Be honest.  No one is insusceptible to an occasional noxious act.  As much as we love our customer advocates who share glowing, positive reviews of us to friends, family and peers, on occasion our advocates can be a royal pain, showing characteristics of one of the following toxic behaviors.  Maybe we should consider these behaviors as a sign of an advocate:

Behavior #1:  Constantly contacting their customer support team to fix something that isn’t broken.  

Customer Support: “It’s not broken, it just doesn’t work that way.”

Advocate: “Well it should and you need to add it to your product enhancement list.”

This customer is pointing out possible improvements your product management team should consider. As annoying as this may be to your team members, most of the time, this behavior is a good sign for an Advocate. Advocates are passionate and want to help us improve our products/services. Our success is their success and vice-versa. Listening to their needs and taking action when and where we can, heartens them to become an advocate, engaging and participating in more reference calls with prospects, interviews with analysts and media or other valuable advocate activities.

Behavior #2:  Constantly complaining about lack of a certain feature or service they want in your offerings.

It’s very hard to listen to or be around people who are negative. They drain your energy. When it comes to technology, these people stubbornly focus on what is missing, what it can’t do or why it isn’t a certain way.  If you are looking for an advocate, this behavior could be a good sign.  As a product manager, their perpetual pessimism can be an opportunity for up-selling or customized work on features they will finance.  Their negative, twisted way of thinking might be an opportunity for a unique partnership in developing a new product financed by both organizations. If you listen and take action, they will recognize you care about them and may start sharing with peers and colleagues about how they helped to partner with you for improvements and to sharing more details about their success – giving your sales team fodder to understand their key value propositions. And an advocate is born. (I’ve witnessed this scenario happening several times.)

Behavior #3:  Constantly needs to be right or never satisfied.

In the customer’s opinion, there’s always room for improvement.  What is “best”practice today turns into “good” practice tomorrow – everything eventually fades to a state of imperfection as relevance and innovation advances.  Getting it right, knowing the latest and greatest is extremely important to customers.  As far as your customer is concerned, that’s what they expect from you – perfection.  Catching you off guard or uninformed, makes them right and they start pushing you to step it up and be better.  Think about it. They’re right. You should not be leaning back but rather leaning in and learning more. Learn from your customers as to what is working or not working with your products or services. Find out who is pushing the envelope with your solutions, what results are they getting and what they will share.  Their behavior is a good sign you can hold them up as thought leaders and engage them to share their success. And another advocate is born.

While most customers are well balanced with steady heads, there are times when even the most steady-headed customer becomes a screaming, fanatical devotee or irate, fervent protestor. That could be the sign of a potential advocate for your company.

Learn more about Advocate Marketing: How to Engage and Empower Advocates to Drive Product Innovation, Development and Revenue Influence when Barbara Thomas, author and certified pragmatic marketer speaks at the next meeting of the Product Development and Management Association on Thursday, May 18, at Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, 2425 Sydney Street, from 6 – 7 p.m. To register visit here or email pghpdma@pdma.org.

About Barbara Thomas: Ms. Thomas is an advocate marketing professional working with Microsoft, Yesler, and author of Advocate Marketing: Strategies for Building Buzz, Leveraging Customer Satisfaction and Creating Relationships available for $25 and signed by the author.  Or purchase unsigned copies via Amazon, BN.com and Pearson FT Press.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or at her home page at www.creativetactics.com.