user experience, listening to usability testers, and then using their feedback is an important part of delivering a great customer experience.

    Pain points - If you know what areas of your product result in either a) the most tickets, b) the most time-consuming tickets, c) the highest customer effort, or d) the lowest CSAT, then reach out to customers who are actively engaged and unhappy, and focus attention on improving those areas.

    New feature requests - Track what your customers are asking you to add to your products. You can categorize the support requests you receive by using a custom About field (for example, About = New Feature Request). You can also provide your customers with a new feature request forum in your online Help Center, but make sure that someone monitors that forum, responds to customers, and updates the status of the feature requests (for example, flagging them as Planned, Not planned, and Completed).

    User community - Your Help Center can also be the place where your customers go to connect with other users by asking questions about how to use your products and by sharing their advice and tips and best practices. You can seek out their feedback by monitoring the conversations they’re having, and by also actively engaging them. Got a new feature or a new product you’re about to roll out? Create a beta program and invite your user community to participate. We’ve got more to say about the value of a user community in Build a community of expert users below.

Use all the feedback you collect

It’s unlikely that all customer feedback will ever be funneled through just one team in a company — it’s coming from so many directions. Your goal is to collect actionable feedback data from the all teams involved, and that’s why all those teams need to keep talking and sharing data.

    Angela Guedes from Typeform, a Barcelona-based company that builds tools for collecting customer feedback, discovered that the only way to effectively manage and make use of all their feedback data was to build a customer voice program. “The problem we were facing before we had the customer voice program is that it was hard to find trends by only looking at one source of information.” Teams and feedback of various types were siloed.

    Angela, a Customer Voice & Customer Experience Analyst on the Typeform Success team, started rounding up all their feedback data and presenting it in a quarterly customer voice report that now has a major influence on their product roadmap decisions and priorities.

    The quarterly feedback report includes the following:

    • NPS scores for the paid version of their product (they also offer a free version, but don’t send NPS surveys to those users because their focus is on retaining paying customers)

    • Churn rate (how many customers have cancelled their paid subscriptions and why)

    • CSAT ratings for all the support requests they handle

    • Requests for new features

    • Customer pain points

    Taken altogether, these data points provide Typeform with a clear understanding of where they need to make improvements to their products and customer experience.

Collect more data in your support requests

Much of the feedback data that Typeform receives comes in through their customer service organization. In addition to the transactional CSAT ratings, they also annotate their support issues with additional detail so that they can later segment that data and spot trends that need to be addressed (for example, the workflows that caused pain points, the features that were requested, and the bugs that were identified).

Here are suggestions for capturing more detail in your support requests so that it’s easier to sort and analyze the data later.

    Add custom fields to capture more detail in support requests. Some examples:

    • About - A multiple level drop-down list field, which you can use to indicate what part of the business, or products, or services, are affected (Product > UI > Registration, Sales > Pricing, etc.). You can use drop-down lists to categorize in whatever way that you find useful for following up on an issue. This can also indicate the team or person that should assign to resolve the issue.

    • Example of About field in Zendesk
    • Business impact - You might use a field like this to add another dimension to the severity of a support issue. For example, what group of customers are being affected, the effect the issue may have on sales, etc. This not only helps you to escalate an urgent issue, you may also use it to justify the cost of making changes the product based on the feedback you’re getting from customers.

    • Cause - What’s the root cause of the issue? Is it a software bug? A feature request? Connection issues?

    • Handle Time - capturing and aggregating the time required for your team to resolve particular issues (especially when combined with an About field as described above) can help you isolate the product areas that need the most attention.

The next step is doing something with all the insights you’ve gained from all that feedback you’ve collected.

Putting your feedback to good use

As with gathering the feedback data, doing something with it requires multiple teams working together to improve the customer experience, products and services, and customer satisfaction.

Because so much of the feedback data comes in to the customer service team, it makes sense to begin there and connect that team with the other teams that play a part. Here are steps you might follow to collect, analyze, and leverage your feedback.

    • Collect feedback data from multiple sources (your communication channels and teams within your company).

    • Annotate your incoming support requests with additional data that will help make spotting trends easier.

    • Create a report that presents that feedback to the people within your company who can act on it, as Angela does in the example above.

    • Highlight the impact the feedback has on customers and your business (cost and ROI).

    • Schedule a recurring meeting with the Customer Service and Design/User Experience teams so that the people interacting directly with customers can share the feedback they’re getting about the customer experience and usability.

    • Align the relevant teams (Design/UX, Product Management, and Engineering, for example) to process the feedback and make changes.

Aligning your customer service and design teams may result in more than just tweaks and enhancements to what you’re offering to your customers. A close working relationship between these two teams may lead to more innovative product and experience design and help you to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

    Ryan Donahue, VP of Design at Zendesk, thinks that the future of innovation lies in that alignment of customer service and design. “I’m convinced that most support organizations are sitting on the kinds of customer insights and customer data that could really define what the next big thing is. It’s just a matter of getting it into the hands of the right people.” Ryan sees a future merging of the two functions given the need to use customer experience as a differentiator.

    You can read much more about Ryan’s ideas and his best practices for aligning these two teams in The art of customer experience design. You may also want to check out Empathy and humanistic design are customer service game changers, which explores how effectively human-centered design improves the customer experience.

Make it easier and build better relationships

Given that customers have more choices and a larger voice to positively or negatively affect businesses, how they are treated by the people they’re in direct contact with, like your customer service reps, matters much more. They want a better experience and more a human approach to the support they need. It’s no longer just about agent handle time and other productivity metrics; your focus should be on customer satisfaction, whatever that takes.

Recent research, as well as real world results, shows that reducing customer effort is the key to loyalty and satisfaction. Eliminate the unnecessary hassles of interacting with your company at every stage of the customer lifecycle. In other words, make it an easier experience. That is manifested in just about everything: product design, the sales process, contacting support, finding answers quickly, and so on. Most customers are happy if they never have to interact with you.

When they do need to interact with you directly, by contacting someone in customer service for example, they want to be treated by like humans. Respect their time, listen to them, and be empathetic.

Build a community of expert users

If you provide your customers with a self-service knowledge base and community, an online Help Center such as Zendesk Support, you have the opportunity to connect with and engage your expert users to help your other users. You’d be amazed how generous these users are with their time and their expertise.

Zendesk’s own user community program was built on this willingness of expert users to help other customers. While the advice they typically provide is practical product use tips and best practices — not directly advocating for your company and products to help increase sales on social media and ecommerce sites for example — it’s another important aspect of increasing customer satisfaction and nurturing your brand evangelists.

To harness the generosity of these users, and also acknowledge and reward these users for their contributions, you can start community moderator program. This benefits your business because they assist other customers and are an extension of the self-service you provide. They stand in for your customer service team and help you to deflect new support requests.

What’s in it for them? A closer relationship with your company, public recognition of their expertise, and other perks. Here’s a look at the benefits of participating in the Zendesk community moderator program.

    • High priority status on tickets filed with Zendesk

    • Recognition as a Community Moderator in our forums

    • Zendesk-branded swag

    • Quarterly, activity-based incentives, including training classes and services consultations

    • Exclusive, quarterly Q&A meeting with a product manager

    • Sponsored Zendesk testing account for work as a moderator

    • Private moderator forum for discussions and special information

    • A chance to meet other users like you and improve your own Zendesk workflows!

Zendesk’s community moderators are part of the Zendesk family; partners in our mission to help businesses build better relationships with their customers. They also contribute content to our knowledge base, have spoken at marketing and training events, and some have even become employees.

Turn loyal customers into brand champions

The value of expert users is not limited to just providing useful advice to other customers in a Help Center. They can also be, and often are, active promoters — brand evangelists — on social media and ecommerce sites and in-person at user groups and industry conferences. As both professionals sharing advice with other people in their profession and as consumers sharing with other consumers.

    Sarah Nagel, Community Outreach Manager at Sprout Social, Inc, launched a community program called Sprout Social All Stars in 2012 that has created a partnership with their most loyal and invested customers.

    Similar to the Zendesk community moderator program, Sprout Social offers their All Stars a long list of perks for participating. The benefit to Sprout Social, aside from stronger relationships with these loyal customers, is the word of mouth marketing their all stars provide — real customers providing honest feedback that helps them build trust with other consumers.

    You can read more about Sarah’s All Star program in How to build community partnerships: an interview with Sarah Nagel of Sprout Social.

Reward customers to provide support to other customers

Companies such as Airbnb, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Republic Wireless are also enlisting the help of their expert users to provide direct customer service using a new model called on-demand customer service. This approach connects a customer with a question to a customer who knows the answer, bypassing the customer service team.

This is also based on rewarding the expert users who participate. They collect rewards, the customers with questions interact with enthusiastic product users, and response time and CSAT are increased. This is because the expert users compete with each other to answer questions first — to grab the reward — and CSAT increases because of the quicker response time and because the interaction is between customers, actual users of the product, who probably understand the context of the question better, and also probably provide more honest answers about how something does, or does not, work.

You can read all about the on-demand customer service model in You can’t wow your customers, but your customers can.