G.B. Kumar, Senior Vice President, Customer Advocacy, Cisco India & SAARC
Till a few years ago, companies completely relied on push / pull marketing to sell their products and services. Tracing back the evolution of marketing, you will notice a shift in the 1990s with the focus moving to relationship marketing. More recently, the dramatic increase in customer power is forcing the conventional rules of marketing and customer relationships to change.
Rapid strides in technology now allow customers to access information on a company and its products from myriad sources, going beyond simple search to customer reviews through blogs and social networking sites, thus achieving unprecedented access and power. Customers are also increasingly shunning the ever growing wave of marketing efforts as telemarketing calls and spam only add to customer angst.
Indeed, according to MIT Professor Glen Urban, an authority on trust based marketing, established push / pull marketing no longer works and even highly touted customer relationship initiatives are failing. Today's increasingly educated consumers expect companies to do more than relationship marketing. It's in this environment, that the need for customer advocacy attains great importance. Customer advocacy is doing what's best for your customer and truly representing your customer's interest through a mutual dialogue and partnership. As Professor Urban puts it, just as push / pull marketing was driven by the economics of mass production, and relationship marketing impelled by the saturation of push marketing and intense rivalries, so will customer advocacy become the next imperative because of the accelerating growth of customer power.
As customers become ever more demanding, less tolerant, and more skeptical, advocacy has become the favored strategy as companies seek to deal with the changing power equation. Customer advocacy is being successfully applied by companies across different industries with companies such as Starbucks and Harley Davidson being able to create high levels of customer engagement.
To realise its full potential, companies need to ensure that customer advocacy is an essential component of their corporate culture, such that it encourages employees to be committed to the customer and go beyond in-the-box customer service.
Globalisation and market trends such as personalisation are creating the need to deliver highly customised service offerings around the world to customers with diverse capabilities, skill sets, and requirements. Clearly, one size no longer fits all in the service industry. This means that companies, which have traditionally managed "break-fix" service delivery on the back-end of the sales cycle, can no longer afford to focus their efforts solely on that reactive support model and still expect to maintain or improve customer satisfaction. The very notion of customer satisfaction as the end goal is no longer appropriate in today's competitive world.
Today customers are looking beyond device-based value propositions and are demanding solution-based value propositions, more proactive thought leadership, increased knowledge transfer, tailored offerings, and consistent quality. Customer advocacy based marketing will enable companies to help customers improve their productivity, reduce operational costs, and get their applications and services to market as quickly as possible.
In today's world, the focus in technology has shifted from computing and data processing transactions to interactions and collaborations, where the value is in the real-time exchange of information and the connections between people and companies. When the network becomes the platform, customers can shift their attention from transactions to interactions and companies should be able to collaborate with customers in this process.
Companies that advocate for customers create more opportunities to sell a broader range of products and solutions. When companies realise that they need to transition from a focus on satisfaction to loyalty, they will understand the 'customer advocacy' imperative.