This story was originally published on Oct. 30, 2013, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.
I go to a lot of conferences. Usually they’re a combination of customer user group meetings and analyst days, and we all hear more or less detail about product futures, new functions and features, and policy rollouts.
If you know how to look at these events, you can see a certain scene repeated: A customer meets an employee face to face for the first time and gushes like a kid meeting a rock star. OK, that might overstate the case by a tad, but you’ve probably seen something like this or been part of such an encounter.
A typical scenario: The customer struggled with a difficult issue and one employee, frequently from the service organization, stayed with it until it was fully resolved — and the customer was profoundly grateful. The people involved all had the same shared experience, even though the relationship that grew up from adversity was only long distance. The eventual meeting was therefore cathartic for numerous reasons.
Just Doing Their Jobs
Why should service and support people have all the fun? Why should this kind of relationship-building come only from direct communication between a customer and an employee? Why should it happen only in dire circumstances? The short answer is that it doesn’t have to be that constrained. In fact, based on my understanding of the mechanics, if direct communication is the only channel you have for building those relationships, you’re probably missing out on many other opportunities.
Many of the employees I’ve seen in these moments humbly say that they were just doing their jobs — and they are right. The special knowledge they have comes simply from repeated exposure to the problems and issues associated with a product, version or process. They literally become the one-eyed man in the land of the blind, and they are rewarded for that in live user encounters.
So, how can we leverage all this potential goodwill in a business setting? After all, we can’t expect to convene a customer meet-up more than once a year, in most cases, and it’s prohibitively expensive to send service people to customer sites except in special circumstances, such as when there’s a big device or appliance involved.
Sharing the Goods
Simply put, all employees can share their knowledge through the myriad channels that have sprung up in social media, blogs, email, and whatever else you’ve got. The key to turning what your employees know into enhanced customer relationships involves organization and method, both of which are embodied in an emerging class of software that focuses on empowering employees to post what they know. The secret is in making their posts easily accessible, which goes to the idea of search engine optimization — and therefore method.
That’s what employee advocacy, an emerging category, is all about. Advocacy tools can be an important part of an inbound marketing program, because they enable your company to strut its stuff, so to speak, by showcasing the knowledge and problem-solving abilities of its people.
When a customer — or even better, a potential customer — uses a search engine to find a solution to a problem, your employee’s ideas bubble up to become not simply solutions but also a kind of thought leadership that customers latch onto, and this often results in sales and sometimes rock star status.
To be effective, you can’t leave to chance all the details of your targets — i.e., the personas you want to reach and their status in evolving from a disinterested party to someone with a legitimate need for your product. That’s also where method comes in. If you know that a customer persona has a particular business pain, you need to ensure that your thought leadership covers that domain. This is yet another place where method comes in.
All that said, inbound marketing via employee advocacy can help turn individuals into rock stars and your company into the go-to source for trusted information on how to solve specific business problems, and that’s not a bad thing. So the next time you are staring at your measly marketing budget and wondering how you can leverage it, think a bit further about how you can leverage your employees’ knowledge too. They’re all rock stars in the making.