Since our inception, we’ve worked with clients to design and execute their Customer Advisory Board (CAB) programs. As business travel has been curtailed due to COVID, several important questions have been raised about the best way to proceed with your CAB, or if you should pause the program entirely.
As with many customer experience programs, the answer will depend on a variety of factors. However, our general recommendation is that companies should continue to push forward with their CAB programs, although the meetings should take place in an online or virtual environment for the foreseeable future.
How to Maintain the Momentum of Your Customer Advisory Board in a Virtual World
It seems like we’re all inundated with virtual meetings these days. As you move your CAB to a virtual environment, you’ll need to prepare your team for it in a similar way as you would for a face-to-face CAB meeting.
For example, you will still want to focus on discussion topics that will elicit valuable and actionable feedback from your members. One specific tip to allow you to gather feedback in a methodical, orderly fashion is to develop slides to illustrate the objectives and questions you would like to explore with the group.
Following up with specific actions that will improve the customer experience is an important outcome, so use that understanding to prompt members of your leadership team on relevant and meaningful topics that will fuel a robust dialogue.
Importantly, recognize that what was likely a full-day in-person event should now be cut back to a few hours, so you’ll need to prioritize and focus on the most pressing items.
Additionally, now more than ever, you need to stay focused, be compelling, encourage contributions from everyone, and – of course – finish on time.
Be Mindful of the New Virtual CAB Experience
With your CAB going virtual, it is a good time to revisit your CAB membership and limit it to a smaller list of members – no more than 10 to 12 attendees are best. The larger the group, the more challenging it will be to keep everyone engaged and involved.
Consider giving attendees some materials in advance so they can formulate their thinking and be better prepared to contribute. Familiarize them with the agenda topics and reading materials a week or more in advance.
You’ll also want to rethink how to keep your members engaged for the entire meeting. Even though your meetings will be virtual, continue to think of the CAB meeting as an exclusive forum to gather industry thought leaders’ feedback, challenges they see coming, and ideas on how your organization can help them solve problems and deliver more value. Each session of the meeting should clearly communicate the objectives and what you are trying to learn from members, and the questions you’d like answered.
Limit each session to 45 minutes or so, as people tend to get distracted during longer sessions.
Using Technology to Run Your Virtual Customer Advisory Board
Effectively leveraging your virtual meeting platform technologies, such as video, chat, and real-time polling will also keep your members active and engaged.
Use video conference software that has a gallery-type feature that allows all participants to be seen as it will help to keep people engaged and reduce the risk of multitasking among members. Utilize software features like chat and “raise your hand” to signal when someone would like to comment.
If your company previously included travel and lodging for CAB members, consider allocating some of that budget on gifting members high-definition webcams and computer microphones, to ensure a professional-level visual and audio experience for all involved. It will also be beneficial if you are recording the event – this allows for better documentation and retains the discussions for others in your company who would likely benefit from hearing what was said.
The Virtual CAB Time Commitment
As discussed, you will likely want to reduce the length of the meeting from what was a day or day and a half to 2 to 3-hour meetings. If you do so, you can also consider increasing the frequency of the meetings to have them quarterly (for example) instead of the semi-annual in-person CAB meetings most companies have. As long as the content is considered interesting and your customers trust that their feedback is used to drive positive change, most will happily set aside a few hours every three months or so.
With the shorter time allotment, you’ll want to be diligent about staying on schedule. It’s OK to ‘park’ discussions if they are starting to go off track or you’re running long for that session.
As with any CAB, try to keep answers and statements by company representatives brief and on point. A good way to ensure this occurs is to establish a moderator/facilitator for each meeting. The moderator ensures rules of conduct are maintained and that people do not talk over each other. In a virtual environment, it is practically impossible to moderate and participate as an equal at the same time. It is best to hire a consultant for this, much like you would for an in-person CAB event.
Making Your Virtual Customer Advisory Board a Success
Following each meeting, you should review, prioritize, and establish an action plan with your team; and subsequently, share the timeline for when you plan to accomplish each action item in a detailed analysis or report with your CAB members.
If you increase the frequency of meetings, more effort will likely be required to demonstrate and share progress at the start of each subsequent virtual meeting. This is vital as CAB members will disengage if they do not see progress.
While virtual interaction cannot fully replace the quality of the face-to-face experience, with these additional elements in place and a slightly revised list of objectives, it will help you maintain the momentum of your CAB program. Those companies who can continue to engage in collaborative, strategic conversations with customers and industry thought leaders will emerge stronger.