Improve Customer Advocacy by Recognizing Different Types of Advocates

by Jeannie Walters

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What is Customer Advocacy?

These days, you’ll hear lots of talk about customer advocacy. It’s the end-game for many marketers and customer experience professionals.

But what is it?

Most define customer advocacy as “when a customer loves your brand SO much they are willing to sing your praises to anyone who will listen.”

That’s absolutely an accurate definition, but it’s too broad to do us much service. Unfortunately, it’s also where a lot of brands stop.

If you want to improve customer advocacy for your brand, I’ll challenge you to avoid looking at advocates as a single, homogenous group and instead begin looking at the different types of advocates that your brand has.


The Three Core Types of Customer Advocates


Conditional Advocates

Conditional Advocates are often experts in their fields and those who others turn to for recommendations. And while they might recommend the brand, they do so conditionally.

conditional customer advocateWhile the product or service might meet the majority of needs, it’s missing… something. If a competitor came along and offered more or better, thisadvocate would be quick to jump ship.

They often will tell people about their love/hate (or sometimes just hate) relationship, and why they “put up” with the brand.

A conditional advocate sounds like this:

 I’m with Star Alliance through United. Now I hate United, but that doesn’t matter.

Defining these types of advocates this way highlights one of the most common mistakes in approaching customer experience: Having an endgame in mind.

Don’t get me wrong. We should have goals in mind to direct and inform our CX strategy, but delivering on Customer Experience is never something that we finish.

Experience is a daily, weekly, monthly thing that changes with the times. What works for customers one day or in one phase of their journey may not work for them the next. An advocate is never “locked in” to that status; each micro-moment and interaction they have with your brand will adjust their feelings.

Here’s a common example: Loyalty programs. Keeping count of how many customers have signed up for your loyalty program may seem like a great way to measure your advocates. After all, if someone likes you enough to sign up for your loyalty program, surely they’re advocates, right?

Well, sure, it’s likely a customer at this stage could be considered an advocate. But — at least for the time being — they’re most likely a Conditional Advocate, which means your work is just beginning.

Your advocacy programs should NOT focus simply on getting the most customers to sign up for a program. Instead, view these programs as ways to recognize the burgeoning group of customers who might be ready to be bigger advocates for you… and then help them do just that.


These Conditional Advocates have feedback for you, but you need to ask for it. If you see a lot of neutral responses on customer surveys, or no engagement at all, then those customers might be conditional advocates.

What if you’re not sure where to find these types of customers? In these cases, look for them where they aren’t talking TO you, but they’re talking ABOUT you.

Search for those mediocre reviews where a customer lists all the reasons they haven’t quite given up on your brand.

And if you want to move these advocates into more active roles? Blow their minds and respond to them directly. Tell them you hear their complaints and share what you’re doing to improve the experience in the future.

That step ALONE can move a Conditional Advocate into a Passive Advocate, which is one step closer to the type of advocate you really want.


Passive Advocates

This is the group that might still love your brand, but they won’t shout from the rooftops about it.

Passive customer advocateIf asked, they’ll offer a measured and fair recommendation. They will respond to inquiries on social media from trusted circles, and they will patiently wait for updates and improvements.

Passive Advocates trust the brand, they recommend the brand, but they are often ignored by the brand. They aren’t “loud” enough to be seen as advocates, and yet they are more likely recommending the brand simply because they love it. They aren’t necessarily interested in perks, but they wouldn’t mind receiving them.

A Passive Advocate sounds like this, when they are responding to a question about the category, within their social circle:

Since I switched to Mailchimp, I couldn’t be happier!

These customers really love your brand or product, but they simply aren’t “shout from the rooftops” type people. They are happy to share the information with their inner circle, but they aren’t about to post a random review for you on a public site.

Look for warm, kind phrases like this in your verbatim responses on your surveys, and then REWARD those providing those responses with meaningful gratitude. If brands take the time to actually acknowledge these kind words, your passive advocates will be more likely to feel recognized and want to share about your brand.

Rewards for these advocates can be personal, like a handwritten note from an executive. Or they can be rewards to share, like a special discount code just for friends of Mary.

These types of acknowledgments will help your passive advocates feel like they are in control of just how they share their love of your brand.


Active Advocates

These are the types — we all know a few — who are constantly verbal and always recommending the next best thing.

Active Customer AdvocateThis is the group marketers conjure up when they discuss advocacy. They are passionate and loud… just the way we want them!

Active Advocates will respond to inquiries about your brand not just to the person who asked, but to as public a group as they can get. Brands will lavish attention on them, which in turn they will discuss publicly, which will earn them more attention.

An Active Advocate sounds like this:

I have been a loyal customer of Threadless for a long time. I have introduced threadless to all my close friends and have many times been complimented on my t-shirt collection, thanks to Threadless 🙂

It’s pretty thrilling to think about this group of advocates, doing our sales and promotions for us! But just like ultra-loyal customers, these advocates have higher expectations of your brand. They want positive reinforcement for their sharing, especially if they are telling you this directly. Be sure to have a way to close the loop with these advocates at every step of their journey.

These are also the customer who are willing to tell you about the bad stuff early, but you need to ask for their help. If they are “on your team” then they will share their ideas WITH you instead of ABOUT you to whomever will listen.


How Well Do You Know Your Advocates?

Do you know your advocates, really? Do you know how you are defining them?

Customer Advocacy is NOT one-size-fits-all. If you are only treating one small group as your best customers, you are most likely missing opportunities to gain and keep more of them. A simple step to take is to develop simple journey maps of each advocate group, and brainstorm ways to reward and recognize them.

Your advocates are incredibly important assets to your brand and members of your customer communities. Treat them as the VIP’s they are!

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, LinkedIn Learning instructor, TEDx speaker, and President-Elect of the National Speakers Association Illinois chapter. Learn more here.

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