Before we start, let’s take a look at the Wikipedia definition of what we’re talking about here. Customer Reference Management is used
… to improve and enhance the level of “advocacy” a set of customers displays related to a vendor’s products & services. Specifically, a vendor’s objective is to gain referrals and positive “word of mouth” from this advocacy
Here’s my take on the five new rules in Customer Reference Management:
1. From “creating advocates” to “finding evangelists”
The wave of the future hinges on the ability of companies’ to embrace their customer evangelists and to enable them to preach the benefits of the product/service to the non-believers/in business terms – prospects. So, the goal shifts from creating advocates to instead finding evangelists and helping amplify their “word-of-mouth” message.
2. Focus on community
Once you start utilizing your corporate website to bring together your customer evangelists, you’ve got to create a virtual sandbox to let them interact with one another. This has definitely been the utopia that customer reference managers have longed for, but now technology is enabling that for even the smallest of websites/blogs. On the simplest level, technology like MyBlogLog helps you provide that feature to your community of readers.
3. Keep it real
Speaking of community, Mack Collier in a recent post, laments the use of social media (corporate blogs) as online brochures!
Readers don’t want to come to your blog to hear about your company every day, that doesn’t excite them. But what does excite them, is when you respect your customers enough to tailor your content so that it appeals to them. That builds readership, and loyalty.
Customer reference material too will have to be made more accessible to users based on their specific interests. And more interestingly, I believe customer references will embrace user-generated content in addition to corporate content?
4. How much control?
Now, once you create a community of users, the next question that you may have is: what level of control should users have?. In the era of “more control is good”, I’d recommend your reading Creating Passionate Users’ brilliant piece on the pain-to-perceived-payoff ratio when it comes to defining user control.
To give you some insight into the piece, let me just say that the post is based on the fact that “Putting users first does not necessarily mean putting users in charge“.
5. Video to supplement text/audio/events
Until now, customer reference material was defined as
…participation in a written case study, speaking on a telephone call with a potential customer or the media, or engaging in an event or seminar to share the story of a product or services success.
As you can see from the above definition, the deliverables in all the above cases is text, audio and events. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! However, social media and user-generated content is definitely the wave of the future, when it comes to customer references. Here’s my friend Jeremiah’s blog post on the “Impact of Social Media on Customer References”