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As business and technology evolve, it’s vital that companies move from being business-driven, product-driven, or sales-driven to being customer-driven. Customers have more platforms on which to voice their opinions and share their experiences, positive or negative. They have a higher expectation of being heard and considered by the companies they patronize. 

Customer advocacy focuses on customers’ interests and supports their wants, needs, and input. True customer advocacy strives to introduce the voice of the customer into every facet of a business to provide the best possible products and experiences for customers. 

Businesses can’t simply assume they know what their customers need or how customers feel about a product or service. They must find out. In order to hear what customers are saying, companies must engage customers in continuous, reciprocal dialogue that seeks to understand the “why” behind “what” is happening in customer interactions. General data points provide baseline metrics to gauge customer habits and identify trends. Deep customer insights collected through consent-based methods are the foundation for meaningful customer advocacy.

With 500,000 customers using its cloud and business mobility software globally, VMware is known to be a leader in technology innovation. Along with telemetry data and other user metrics, they use consent data to act and react in the best interests of its enterprise cloud computing customers. Here are some of the guiding principles that VMware’s Customer Advocacy team leverages to improve product innovation, customer satisfaction, and loyalty.

Gathering Insight

Customer-centric companies understand that customer advocacy is a journey, not a destination. Customer advocacy means businesses continually solicit feedback from customers with consent, and then drive change based on what they learn. VMware's portfolio of “listen + act” strategies includes leveraging consent data to act in the best interest of its enterprise cloud computing customers.

When VMware discovered that many customers reacted negatively to its new pricing and policy changes, leadership responded quickly in the best interests of its customers. As a result, at VMworld 2012, CEO Pat Gelsinger received a standing ovation from over 22,000 attendees when he made the announcement reversing the policy change. Customer advocacy fosters trust as companies actively engage customers and demonstrate that feedback is heard and acted upon.

Building a Compelling Story

Customer advocacy utilizes valid insights from consent data to tell the stories of customer perspectives and perceptions of the brand, services, and solutions and how real customers feel about products or services. 

What do customers like about your product or service? How are they using it? How do they want to use it? What kind of experience did they have with a specific aspect of your user interface? Finding answers to questions like these drive customer-centric companies and spur customer-led product innovation. 

Like many companies, VMware had ideas about ways they could help their customers, but they wanted direct customer input to validate their thinking and help them prioritize the improvements most meaningful to their customers. With the voice of the customer leading the way, Inner Circle is one of the many ways VMware engages customers early and often in a constant feedback loop, partnering with customers at each step of the product development cycle. It’s a continuous relationship as VMware gets feedback, delivers a capability, and receives more feedback. 

Understanding customers in a deep and meaningful way by learning their stories helps businesses create products and solutions customers want to use.

Engaging Stakeholders

For customer advocacy to succeed, customer insights must permeate every level of a business. All of the primary stakeholders must be informed and involved to ensure intelligence results in improvements to customer experience.

VMware’s stakeholders are its customers, business partners, and employees. With the support of the Inner Circle community, VMware can give valuable customer insights directly to decision makers quickly and cost-effectively. Engaging with stakeholder groups ensures that customer insights are built into company strategies and plans. According to Kate Woodcock, VP of Customer Advocacy, “Our mission is to ignite systemic business growth using the insights, opinions, and feedback from our customers, partners, and employees to drive those priorities.” 

VMware best practices for engaging stakeholders:

    • Reciprocity - Sharing with customers what VMware has learned from them and the commitment to make improvements based on those learnings.
    • Creating new channels for customers so VMware can listen to them and vice versa.
    • Creating new ways to disseminate information internally to make sure it is broadly consumed across the company.
    • Creating new ways to translate the critical insights obtained into action and driving those messages across the company.

Like VMware, companies from every industry can implement these guiding principles of customer advocacy. For those who seek to truly understand and integrate customer insights, the payoff will be increased customer satisfaction, trust, and loyalty, as well as better business outcomes.

What do you think?

Do you see a shift toward customer advocacy in your business? Click the social icons to share this post and your thoughts on the benefits or challenges of customer advocacy.

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Kelly Hall

Kelly is more than a customer experience leader at Vision Critical. She is relentless in the pursuit of operational excellence, responsible for all post-sales customer enablement and engagement, including Professional Services, Customer Success, Technical Support, and Education. She invests in customers by understanding their goals and jointly aligning on a plan to achieve those goals.

Kelly’s 17-year career in technology customer service is founded on the basic principle: we are nothing without our customers. She is an avid reader citing Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, Crucial Conversations, Emotional Intelligence, and The Power of a Positive No as four books that have shaped who she is as a woman, an employee, and a leader.
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