How Brainshark got its customers talking about them

Inside the mind of the consumer

We all know how important positive word of mouth and advocacy is to the growth and success of a business.

However, many businesses find it difficult to get their customers to talk about them. This situation can be made more frustrating when customers tell businesses that they think they are great and are happy to talk about them. But then, they never do.

Why is that? Well, the reality is that companies and brands are not always on their customers minds. Also, customers forget about what they have said they are going to do and, more often than not, have more important things on their minds.

However, one company (Brainshark) is tackling these issues head-on and is having great success with it’s own customer advocacy programme.

Launched in 2012, Brainshark’s programme has been able to recruit more than 400 customer champions into, what they call, their Customer Champion Programme. This has resulted in a four-fold increase in the number of companies willing to serve as references for them, has more than doubled Twitter activity around their brand, has accelerated their sales cycle and has allowed them to build better and deeper relationships with their customers. Further, as recognition for the success of their programme, Brainshark also won a Forrester Groundswell Award in 2013.

Recently, I was lucky enough to get a chance to talk to Joan Babinski, founder and vice president of marketing at Brainshark, to get a deeper insight into what they have done to build and grow their successful community of customer advocates and what lessons other firms could learn from them.

Brainshark’s success is based on the understanding that there is a difference between what customers say they will do and what they actually do. As a result, their programme is built on two pillars:

1. Organise And Nurture
To give themselves the best chance of success, they decided they had to first organise and nurture their potential advocates if they were to deliver the results that they wanted. To do that they spent a lot of time identifying their potential advocates, understanding what would be of value to them and then building a reward system that was aligned to their profiles and preferences.

Through that process they found that the best reward and incentives for advocacy were not always financial. This means that Brainshark’s system offers rewards that range from points that that can be redeemed against gift vouchers to free training for their company to tickets to a local industry event to badges and social recognition.

2. Employee Involvement
The next essential pillar was the realisation that building a customer advocacy programme is not just a marketing initiative and, to make it successful, it would require the involvement and buy-in of all of many of their customer-facing employees. Therefore, to compliment their Customer Champion Programme, they developed an employee champion programme and have integrated both programmes.

The reasons that this has worked so well is that:

  1. Customer facing employees are often in the best position to identify potential customer champions and Brainshark’s employees can earn rewards for identifying good candidates to invite into the customer programme; and
  2. Whilst Brainshark often challenges their customers to provide testimonials for them, their experience shows that customers often forget or don’t follow through on it because they are not always sure what is required of them. Moreover, through experience they have learned that customers are more likely to provide a testimonial if their account manager asks them directly and talks them through the process. Again, Brainshark provides incentives for their employees to ask their customers for testimonials and provide rewards if they find a customer willing to participate.

Many companies fail to generate customer advocacy despite delivering great customer experience and service. Whilst, others are just frustrated at the effectiveness of their own customer advocacy efforts. Regardless of which camp you are in, Brainshark’s programme is a great example of how a company can create, harness and amplify the advocacy of it’s customers to the benefit of the business and offers lessons for others looking to do the same.

Adrian Swinscoe is a writer, speaker and consultant on customer experience and customer service.

This post was orginally published on my Forbes.com column here.

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