If I like something, I will become the biggest advocate for everyone in my family having one. This comes with mixed feelings for them sometimes, but they ultimately go along with it and humor me.

When I adopted my cat, Ninja, for example, my life was immediately better - so what did I do? I made sure every household of my immediate family rescued a cat from the local humane society. They're still thanking me for the scratch marks on their couches and the traces of litter in their carpet!

Something similar happened again last year when I realized that using Alexa for calls was easier to hear than speakerphone. My husband and I bought everyone an Alexa for Christmas.  And, of course, whenever I start  reading a book that I like, I immediately call my mom and tell her why she needs to read it...

You get the idea. Electronics, books, cats: I'm way more skilled at persuading my loved ones to be consumers than any  marketer. In fact, we all are, and this has been proven time and again.

A recent report by Stackla confirms that word-of-mouth recommendations are still by far the most credible source of advertising. Moreover, consumers are three times more likely to view content created by a consumer as authentic and trustworthy, as opposed to content created by a brand.

If you're reading this and you're a marketer, you might immediately think "how can I incentivize customers to advocate to their family members?" The answer is not discounts or freebies. It's a lot simpler. It has something to do with the customer experience.

Turning Customers into Advocates

According to a CX Transformation Benchmark Study by NICE inContact, eight out of 10 consumers will switch companies due to poor customer service and 70 percent are willing to pay more for a product or service that has a good customer service reputation.

Let's go back to my family for a moment. I'm not much of a consumer. I don't like shopping. I don't need to have the latest and greatest. But when I do find something I like, I will become its biggest advocate. And I'm not alone. 73 percent of millennials see it as their personal responsibility to help their friends and family make smarter purchasing decisions.

Turning a customer into an advocate for your brand can be worth its weight in gold. Brand advocates are 50 percent more influential than regular customers and just chomping at the bit to spread the word about your products--providing they had a positive interaction.
That stat has been translated in numerous ways to enhance the customer experience, and here are a few ideas:

Ask Your Customers for Feedback

Asking your customers for feedback is a simple way to show you care. It also helps to create a better product designed around your customers' wants and needs. Customer intelligence software company, Vision Critical, recently worked with LinkedIn on their first significant redesign in 10 years.

LinkedIn believes the community member experience is a two-way street: if members are willing to share their opinions and insights with them, it's their duty to use that information to make better products and better business decisions. They created a beta version of their redesigned desktop experience so that loyal community members could try it out and provide feedback that would make it even better.

Due to taking the time to listen to its brand advocates, LinkedIn's redesign was extremely popular and drove up premium membership signups. After realizing the importance of customer insights, LinkedIn's monthly research activities shot up by 600 percent, proving that it pays to listen to the end users of your product.

Improve the CX with Beta Testing

Beta testing your products first can be an excellent way of helping your business grow, and no one understands this more than the folks at Citi. In December, they launched a groundbreaking beta-testing community, Canvas, that lets their customers co-create products and digital capabilities. "The customer is at the heart of everything we do," says Yolande Piazza, CEO of Citi FinTech, "and Canvas takes co-creation to the next level."

Another company using beta testing to enhance the customer experience is Maintenance Care, a free software designed to increase the efficiency of work orders. President Dan Roberge explains why he doesn't believe in giving incentives to encourage participation. "It starts with getting to know your customers and being personal with them early on," he says, "Once that relationship is established, it becomes easier to include them in a Beta program. Get to know your customers, let them get to know you, and when you need something from them, they will be more than willing to work with you."

Make Them Feel at Home

Multilingual business process outsourcers, Voxpro, see themselves as not just an outsourcing company, but more an extension of the client's brand. When working with Airbnb, rather than setting up a bunch of people on phones in a large, characterless building, they created a replica of the Airbnb offices.

CEO Dan Kiely explains, "We believed that they should walk into their partner's office and feel like they were walking into their own. So, we showed them our plans to create areas within Voxpro that mirrored the style and feel of the Airbnb HQ." Creating a space your customers want to be in is an excellent way of fostering loyalty and making them want to come back.

Use Automation to Focus Your Team on Higher Value Needs

Automation is key to the customer experience of the future, with more than 50 percent of all organizations looking to automate some of their CX processes this year. What many people value the most is their time. If you can help them avoid waiting in line or holding on the phone, their experience with your company is immediately enhanced.

Kiely at Voxpro affirms, "Use automation in essential processes; be smart with automated email and use a CX bot resource to host customers through routine experiences. This helps free-up valuable people for more critical CX engagement."

Take Risks And Refine The "Customer First" Mentality

When setting out to improve the customer experience, we tend to naturally focus on the customer, but sometimes what's actually needed is to concentrate on your employees instead. According to a report by Gallup, employees who are actively engaged at work are far more likely to improve customer relationships and see an average 20 percent increase in sales. When you train your employees to be better your customers benefit as well.

Murph Krajewski, Vice President of Marketing for Sharpen cloud contact center believes that focusing on an agent-first mentality engages call center employees and reduces turnover. He says, "Since 50 percent of all agents report lack of training as the reason for leaving a job, companies need to provide more educational opportunities that improve satisfaction. Happier, more confident and knowledgeable agents feel more empowered and deliver better experiences which correlate to higher brand loyalty and customer retention."

Food for thought. Before you go all out and blow your marketing budget on a fancy new website or truckload of unnecessary promotional items, remember this: the best marketing dollars are spent improving the customer experience. If you can turn your customers into advocates for your brand and get all their families rescuing cats, this will be a prosperous year for you.