The Advocate / Enemy Conundrum: What a Smart Company Would Do

March 25, 2010

My last couple of blog posts have been complaints about a certain company. I don’t make a habit of complaining in my blog and on Twitter. I believe that people should add value, and this rarely involves trivial complaints: my usual approach is to try to provide useful and interesting links. But when a complaint applies to a wider group of people, and could potentially save others’ time and money, then I think complaints are valid. A responsibility, even.

Anyway, let’s try to add some value with this post.

The way I see it – and this has no scientific or statistical evidence to support it – people typically display a certain level of… let’s call it ‘passion’. Some rarely get riled or excited; these people would be represented by horizontal lines near the bottom of the graph above.

Then there are others, at other end of the scale, who are ‘passionate’ – represented by horizontal lines towards the top of the graph, like the red one. That’s me. That’s probably you too.

We can be extremely positive about the things we like, and similarly negative about the things we don’t. Most importantly, this intense passion also comes with a voice. You want to shout about the things you love, and bitch about the things you don’t.

People who complain loudly and frequently can be easy to dismiss. The Internet seems to sometimes consist solely of this group. “Oh, ignore them, people will complain about anything. People love to complain. Especially geeks.”

But the people who complain loudly could as easily become advocates. It has been said, and I agree, that the best customers are sometimes those who have had a problem which has been brilliantly resolved. These customers can even be better than those who have never had a problem.

Businesses shouldn’t be ignoring the crowds of moaners. They should be actively courting and converting them.

A true advocate can be worth tens of thousands of dollars of equivalent sales and marketing activities. A true advocate is your best salesperson, but without the salary.

What would a smart company do about this?

A smart company would use their support channels to recruit advocates. The support team becomes the most important part of the business (and, on a side note, should therefore not be outsourced to a faceless cost-saving operation in a different country).

A smart company would develop an ‘influence estimator’ that, next to each customer name in their support ticketing system, displayed a best-guess as to how vocal and influential a customer might be. Any simple application scanning social media for my name will be able to easily guess that I write a number of blogs, have X-thousand followers, and have my tweets re-tweeted Y times.

A smart company would then ensure that those most likely to be influential receive an outstanding support response. Even if it costs the company some money (*cough* maybe my £11 refund, company from a previous blog post?).

This doesn’t just resolve a support ticket. This creates a salesperson. How much is that worth?

I’m not saying that this is what an ethical company would do. Everyone deserves amazing customer support. I’d hate to think that my mum – without a twitter account and RSS subscribers – would be put to the back of the queue by her ISP because they’d focussed all their resources on dealing with the twitterati. But in these economically-challenged times, it’s what smart companies should be considering.

Of course, a great company would offer outstanding support to every customer just because they know that it makes sense, it’s ethical, and at the end of the day, it makes money.

Leave a Reply