We were recently discussing customer advocacy at Kayako when someone piped up: “Wait, is a customer advocate the same thing as a brand advocate?”
Fair question. They sound so similar that they could very well be the same thing. However, they mean two very different things…right?
We gathered around a Google search of “customer advocate” and realized that the Google search in fact, was the actual source of confusion. It seems two different, opposing definitions of the term have taken hold online— and both can’t be right.
So let’s start with what we know.
Customer Advocates ≠ Brand Advocates
The proper definition of a customer advocate is this:
Customer advocate: Person or function entrusted by the management of a firm to study the needs of its customers, and help the firm in satisfying them in a timely and cost effective manner.
That should make sense. They are, plainly speaking, the customer’s advocate. A person employed by a company to speak out on behalf of your customer’s interests. A company ombudsman, so to speak.
The first three hits on a quick Google search seem to confirm this.
But then it starts to get muddled.
- This Harvard Business Review article titled “How to Create True Customer Advocates” is really talking about brand advocates.
- Then the following 360Connext article titled “How Do You Define Customer Advocacy?” is also actually talking about brand advocacy.
These articles are mistaking customer advocates for brand advocates, which are something else entirely:
Brand advocate: Enthusiastic customers businesses can leverage as a source of referrals, traffic and marketing.
Brand advocates are customers who promote businesses they like among networks and refer friends and new business through word of mouth. They don’t belong to the company. That’s why it’s not at all possible to use these terms interchangeably.
So what exactly is a customer advocate?
Just as marketing, development, or design, customer advocacy is an internal function of a company. Beyond that, it’s up to companies themselves to define what that role of a customer advocate might look like:
Older, established companies are quite secure in their definition of customer advocacy, on which they’ve been running well-oiled customer advocate departments and even boards. For example:
Charles Schwab, where the Customer Advocacy Office manages and resolves customer issues that cut across the organization’s departments, including policies, pricing and product features.
GE, whose customer advocate tools enables B2B customers to submit an issue and receive a single point of contact at the company who pushes for a resolution within 1 business day.
VMware, where a customer advocacy team researches both internal stakeholders and customers to spur company-wide development. In 2014, priorities included product satisfaction, strategy & product plans and customer engagement.So for now, there can be only one definition of a customer advocate, and we’re going to stick with it.
For what it’s worth, this is a relatively new misnomer. However, as the role of customer advocacy picks up steam again among SaaS companies, it’s going to be problematic if we’re using the same term to talk about different things. So we’re setting the record straight and we’re going to stick by it.
What did you think customer advocacy was before this article? What do you think it is now? Also, feel free to include whether you think bimonthly means twice a month or every two months.
— Kayako (@Kayako) January 5, 2015