Page | 1 1.Introduction Recent research has established that successful companies need to have a customer oriented culture (Athanassopoulos, 2000; Brady & Cronin, 2001; Hennig-Thurau, 2004). Customer orientation is plugged as an important breakthrough in the development of marketing theory and practice. The importance of such an orientation in creating closer customer relationships is undisputed in the works. The role of customer advocacy as a customer orientation strategy has been relatively under researched. In the present era of informed, connected and empowered customers, the very essence of customer centric strategy adopted by companies has been challenged (Moynagh & Worsley, 2002; Pitt, Berthon, Watson, & Zinkhan, 2002). Companies need to be transparent in the employee–customer interaction during the service encounter. The interaction between the customer-contact personnel and customers strongly influences customers‘ perceptions of service quality and the overall service encounter. Higher levels of transparency in customer–company interactions will result in higher levels of trust in the company. Consumer advocacy refers to actions taken by individuals or groups to promote and protect the interests of the buying public. It is a function that focuses on the customer, not an individual department, organization or division of a company. Recently consumer advocacy has emerged as an effective means to empower consumers and gain their trust. According to Chelminisky and Coutler, when practiced by the consumers, consumer advocacy reflects a tendency to offer enthusiastic referral for a brand or a firm. Consumer advocacy as ―an advanced form of market orientation that responds to the new drivers of consumer choice involvement and knowledge. The interaction between the customer-contact personnel and customers strongly influences customers‘ perceptions of service quality and the overall service encounter. The drive of customer advocacy strategy is to earn higher levels of trust and commitment by creating transparent and mutual dialogue between the company and their customers. This can be implemented using the four interrelated market mechanisms for optimally utilizing the advantages of customer advocacy. These are: (1) the company‘s focus on customer success; (2) improving customer involvement; (3) developing knowledge-creating partnerships with customers; and (4) enabling choice transparency for the customers.
Page | 2 While the concept of consumer advocacy sounds very appealing on a conceptual level, very little empirical evidence exists to show if in fact a company‘s advocacy for their consumers leads to stronger loyalty and consumers‘ reciprocity in advocating for the company. The benefits of adopting a customer advocacy strategy for firms remain relatively under researched.