Customer advocacy is a customer service function that focuses on meeting customer expectations. To achieve this, many businesses hire customer advocates. These professionals represent customers’ interests in company meetings, manage customer experience and help to resolve complaints. Advocates can also find jobs in consumer protection agencies and advocacy groups where they work toward protecting consumers from illegal and dishonest business practices.
Using the Skills
Like most customer service professionals, customer advocates require excellent communication and interpersonal skills to thrive in the job. When interacting with customers, for instance, they must ask questions in a clear and understandable manner, while building rapport. Effective advocates are adept problem-solvers and good decision-makers. As they address customer issues, they must analyze several complaints, prioritize them and determine which ones require immediate attention. Customer advocates also need a good business sense, so as to strike a balance between protecting the company’s business interests and promoting consumers’ need for superior services.
Representing Customer Interests
The main role of company-based customer advocates is to ensure the company provides client-minded services. They use data collection strategies such as online surveys and face-to-face interviews to identify customer needs and preferences. In a commercial bank, for instance, an advocate may ask customers what the firm should do to improve their banking experience. If the vast majority of customers want fast services -- perhaps because the bank experiences long queues -- the advocate may encourage the firm to hire more tellers or provide Internet banking services. This involves holding meetings with top executives, shareholders and other stakeholders to pitch these ideas for consideration.
In regulatory agencies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, customer advocates work to protect consumers from deceptive practices. For example, when a telephone service provider promises to lower call rates, but fails to do so, advocates working at Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection can forward the issues to a law enforcement agency for investigation and subsequent action. At the Better Business Bureau, customer advocates investigate complaints filed against BBB-accredited companies. They get to the bottom of the complaints and provide suitable recommendations to BBB. If a company is found to engage in practices that violate the BBB’s terms of accreditation, it may issue warnings or revoke the accreditation.
Customer advocates hold diverse academic credentials. Advocates who want to work in the financial services industry need at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting, economics or finance, while a degree in nursing or healthcare administration would suffice for those looking to provide advocacy in hospitals. Some employers, especially regulatory agencies, prefer individuals with a degree in law or public administration. Customer advocates can join the National Association of Customer Advocates to gain access to professional development opportunities, such as conferences and training workshops. The Professional Patient Advocate Institute also certifies advocates working in the healthcare industry. Ambitious advocates can obtain graduate degrees in business administration to become customer service or relationship managers. Those in regulatory agencies and government departments can progress to lead customer advocacy departments.