Employee advocacy brings customer nurturing to everyone's doorstep

Employee advocacy is still immature, but it lets every company employee nurture customers and promote the brand. It brings CRM to everyone's door.

Striking a balance between customer nurturing and sales is one of the more difficult aspects of modern business.

Denis PombriantDenis Pombriant

Social tools make it easy to get up in a customer's grill such that we have to restrain ourselves from alienating those we want to influence. Customer nurturing is one of the forgotten arts in CRM, and today it is mostly limited to the marketing process. But customers still need to be nurtured even after they make a purchase.

In the near future, an assortment of customer nurturing approaches will hit the market. But one that's already locked and loaded is employee advocacy (EA), which is a novel concept idea for many people. In its simplest form, EA enables a company's entire employee base to reach out to customers with useful information, which can aid them and promote the brand.

Employee advocacy enables a company's entire employee base to reach out to customers.

Employee advocacy is for all employees, not simply customer support representatives. The broader array of participants enabled with EA provides a rich customer experience and leverages the old maxim that everyone has a story to tell. Employees in product development, for example, might not typically reach out to customers in this way, but their understanding could benefit customers rather than staying bottled up in the company. The results include broader engagement with customers and an incremental approach to nurturing that's closer to just right than an offer to buy more. So, rather than just push products, businesses that use an EA approach can have more authentic relationships with customers.

Why EA is community management

At its core, EA is most like a collaborative community, where a community manager orchestrates activities to encourage engagement, coming back to offer ideas about products, services and unmet needs. But the content is less oriented toward having customers say what they think and more toward having employees guide and assist. A savvy vendor might use EA for both purposes, but the market isn't there yet. Most early adopters still use the technology to hawk products and services, which indicates the market's immaturity.

What EA needs, in addition to more users, is a consistent business process for nurturing customers. None really exists yet, though the prospect of nurturing as it has been developed in marketing automation might be a good model.

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In marketing nurturing processes, vendors go to great lengths to offer content and other information, score the responses and only when the scores are sufficiently high, make an offer. There's no reason why a similar approach wouldn't work with EA. A customer that consumes specific content might be giving a latent buy signal for an upgrade or a cross-sell. In that case, the job of nurturing is to elevate the signal from latent to active. That would satisfy the need for authenticity and for respecting customers within the nurturing process.

Where there is no signal -- and this is key -- EA's job should be to keep the customer engaged and satisfied -- in the fold and ready to be contacted again when the time is right. Early adopters of EA have not figured out this key point yet, and it's the reason we always talk about people, process and technology.

These days you have to do all three.

This was first published in March 2014

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