Many businesses get new customers through referrals by leveraging existing relationships with satisfied clients. Organic marketing, in this way, has a lot of impact on getting new customers, since they tend to trust their peers over advertising.
However, customer referrals can be more than just a lead generation engine for business. There are ways that a company can leverage these referrals into customer advocacy — a specialized customer service approach that focuses primarily on what is best for the client with the goal of creating loyal customers who advocate for the brand.
To help businesses struggling with their customer advocacy approach, 11 contributors to Forbes Communications Council share the methods they’ve employed to turn customer referrals into customer advocates in their own businesses.
1. Create ‘Out-Of-The-Box’ Communications
Turning customer references into advocates means creating out-of-the-box, personalized customer communications. Think about what makes you want to share particular stories with others. That same uniqueness can be applied to transforming customer references into customer advocates. Creating memorable moments will encourage customers to share their positive experiences, generating more referrals. – Maura Kennedy, Pond Lehocky, LLP
2. Activate Current Customers To Drive New Ones
An effective technique I’ve done is “activating” customers who just bought online (via an e-commerce thank you page) to share about their purchase on social media. Provide links with suggested “share and copy,” making it a low level of effort and easy to recommend a brand. Include an incentive promotion code that provides value to buyers and enables marketers to track the performance of the referral campaign. – Stacy Sherman, Schindler Elevator Corporation
3. Make Sure The Customers Feel Special
Creating advocates or “sneezers” is vital to the success of a company, especially in the age of social media. I find that making sure the customer feels special and part of the company long after their purchase is key. It creates brand loyalty and trust. This turns into repeat customers and acquiring new customers through word of mouth. – Daniel Plumlee, Walnut Ridge Rv
4. Create Long-Term Champions
Customer satisfaction surveys are a good way to gauge what your customers feel about you and get references thereafter. Instead of this feeling transactional, you should create customer ambassadors and champions who will root for you and provide excellent references. By making people feel like they are a part of your team and success, you can nurture and cultivate such relationships. – Preeti Adhikary, Fusemachines Inc.
5. Align On Incentives And Give Them Freedom
Establishing ambassador programs or referral partnerships with your clients is an effective way to create authentic third-party validation that can influence prospective customers in a way your direct sales and marketing never will. The key is to find incentives that work for both you and your client-partners, have frequent and open dialogue and give them the creative license to be successful. – Cristy Garcia, impact.com
6. Build Offline Relationships
Businesses know the usual formula. Build a great product or service that solves a problem. Communicate that to potential customers. Keep those customers happy. That works for references, but if you want advocates you have to go deeper. That means really getting to know your customer in a face-to-face setting. Try hosting a client appreciation event or even take your best clients out to dinner. – Patrick Ward, Rootstrap
7. Spotlight Your Customers
We often ask customers to be a reference or do a case study that’s more about how a product helped a company. I often spotlight customers and position them as thought leaders and showcase their success via blogs, Q&A, short videos, etc. and share the content on the website and social channels. If we make our top customers feel special, they’ll become our advocates for life. – Parna Sarkar-Basu, Brand and Buzz Marketing, LLC.
8. Move Private Referrals To The Public Sphere
Customer referrals often happen in the private sphere (emails, messenger) but it’s important to make them public (for example, social posts) in order to really capitalize on their advocacy potential. To make that leap, customers deserve a transparent, reoccurring incentive which allows them to share when they’re ready and it’s convenient for them. Too often, brands push (and lose) their advocates. – Vivien Garnès, Upfluence Inc.
9. Reward Them With Exclusive Offers
A great way to transform customer references into customer advocates is to reward the customer who refers new business to you with exclusive offers. This can be exclusive discounts, early access to new product releases or even exclusive access to special edition merchandise, swag or products. Consumers love having something nobody else does — so reward your biggest advocates with just that! – Sherry Jhawar, Blended Strategy Group
10. Invite Them To Join You On Strategy Sessions
One way we have turned customer references into customer advocates is by strategizing with top customers on new product design. We will bring in top clients and let them in on some new products we are thinking about and get their opinions. This instills a sense of trust, and we have found our top customers are more likely to pitch our product to their customers after this has happened in the past. – Sarah Lero, Peerless Products Inc
11. Do Something That Feels Personal To Them
Customer advocates are born out of exceeded expectations and good relationships with a business. Apart from taking feedback seriously and providing an outstanding product or service, companies should aim to do something that feels personal to the customer. Sending a birthday gift they casually mentioned or inviting them to the factory to see how their favorite product is made are just two examples. – Kevin Indig, G2