Customer Advisory Boards – A Unique Opportunity to Listen
Gathering customer feedback can be accomplished in many different ways. With the plethora of online tools now available, customer surveys are fairly ubiquitous. Text mining technology to engage with customers in the social media realm is becoming more popular, particularly for consumer-oriented businesses. Although somewhat less common, one-on-one interviews can uncover valuable insights, which typically can’t be captured online. However, among all the tools and techniques available, none offer the type of unscripted and unfiltered feedback a Customer Advisory Board program can.
A Customer Advisory Board (CAB) is a small group of carefully selected customers who meet with senior management, typically twice a year, to share opinions and insights on a range of issues aimed at enhancing the customer experience. The primary mission of the CAB is to facilitate open communication and increase collaboration between company management and key customers. Benefits for the company include:
- Receiving extensive input on strategy, direction, positioning and the competitive landscape
- Improving and fostering long-term partnerships with important customers
- Gathering candid feedback on customer frustrations and pain points that may weigh on satisfaction
Customers also benefit because their input is used to influence key business decisions so the company can serve them better.
We recently had the opportunity to design a Customer Advisory Board program for one of our California-based clients. Much consideration was given to several important success drivers, including which customers should be invited to join the CAB, the meeting agenda and the event logistics. The careful planning paid off as the first meeting proved extremely beneficial for the company. Top business leaders spent two days with representatives from 16 customers in both social settings and a formal meeting environment. They listened attentively as customers shared unfiltered feedback on the company’s products, services and long-term strategy. The input was sometimes complementary, sometimes constructive but always illuminating.
Initial feedback from customers after the event suggests they viewed the meeting as a valuable use of their time and are very likely to attend the next meeting. While the willingness of busy executives to spend time away from work is a meaningful indicator, it’s way too early to characterize the program as a success. In fact, much of the heavy lifting doesn’t begin until after the meeting ends. Customers will rightfully expect to see how the input they provided will influence their experience with the company. This is where organizations truly committed to “voice of customer” driven change stand apart from the rest. It is critically important that the company have a well-defined process to act on the feedback from the meeting and regularly communicate with the Customer Advisory Board to keep them apprised of the actions undertaken.
A Customer Advisory Board offers a unique opportunity to tap directly into the opinions, perceptions and sentiment of your important customers. The customers involved in the process will appreciate the opportunity to engage with top executives in your organization and influence change that proves beneficial for all customers. While a significant commitment is required, the trust and confidence established when a customer recognizes their voice is being heard will create true advocates for your business and the payoff can be substantial.