Customer Advocacy - What Is It?
This is the second article in our series about Customer Advocacy. In the
previous edition, we discussed the need for Customer Advocacy. In this
issue, we better define what Customer Advocacy is.
Customer Advocacy is a function that focuses on the customer, not an
individual department, organization or division of a company. Many
companies are recognizing the importance of "customer centricity" and the
implied customer focus and are thus choosing to implement a Customer
Advocacy role. In fact, well known Cisco Systems refers to their entire
Customer Care/Customer Service function as Customer Advocacy – empowerment
on a wide scale! In this series, however, we are going to discuss Customer
Advocacy within the context of handling exception situations, those that
tend to be escalated, complicated and challenging to resolve.
For the purposes of this article, we will define Customer Advocacy as
A cross-functional role empowered to marshal organizational resources
to resolve troublesome customer issues and identify root cause while
balancing the financial realities and strategic goals of the company.
Cross-Functional Go-To Person
Customer Advocacy is engaged when all else has failed the customer. In
this capacity, a Customer Advocate becomes the customer's "single throat
to choke." The key role they must play, as far as the customer is
concerned, is that of ensuring the firm fulfills on its commitments. As
such, the Customer Advocate must carefully "manage" the customer's
expectations, which may require that customer expectations be reset based
upon the realities of the situation.
To achieve resolution, the Customer Advocate may need to escalate
(hierarchically and/or cross-functionally) within an organization until
full ownership and accountability are obtained. Said another way, the
Customer Advocate will relentlessly drive resolution which may require
resources and/or agreement across several departments.
Getting to the Root of the Matter
To facilitate resolution, the Customer Advocate will be required to "get
all the liars in the same room" to facilitate cross-functional dialog.
During this process, the Customer Advocate will note any items related to
root cause, which could include broken or non-existent processes, a
product-related issue, or simple miscommunications. Once the immediate
customer issue is resolved, the Customer Advocate will provide information
in a format that allows roll-up analysis and links directly to performance
and service improvement plans. Without this root cause analysis and
subsequent follow-up, the firm is likely to see the situation recur for
the same or other customers.
Expectations and Reality
A key role for the Customer Advocate is to manage the customer's
experience "through" resolution of a troublesome situation. As such, he or
she is responsible for keeping the customer up-to-date on the situation as
it is being handled. This requires clearly setting customer expectations
and providing timely updates, regardless of status. Doing so establishes a
level of creditability that is rooted in reality. Reality, not quoted
service levels or other standard responses, is of the utmost importance.
This requires an "opening of the kimono." Remember, these situations have
already gone through normal channels, passed quoted service levels and
exhausted escalation paths. The goal is for this process to bring the firm
back into the "good graces" of the customer.
To achieve this, it is crucial to frequently (weekly, daily or more)
communicate to the customer on the progress being made. Additionally,
if/when something goes off track, it is the Customer Advocate's job to
update the customer accordingly. This will require that the entire
organization line-up behind the Customer Advocate, rather than having each
individual in the organization bombard the customer with incremental
information. With this alignment, the Customer Advocate can provide a
comprehensive update (hopefully, most all of which is good) and, at the
same time, share a "blip that has occurred" within the context of the
greater good that is occurring to resolve the customer situation.
On the Bus or Under It
From a practical standpoint, having a Customer Advocate unleashed on your
department or division isn't exactly fun. In fact, from the perspective of
a departmental leader/manager, it is often downright uncomfortable – and
it should be! The Customer Advocate has the customer's best interest in
mind (not necessarily yours) and is engaged because something is not
working…part of which may be owned by you. As such, it is important for
the Customer Advocacy function to have complete Senior Management air
cover to make or recommend improvements.
It helps to consider the following perspectives with regards to Customer
If you are championing the creation of a Customer
Advocacy function, expect resistance. There are plenty of folks deeply
rooted, their position buoyed by broken process, problems or 'cross
functional issues.' For these folks, fixing root cause issues reduces
If a Customer Advocate engages you, it is for the
larger good of the customer and therefore the company. Customer
Advocates have the advantage of providing views from multiple
perspectives. As such, seize the opportunity for betterment – it will
benefit your customer (and your team).
Customer Advocate's goal is to address the immediate customer issue in a
highly responsive manner, proactively identify the root-cause and (if
possible) provide recommendations for resolution to prevent a similar
issue from recurring.
Our next edition will cover what Customer Advocacy is not.
In the meantime, if you would like to receive an in-depth overview of this
topic and/or conduct a strategy discussion regarding your Customer
Advocacy initiative (or concept), feel free to give us a call.
View previous articles in this series.
Keeping Customers First
During a recent interview with a reporter who was preparing a story on
Best Buy's Customer Centricity initiative, I was asked for an example of a
firm that I consider to be truly customer centric. I felt that the
response would be worth sharing in expanded form to our esteemed
Who do I think of as a customer centric company? Southwest Airlines.
Before I tell you why I believe this (from personal experience), I'll
share the results that this company has achieved. The book The
Southwest Airlines Way by Jody Hoffer Gittell, published
in 2003, offers the following information:
Southwest Airlines has a market value greater than the
rest of the
U.S. airline industry combined.
Southwest Airlines has 31 consecutive years of
profitability. The only year they weren't profitable was their first.
Southwest has sustained a steady 10 to 15 percent rate
of growth throughout its history.
In the wake of September 11, Southwest Airlines kept
ALL of its employees working and continued its unblemished record of
growth and profitability while other airlines laid off thousands, begged
Congress for money and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Fortune magazine calls Southwest Airlines "the most
successful airline in history."
If you'd like to learn
HOW Southwest achieved these outstanding results, read The
Southwest Airlines Way by Jody Hoffer Gittell, available
Now, why do I think that Southwest Airlines is a customer centric firm?
The answer will be shared in 4 parts:
Countless customers, yet they reach out to the
Southwest bends the rules for me
Southwest is easy to do business with
Southwest helps my bottom-line
Reaching Out to the Individual
With the number of customers that Southwest has, it is refreshing to
experience how they frequently touch customers as individuals. The
examples that follow are based upon personal experience, beginning with
the mundane and finishing with something I consider amazing.
Each week, I receive at least one email from Southwest providing travel
savings opportunities and related updates. Some might consider this spam;
if so, you can easily opt not to receive these messages, or filter them
into your bit bucket. However, if you are on the watch for low-cost
opportunities for a last minute weekend get-away, then this information is
I recently received a Birthday Card from Southwest. Sure, you might say
"don't many of your suppliers send you a card?" Well, many do and they are
certainly appreciated. Southwest's was no typical card, though. It was a
3D birthday card that is STILL sitting on my desk. What a conversation
piece this is. Each time someone picks up the card and glasses for viewing
they will likely hear a Southwest story from me. Geez, I wonder what the
ROI was on THAT investment...
This Valentine's Day I received a small package from Southwest. In it was
a gift: booties to prevent my socks from getting dirty after taking my
shoes off at the airport security line. To be clear, I never did wear
those booties (you can get beat up for that), nor have I seen anyone else
wear them. However, it does fall under the category of "it's the thought
The most amazing example I have to share in the category of Southwest
reaching out to me as an individual relates to the Super Bowl. Being from
New England, I was happy to (again) see the New England Patriots achieve
victory. The next day, to my amazement, I received an email from Southwest
indicating that they were awarding me Rapid Reward points (a.k.a.
frequently flyer points) because my hometown football team won the big
game! The award amounted to almost 1/4 of what is required for a free
All of the above - consistently achieving profits with delighted customers
- from a "no frills airline." Hmmm...makes you think, doesn't it?
In the next edition, we'll share other examples that demonstrate Southwest
being a customer centric firm.
+ Customer Advocacy - What Is It?
+ Southwest Airlines: Keeping Customers First
+ Recommended Reading
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CCI's website to download Positive Power Influence, presented
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Chapter Career Development Day on May 14, 2005.
Companies that have
implemented CRM know that as difficult as it is to design, develop and
execute enterprise-wide CRM, system roll-out is just the beginning. In
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evolving business improvement."
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