No matter your business, you likely have varying levels of engagement across your customer base. While some customers make the most of all your products and services, others might barely be scratching the surface.

Recognizing your most engaged customers can help you build long-term relationships with these customers and set an example for others to fully embrace everything your products and services have to offer. And one of the key ways to improve relationships with top customers is through a customer advocacy program.

Many companies in the business-to-business space are recognizing the importance of customer advocacy programs. In fact, according to IDC research, while only 10 percent of B2B businesses had customer advocacy programs in 2017, this number increased to 67 percent in 2018.

Developing a customer advocacy program can help you turn engaged customers into true brand ambassadors. Consider the following tips to build a customer advocacy program and make your customers feel appreciated.

1. Invite Customers to Join Your Advocacy Program

Let your top customers know their hard work doesn't go unnoticed and thank them for their service with a formal invitation to join your customer advocacy program. Before you invite them to join the program, think of not only how being a customer advocate will benefit your business, but how it will benefit the members as well -- and highlight these benefits in the invitation.

In 2018, my company launched a customer advocacy program, which provides an exclusive community of HR leaders and hiring experts who fully embrace our platform. To date, the program has more than 200 members and continues to grow. Beyond being ambassadors for our brand, members see a variety of benefits. These include: exclusive content, opportunities to network with fellow experts in their industry, among other benefits.

Once you initially invite your top customers to join the customer advocacy program, make sure to publicize the program on your website and other channels, giving other customers the opportunity to join and become more engaged.

2. Provide Early Access to New Features

Your most engaged customers are likely among the early adopters of your latest products and features -- and get excited each time you announce something new. Rather than rolling out your latest updates to your entire customer base, consider letting your advocacy group get a sneak peek of what's to come.

Granting engaged customers early access to your newest developments will make them feel valued and encourage these customers to continue being deeply engaged with your business. And since your advocates likely know more than other customers about what you have to they can provide candid feedback on your new offerings and your team can make improvements before formally rolling out new products and features out to your entire customer base.   

Consider reaching out to your customer advocacy program to offer them early access to new features, ask if there are any features they'd like see added to your products or services, and solicit general feedback about the overall customer experience. Using this feedback, you can continuously improve your offerings to meet the needs of some of your most valuable customers.

3. Solicit Feedback--and Act Upon It

Beyond sharing a first look at your latest developments, regularly solicit feedback from your customer advocates on how your business is doing across the board. Send out recurring surveys to your entire customer base and host regular check-ins asking what they like the most about what you have to offer and what can be improved to make their lives and jobs easier.

While sending a survey to all customers will help you collect holistic feedback, consider taking the feedback process a step further with your customer advocates. For example, you can host a more exclusive feedback session where customers have the opportunity to share their thoughts directly with your product and executive team. And once you have this feedback, outline the steps you'll take to incorporate updates into your overall business strategy and roadmap.

After we rolled out our customer advocacy program in 2018, my team held a customer advisory board session featuring more than a dozen customers and several members of our leadership team. During a dedicated half-day session, customers discussed their latest challenges and opportunities when it comes to using our solutions and provided product feedback.

A customer advocacy program can help you take your business growth to the next level. By following these steps, you can encourage current customers to be even more excited about working with you and attract new customers who recognize your dedication to continuous engagement.

Published on: Feb 15, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.