Customer advisory boards help to gain valuable insight

Sachin Dev Duggal, Chairman, Nivio, India, at the 2010 Horasis Global India Business Meeting, on India's Technology PioneersThe more an organization understands how their company is performing and what works or not works can determine success or failure. What better way to gain an understanding of customer experiences and their relevant needs than by creating a representative group of customers who can offer advice on products, services, and a company’s future direction?

Customer Advisory Boards can test ideas, preview business plans with executives, and inform about strategic customer likes and dislikes while providing an excellent means of communication to enable executive teams to stay relevant with customer needs. Now the most important part, however of establishing a Customer Advisory Board lies with the choices of the representative group of customers. Ideally the panel should consist of eight to ten members and meet two to three times a year. Here are some ideas that you may want to consider:

  • When deciding on members for a CAB, choose your best customers. It’s that 20 percent of the customers who do 80 percent of the spending and obviously the customers you never want to lose. Those are the customers you want to nurture and find the common elements because they are the core of your business. Send special invitations to your best customers and praise them for giving you the opportunity to gain insight from their valuable contributions.
  • Each meeting needs to have a specific agenda. Meetings should focus on discussion debates, market trends, business drivers, service expectations, etc. Each CAB member should be provided with a detailed background of everything that will be discussed. Never use a CAB meeting as a sales event. Customers will see right through that as a ploy to generate sales.
  • The best meetings have a facilitator or effective leaders. The meetings begin and end on time with a strong agenda. The idea is to share important knowledge and keep the lines of communication open to discuss ideas as well as competition. Meetings can not be too long.
  • Meetings can not be confrontational, heated, or biased. This is the time when customers can interact with their own views and experiences. Companies have the opportunity to act on the information.
  • Reward participants of  the CAB. Many companies still have face-to-face meetings. Other companies use webinars, but no matter what the procedure, thanking people for their time, expertise, and opinions are important. Some companies send out gift certificates or complimentary dinners. Just by keeping your eye on your best customers and rewarding them for their loyalty, will serve you well in the future.
  • Make sure you act on suggestions. Don’t ask customers for their opinions unless you are willing to make changes. Even though the CAB is not a decision-making body, customers will want to know what changes you have made based on their meetings and their subsequent discussions. People want to know that you are listening.

photo credit: Horasis