Every business wants loyal customers. Is there anything better? According to Robbie Kellman Baxter, author of The Membership Economy, there is. They're called superusers, also known as brand ambassadors.
A superuser is someone who goes beyond being a happy customer by repeatedly supporting your business and investing their own time and/or money to improve the organization.
"Superusers serve as brand ambassadors," Baxter says. "They recruit new customers, make them feel welcome and help them be successful. These are the people who speak at your conferences, serve as references, post about you on social media and write positive reviews about you."
"Vocal brand ambassadors can do your marketing for you," agrees Profit First Professionals founder and OPEN Forum contributor Mike Michalowicz. "They don't just give you their business; they may be more likely to drag their friends, family and neighbors in as well."
These types of brand ambassadors can be more important to businesses than ever before. Ads and other forms of one-way communication don't resonate with prospective customers the way they once did. Word-of-mouth thoughts spread via online and offline channels can help sell products and services in the twenty-first century, and feedback can be especially helpful when it comes from brand ambassadors.
Identifying and Activating Brand Ambassadors, Your Best Assets
If you are a relatively new organization that doesn't have brand ambassadors just yet, how might you go about engaging an army of superusers?
"First, think about what a superuser might do for your organization and how to make it easy for them," says Baxter. "For example, let's say you are opening a nail salon. You might offer a subscription membership with unlimited touch-ups for a fixed price, and include a 'new member mini-mani' for your most active members to gift to friends."
—Robbie Kellman Baxter, author, The Membership Economy
On the other hand, if you've been in business a while, you can brainstorm a list of your best customers—the people you wish you could clone—and define a superuser profile based on behaviors they share.
"Reverse engineer how they became brand ambassadors—i.e. how did they find you, what products did they buy and what prompted them to engage so eagerly?—and apply your learnings to your new customer onboarding process," Baxter advises.
"For example," she continues, "if you're an attorney who helps people draft wills, maybe your superusers have kids in preschool because they make the most referrals to other parents of young children. Maybe you want to market more actively to that audience, including pictures of little ones on your website and supporting local schools."
You can maintain your relationship with superusers by soliciting specific ideas about your business and then implementing it.
"Consider asking them what one thing you could improve, or if there's one thing they'd change if they ran your company," Michalowicz says. "You can then take that feedback and get to work. Remember to thank customers for their input and also to show them the action you've taken as a result [of their input]."
Don't Ignore Your Superusers
Some organizations do a stellar job with the brand ambassador concept. Yelp and TripAdvisor, for instance, confer status on their most engaged reviewers, regularly ping them for feedback and invite them to special events.
However, far more organizations probably have no idea who their superusers are and as a result, can be mistrustful of their own best customers.
I see this happen all the time. I'll call up a customer service line and self-identify as someone who has loyally used a product for a decade and recommends it to everyone I know. But because the rep has no way of tracking my activity, they may be reluctant to take my word for it.
According to Baxter: "This situation presents a potential advantage for small businesses, because they recognize their best customers and treat them differently—like my neighborhood dry cleaner who lets me pay next time if I don't have cash on me."
This advantage can help put smaller firms ahead in the brand ambassador business even though they don't have as much money to learn about and woo superusers.
"Many big companies miss the boat because though they have tons of data about their superusers, they don't analyze it properly," adds Baxter. "They also treat customer service as cost center rather than an opportunity for differentiation."
By putting resources into identifying and targeting your most loyal customers, you may be able to help your business bring in more like-minded and enthusiastic customers—and your next wave of brand ambassadors.
Read more articles on customer relations.