In the ongoing relationship your company has with its customers, there are situations where they are stressed-out.  The reason is usually because they find themselves in a situation that is important, new to them, and has a perceived high risk of failure. It is during these time when an advocate can put your customer at ease and, in the process, create a raving fan who will advocate for you.

We can all empathize with this example

About 2 weeks ago, my wife had a total knee replacement at the leading joint hospital in Boston.  This is not the kind of surgery we, or someone we love, has every day.  During the run-up to the surgery, we received lots of advice and information from the surgeon, her Primary Care physician, and friends and associates who had been through this operation already.  All these were useful but we were still unsure about what would happen on the day of the surgery.  Then we met MaryEllen, the hospital Advocate, and a former nurse.

We waited in a waiting room and MaryEllen came over to us, introduced herself, and explained how the day would progress.  She then gave us her business card and said “I will let you know what is happening and when you can go see your wife but you can call me anytime you get worried.”  Then she explained the timeline.  Well, MaryEllen did not reduce my wife’s pain but she certainly reduced my overall stress level.  And she is an important reason that I would highly recommend the hospital.

Some definitions

According to the Oxford English Dictionary – An advocate is a person who puts a case on someone else’s behalf. [Remember, this is British English.]

And from Wikipedia – Patient representatives, ombudsmen, educators, care managers, patient navigators and health advisers are health advocates who work in direct patient care environments, including hospitals, community health centers, long term care facilities, patient services programs of non-profit organizations or in private, independent practice.

Advocates in the B2B environment

One of the earliest stories I heard about IBM, in the 1960’s, is that the sales executives were required to maintain frequent contact with each account he sold.  His pay was calculated on a base salary plus new sales commission minus a giveback for lost accounts. Think about this…. the sales person lost money if his account moved away from IBM!  The theory was that this kind of decision did not happen overnight, but was the result of a collection of poor experiences with the company, the products, or the people. The sales executive was paid to know about these types of issues and work inside the company to make the customer happy. That is, be an advocate for your customer.

And what is IBM doing today?  Here is the first page that came up when I did a Google search for Advocate IBM.  It seems this concept is totally imbedded at Big Blue:

In addition to IBM, many high tech companies have SAM’s (support account managers) and TAM’s (technical account managers).  Their job is the same as the IBM salesperson; i.e., keep close to the customers and make them successful.

In other companies that strongly believe in relationship selling, the sales executive functions as in the IBM model but may or may not lose money if they lose an account.  But they clearly failed if the account bolts.

How can customer service/support/success help?

Think about the times that could be very stressful for your customers. How about:

1. Installing a new production system or piece of equipment
2. Upgrading a major software system
3. Outsourcing critical processes to your business
4. Introducing new methods into an existing workflow

For all of the above, service can institute an on-boarding process in which one member of the team establishes a relationship with the customer’s leader in the transition.  This person, the advocate, makes herself available 24x7x365 and has a list of key resources throughout your company who are also available on the same schedule.  Your advocate knows the customer’s schedule and proactively reaches out and provides assurance that she and her team are available to help anytime.

As the on-boarding progresses, these frequent interactions can slow down as long as the customer knows the support team is always available. Of course, the sales executive should also check-in periodically and let the customer know she is also available.  Your business will have been successful when the customer sends a thank-you note and asks that the calls stop.

The benefit

Part of most company’s retention strategy is creating advocates who not only answer the NPS question with a 9 or 10 but also actually recommend your business to friends and associates.  When you demonstrate that your business is really invested in the customer’s success, you have gone a long way to creating this elusive advocate.