Consumer Advocacy & Customer Satisfaction

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In customer relationship management (CRM) and e-commerce space, customer satisfaction reigns supreme. Or is it consumer advocacy that’s most advantageous to business? The distinction between the two might not be terribly noticeable, and depending on who you ask, some may say the difference is negligible or nonexistent. Whichever camp you subscribe to, the customer is at the center of it all, and his or her feelings about the products and services that you provide are paramount.


“What’s top of mind for a lot of CEOs is ‘Would people recommend my company to others and would they purchase from me again?’” said Glen Robertson, director of business development at Service 800 Inc., a service quality measurement company. “They want employees and people to work on behalf of their company to ensure that their customers are advocates who are going to promote whatever products and services they deliver. Whether you call it ‘consumer advocacy’ or ‘customer satisfaction,’ customer satisfaction is very important, and there are many ways to measure that. But we’re seeing a shift with a lot of our multinational clients to measure things like customer loyalty, which is a combination of things like repurchase, recommend to others and overall opinions. Some clients want us to measure these indicators and little else.”


Michael Lowenstein, senior vice president, Customer Management Center of Excellence, GFK NOP, has a slightly different take on the question of advocacy and satisfaction. He said satisfaction has little effect on customer behavior because satisfaction deals with attitudes and perceptions, which can change rapidly based on recent transactions. Satisfaction alone will not offer the CRM or e-commerce professional any significant insight or guidance about customer behavior in the marketplace. Advocacy, on the other hand, is a direct result of satisfaction based on customer commitment, choice and transaction frequency. “Advocacy goes beyond loyalty,” Lowenstein said. “It would be nice to say that satisfaction and loyalty and loyalty and advocacy are equal. They are connected, but they are hardly equal.”


One connection between advocacy and satisfaction occurs if the CRM professional encounters negative performance or dissatisfied customers, which lead to a loss of advocacy behavior. Further, without measurement, Robertson said improvements cannot be made. “In the service business we ask things like, ‘Was it easy for your company to contact us? How responsive were we? How long did it take us to resolve your problem? How would you assess the technical skills of the person who serviced you?’ Those are typical measurements around customer satisfaction of service delivery. Customer advocacy or customer loyalty is typically very different and there are questions around willingness to repurchase and willingness to recommend to others. You can make a customer satisfied, but will they really recommend you to others, and will they really repurchase from you again? Unless you ask those questions, you won’t know. There’s nothing like the voice of the customer.”


Lowenstein agreed that increasing customer satisfaction does not necessarily boost advocacy behavior, which is a combination of repurchasing and communication activity such as referrals or recommendations. “Look at Nordstrom or Harley-Davidson, both of which spend disproportionately lower amounts on advertising. They do it because they have an active customer base that almost function as ambassadors for them. You can’t get that with satisfaction, delight, loyalty or commitment.


“One of the best definitions that I’ve ever seen of CRM is really having a single integrated view of the customer across the entire enterprise,” Lowenstein said. “The culture has to be focused on it. From a holistic standpoint, the way customers see you is almost like a lasagna. It’s layers of experience. It’s the direct experience with customer touch points—things like billing, not just service or experience with the product. It’s also the messaging. It’s the promise. It’s what’s set up before you have the experience and then reinforced after you have the experience. Just like a lasagna has layers of cheese and sauce and pasta, that’s the way customers experience supplier relationships.”


–Kellye Whitney,

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