Data Academy: Customer advocacy

Customer advocacy - the idea that your customers will go beyond mere loyalty to your products and services and actively promote them among friends and associates - is not a new concept. But it is being given a new lease of life by a number of data-related factors.

The more sophisticated use of customer data is enabling brands to increase the relevance of ongoing customer communications and improve the user experience.

At call-centre operator The Listening Company, a technology platform called Epicentre helps to track customer journeys and offers insight into the customer's previous experiences of the brand.

"We know that being able to store data relating to a customer's recent experiences with a brand enables it to talk to them in a more appropriate way," says managing director Philip Shuldam-Legh.

In his experience, the most enthusiasm for customer advocacy comes from sectors such as mobile that have traditionally not delivered great customer service and have experienced high volumes of churn; and in sectors such as automotive, where the cost of generating a lead can run into hundreds of pounds.

He says: "They want to ensure that the customer has a seamlessly enjoyable experience, from the point of response onwards."

The second factor is an increasing recognition of customer advocates' worth. Jill Brittlebank, head of retail and leisure at Acxiom Information Products, cites research from the London School of Economics showing companies with high Net Promoter scores, marked on a scale of 1-10 when respondents are asked how likely they are to recommend the brand to a friend, grow four times as fast as those with low ones.

There is the unstoppable rise of online tools that have given consumers a platform and a voice to recount their experiences - good or bad - and so forced brands to devote more energy to making advocates of their customers.

"The emergence of social networks and blogs and the ease with which data can be disseminated online definitely offers opportunities for companies," says Brittlebank. "But it's also a very powerful channel for losing consumer confidence if brands get it wrong."