The term customer advocate can actually mean two different things. It can be used in the sense of being a consumer advocate such as in protecting consumers from illegal and deceitful business practices. A customer advocate can also be hired by a company to give customers more thorough and thoughtful attention than employees working in a traditional format to provide services for customers.
For example, a traditional customer service representative (CSR) typically only has contact with customers when a problem occurs. A customer advocate, on the other hand, initiates contact with customers to try to prevent problems before they happen. Advocating for customers is much more proactive than responding to them. Companies hire customer advocates to analyze client needs and meet them while still staying on a set budget.
Customer advocates study and record transactions with customers in a very detailed way. This attention to detail plus a strong ability to see everything from the client's point of view, makes a customer advocate able to plan effective strategies for attracting and keeping customers for the company. The advocate then speaks up for the customer to service staff.
Most company-employed customer advocates usually manage a team of support staff. They instruct employees to be professionally focused on the customer. Customer service representatives usually are polite, yet very distant to clients as they tend to pass complaining customers to another person in the company quite readily. Customer advocates try to deal with clients and complaints with more communication such as by directly following up and contacting each client to make sure problems are completely resolved.
A consumer advocate who isn't hired by a particular company, but rather may be a reporter or journalist, researches and reports on companies and practices that may be unfair or dangerous for the public. In providing these consumer services, the advocate may work with official protection service companies such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBB is a private, franchised company that has been providing consumers with information and warnings about businesses since 1912. Although the BBB charges companies a membership fee to join, it does continuing checks to be sure businesses, including their members, deal with customer complaints and other issues in an honest and ethical manner.
News magazine style television shows often feature a customer advocate reporter. Sometimes, customer advocate reporters go undercover and research different businesses in an area to see if the companies are following laws such as not selling cigarettes to minors. Other times, a consumer advocate reporter will follow and report a story of a person who claims to have been mistreated or cheated by a certain business.