Success doesn’t end with simply coming up with a product that solves a problem and then getting a customer or client in the door.
Rather, both acquiring and retaining your customers are necessary for success. This means making sure your marketing plan is good at getting the right people to buy into your product. This also means ensuring you keep the clients that you’ve already acquired. In fact, once you’ve developed a client base, retention is much more valuable than acquisition. According to the Harvard Business Review, acquiring a new customer costs 5% to 25% more than retaining an existing one. This is why more and more companies are hiring client advocates.
So, what’s a client advocate?
A client advocate is broadly an employee or a centralized office which advocates for the client’s wants and needs, whatever they may be.
Client advocates are a little different from client reps, although, in theory, client reps should become client advocates. They are also different from product managers, who also have an advocacy role. They represent the customer and market view of the product to internal stakeholders.
Advocacy exists in many industries. Healthcare systems, product-focus fields, finance, and many related fields are popular areas for these professionals. Many advocates have bachelor’s in social work, HR, communications, and similar. No matter the industry or background, client advocates have similar objectives
The role involves hearing customer complaints or points of irritation or confusion. The individual then turns complaints into actionable items for internal teams to solve. They can assist clients directly, but their more essential functions are in forming a bridge between customers and organization team members.
For example, at GE, customers can submit an issue — any kind of issue — and be assigned a single point of contact at the company who will work across departments to achieve resolution within one day. The ability to work across departmental boundaries is one of the hallmarks of a good client advocacy program. Without that, it’s too easy for issues to fall through the cracks.
The role also involves thinking of and testing ways to improve client experiences and provide clients with more value. A client advocate will work closely with members of teams across an organization to understand the entire customer experience. From there, they will strive to improve the process.
Specifically, a client advocate:
- Listens to experiences highlighted by customer support staff
- Studies surveys and interviews carried out by a research and analytics team
- Works with product, engineering, and marketing teams to improve the value of the product or service and improve the user experience.
Here are six ways client advocates carry out their initiatives:
1. Work Closely with Your Customer Support Team
Your customer support team is a great place to uncover real issues.
Hearing some of the phone calls that the support team has with customers can be revealing. It might be that a known issue has a complicated workaround that the support team reiterates to many customers every day, rather than getting to the root of the problem and a definitive fix. It’s essential to dive into the data to learn what customers are commonly bringing up, what they are excited about, and what questions they have.
Do customers constantly complain about reporting or product performance? Are they excited about a new feature on your site? Does pricing and billing confuse them?
This is all-important information for a client advocate to know, and much of it can all be found in the help desk software that your customer support team is using. Sift through customer emails and take a look at notes from your support teams’ calls.
Schedule a time to join in these calls. Once you have done so, coordinate with support teams. Keep an eye on implementation practices and make sure progress is being against genuine issues your customers report. Do whatever you have to do to understand what your customers like, dislike, and don’t understand.
2. Conduct Research to Understand Your Prospects
While hearing the thoughts and concerns of your current customers is important, you will also want to learn about what non-customers think about your product, service, company, or brand.
This will require some research, perhaps in the form of interviews or surveys. The goal is to understand what is preventing prospects from becoming customers. From there, you can figure out what can be done to remove the impediments to selling.
3. Use A/B Testing to Test Hypotheses
As a client advocate, you can’t just assume that you know what your customers want through instinct, or because you have worked on the product for years and understand the market. To truly advocate for your clients, you’ll want to develop hypotheses based on real research and customer support data, then test it.
For advocates in companies where the primary product is a website or app, once you’ve developed your hypotheses, you and the product and analytics teams can perform A/B tests to test them. If you’re looking for a tool to help you, read reviews of A/B testing tools to help you make your choice.
4. Use Email to Nurture Customer Relationships
Just as with leads, it’s helpful to nurture your current customers with regular communication. Calling them all on the phone regularly might work for some small businesses. Realistically, email is a standard and scalable way to keep in contact with your customers on a regular basis.
Based on what you’re seeing in surveys and customer feedback, you can gear your emails to answer some common questions and provide your customers with helpful information. Of course, with most email marketing platforms, you will be able to track important metrics that will help you determine if your efforts are successful.
Make sure to personalize your email communications. According to our recent research, non-personalized messages are one of the most hated sales and marketing outreach tactics. You can use a client’s first name, where appropriate, and last name when needed. Try to create a feeling of community to drive customer satisfaction. If you have the resources, stress that you can implement reasonable accommodations. As their advocate, it’s your job to ensure things change to help make your organization the best fit for them. The best companies will listen for innovative ideas directly from clients.
Email is one of the best places to build relationships, because of this capability. You can quickly give dozens of clients the feeling they have an advocate on the inside.
5. Create a Space for Different Identities and Experiences
One of the most fundamental goals of client advocates is to create a bridge between people with different goals and perspectives. This goes beyond the customer/sales or vendor/buyer relationship.
Client advocates should represent and help voice the experiences of marginalized and minority groups whom they represent. Advocacy for those with disabilities, African Americans, Latino/Hispanics, LGBTQIA, and other communities are all unique. These conversations are sensitive, yet vital for an effective collaborative environment.
When speaking in regards to group-specific issues, take care. Use community resources and the individuals themselves to educate yourself. Do not act as the expert on people’s experiences, but simply be an ally for their communication and support.
If your clients have members of such communities, these considerations are vital for client satisfaction. On your own team, help your colleagues understand the role some of these experiences may play. Ensure leadership groups and decision-makers are aware of the role differences in people’s identity and experience play in their needs and wants. This will help drive an inclusive, fantastic customer experience.
For companies with a significant online presence, website accessibility compliance is a crucial form of advocacy that can not be ignored. This is even more vital for those that represent individuals with physical or mental impairments. You can use accessibility testing tools to help in this.
Below you can find a fantastic TedTalk about advocacy regarding race. While not exactly the same, the principles of the conversation are vital in client advocacy.
6. Determine Metrics for Success
There are some key metrics that customer advocates use to track success. Customer lifetime value is a well-known metric that works especially well for subscription services. The frequency of site visits or product usage can be another success metric.
Ultimately, the goal of a client advocate is to keep clients happy and make sure that they keep coming back to renew their contract, upgrade, or buy more.
It’s important to have data so that you understand what clients who are renewing, upgrading, or buying have in common. This helps you turn those commonalities into metrics for future success measurement.
Companies are always fighting to win new business as the highest priority. However, a balance must be maintained so that the focus on new customers does not come at the cost of existing customers.
It’s important to gain the trust and loyalty of your customers, especially in a subscription model business where switching costs are low. Maintaining low customer churn is a critical success factor for any subscription business and the client advocate has a critical role to play here.
The client advocate should be working with every team within a company to make sure he or she has all of the data necessary to make a case for their clients — a case strong enough to convince a CEO.
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