The new Customer-to-Customer (C2C) Reality begs the question: can this “unstoppable customer force” be harnessed or, at the very least, guided by an organization to be more than what it is today?
The challenge I have with this scenario is that customer groups are all quite random in their actions. And what motivates them at any given time is highly individualized unless we start to rethink the roles customers can play in the future. So is there a way to engage them beyond the traditional uncontrolled group of independent advocates? Can the power of the customer be harnessed in new, innovative ways for more active, measurable, focused participation in the organization?
Here are 4 ways the customer can evolve beyond advocate to empower the future organization. Enter the emerging role of the brand enabled customer-employee.
The Brand Volunteer
A brand volunteer works much like a charitable model in which volunteers help with aspects of the organization that require no training or skill to complete. A brand volunteer is a customer that enjoys both the brand and the community that it inspires. Their affiliation with the brand becomes an extension of their own personal brand.
Brand volunteers could be assembled quickly and deployed to help with events, share information, join in branded social good programs, and spread the good word in a more meaningful way. Brand volunteers are active, guided participants in the brand as opposed to advocates who are self-managed and random in their actions.
The Brand Shepherd
The challenge with creating a corporate story world is consistency of the narrative as it passes from person to person. Instead, I turn to religion for an example of a role I can see in the future organization: that of the Brand Shepherd. The Brand Shepherd is armed with the narrative to spread the good word of the brand and convert others to do the same. Their task is to keep the story pure within the brand community and actively recruit volunteers to the cause.
Beyond the reward of being in a position of relative power within the customer community, it could very well be a role that pays in loyalty, goods/services, or even money.
The best way to describe this person is the responsible fanatic.
The Brand Fan
Pioneered by the online gaming community and now maturing within the entertainment industry, the Brand Fan is a person who is armed by the brand to actively engage with the public as a “Go To” source of knowledge. They are given access and resources into the company that aren’t necessarily publicly available. They share this information and their opinion on it with the public and arm other fans to go spread the word.
Typical uses of the Brand Fan include:
- Product and service testing, including recruitment of others.
- A “somewhat objective” brand correspondent
- Knowledge Curator
The Support Customer
This is a role that many customers already play with brands they like (or don’t like). The Support Customer is a natural extension to existing customer support channels for direct customers and even channel partners. It plays on the premise that your customers have a different perspective on your products and therefore a different, but complimentary knowledge base that provides added value to other customers (and your organization). The support customer could easily provide insight and advice with the additional upside of taking pressure off existing customer support departments.
This type of customer could easily be managed through social tools such as branded Wikis, forums and blogs.
Customer Engagement 2.0
When you look into the future, you have three choices. You can do nothing, you can fight it, or you can embrace it. If you’re the kind of leader that is going to embrace the future, part of that journey will be to really and truly rethink the role of the customer within your enterprise.
For the company that figures it out, you will gain a distinct and potent advantage over companies who choose to fight or do nothing for years to come.
What role will the customer play in your future?
Jeff Wilson is a marketing futurist and customer acquisition specialist, most recently with The Art of Acquisition. For over 15 years, Jeff’s work has assisted many leading global B2B and B2C enterprises in significantly improving how they attract and engage prospective customers to turn them into profitable relationships. Past clients include HP, IBM, Home Depot, ING Direct, Symantec and Syngenta. You can find Jeff on Twitter at @jeffthesensei.