What is a customer advisory board and how does one benefit your business?

What is a customer advisory board and how does one benefit your business?

Customer satisfaction and the customer experience are increasingly important variables in today’s business landscape. Consumers now have more power than ever before when it comes to driving a business’s operating practices and product or service offerings. Implementing a customer advisory board is a great tactic to keep your customers satisfied and deliver an excellent customer experience.

But what exactly is a customer advisory board, how can you form one, and how can your business benefit from putting one in place? Below we’ll dig into the topic to shed some light on how you too can leverage a customer advisory board.

What is a customer advisory board?

A customer advisory board is a select group of customers that meet with you regularly—such as once per quarter—and offer their advice and requests for improvements to your products, services, operating policies, etc.

The main purpose a customer advisory board serves is to provide you with an inside look into your customers’ minds and opinions about your product or service. Then, you can use that insight to form strategy on how to improve your offerings and the overall customer experience.

The idea is to form a group of customers that can represent the voice of your entire customer base.

Why are customer advisory boards important?

The insight you gain from these meetings helps you understand yourself from an outside perspective. Armed with that perspective and insight, you can better understand customers’ needs, pain points, and interests. This allows you to form forward-looking strategy in a way that aligns with what your customers need and want. This, in turn, empowers you to more easily maintain satisfied customers who are loyal to your brand.

You also communicate to your entire customer base the changes you plan to make to address their pain points and fill their needs. This will win you a great deal of credit and help your customers see you as a mutually-beneficial partner that seeks their advice and is truly invested in their success. If you achieve this, it will do wonders for your overall brand reputation management efforts.

Customers appreciate being part of the decision-making process and will reward you with their loyalty. They may even become brand advocates. Plus, it is a great networking opportunity for your customers, as they can form relationships with other customers who participate.

If that is not enough, consider the statistics below—from CustomerThink—around customer advisory board benefits.

In a study of Canadian companies that leverage customer advisory boards, research revealed that:

  • In the three years after instituting a customer advisory board, sales grew at an average of 66.8%, compared to a growth rate of just 22.9% in the three previous years.
  • Internal productivity grew at an average of 5.9%, compared to 3.2% in the three previous years.

Forming your board

When forming your customer advisory board, ask yourself who your most valuable customers are. Then invite each of them to join the board. If you run a B2B business, ask each of your top customers to select someone to represent them on the board, so that you have one person representing each of your top customers. I recommend forming a board with 20 to 25 customer representatives.

You can compensate customer advisory board members for participation if you feel it is appropriate. That could come in the form of a discount on the product or service they purchase, or any other type of giveaway that makes sense. However, if you feel or see that any member is participating solely for the compensation, you should reconsider your approach. Ideally, all members will participate because they genuinely want to be part of the evolution of your business.

Who participates internally?

Typically, customer advisory boards are coordinated and managed by product managers in conjunction with any of your internal top decision makers that want to participate.

Product managers gain valuable insight that can be used to drive product enhancements. Your top decision makers can participate at their discretion, depending on how helpful they feel their attendance will be.

For example, if your director of marketing wants to participate, they may be able to gain new insights into the mindset of your ideal customer and use that in marketing campaigns or to revise product messaging. Your business model and operating structure will determine who is likely to benefit from attending.

How do you coordinate board meetings?

When your customer advisory board meets, you meet with them and coordinate the meeting. You select the time and date and send invites. Then, you develop the meeting agenda and drive the direction of the conversation.

And, although you drive the conversation, you should keep your own presentation and talking time down to a minimum. Aim to take up only 15 to 20% of the meeting with your own words and leave the rest for customer conversations and responses to the questions you ask (more on that below).

The point of these meetings is for you to gather customer insights into how you could improve your service to them. So there needs to be some format and organization around the meeting and your customer advisory board activities in general.

When you first meet, and also in subsequent meetings, it’s advisable to have a list of questions ready that will help you gauge where your customers stand on specific topics. That is the overarching goal of a customer advisory board: to gather feedback, implement changes based on that feedback, and share your planned changes with your entire customer base.

Which questions should you ask?

The questions you ask your customer advisory board in each meeting should depend on your business model, customers’ needs, and your vision for the future of your business. But a few questions, in particular, can be molded to meet nearly every business’s initial customer advisory board needs. Here are a few to get you started:

  • What are the most important goals of your business over the next three to five years?
  • How can we better meet your needs and help you fulfill those goals?
  • How effective are our communication channels at making us available to you when you need us?
  • What new capabilities would you like to see in our product offerings in the future?
  • What new services could we be offering that are not currently available to you?
  • How would you rate our ability to collaborate with you to ensure your success? How or what could we improve?

That is just a small list of customer advisory board question examples. You should put some thought into how your own questions will look.

Think about the types of feedback and insights that your customers could provide you, which would be the most helpful to you in improving your products or services. Then, format your questions so that you receive the feedback that you need in the areas that are most impactful to your ability to deliver a world-class customer experience.

Once you have gathered all your feedback, you will want to collate the responses, form a plan of attack, and then communicate that to your entire customer base. These are among the most important customer advisory board best practices.

Forming strategy based on feedback

After each customer advisory board meeting, you should have someone collate the results, then meet with your colleagues who participate in these meetings to discuss the findings and form strategy.

Company-wide strategy

Feedback should be shared with all internal participants, and a general discussion should take place around any high-level findings that could impact your entire business. For example, if you uncover a large area of dissatisfaction among your customer base, it should be discussed by all to gain a consensus on how to address the issue.

Once you have discussed all the issues that impact the entire company, your internal customer advisory board team should prioritize them and use them to form a forward-looking strategy. You will communicate some highlights of this strategy to your customers once your plan has been finalized (more on that below).

Team-specific strategy

As mentioned above, each team’s leader should have the ability to join these meetings. If they can’t attend a specific meeting, we recommend allowing someone from their team to sit in for them as a proxy. This ensures that team is represented and has access to the insights you uncover.

Individual issues may come to light that specifically impact one team more than the rest. For example, if you uncover that a common theme in the feedback you receive is that customer support is a huge pain point, your customer support team needs to hear this first hand so it can form a team-specific strategy on how to address it.

Following the meeting, you can give each team a week or so to come up with any team-specific plans they intend to implement moving forward. Some meetings may not reveal any need to make changes on a particular team, and that is ok.

When you have each team’s inputs, you can start to form your communications to notify your customers of the changes you plan to make based on their feedback.

Communicating results to your customer base

The last step of your customer advisory board process is to communicate your results and forward-looking strategy to your entire customer base.

You will want to take every team’s inputs and plans, combine them with your overall, company-wide plans, and prioritize their importance. The information you present should reflect that prioritization. You want to ensure that your most impactful and important plans are listed first.

Your marketing team can then write a communication to all customers informing them of the changes you plan to make. This can take the form of a quarterly email specifically around your customer advisory board. Or, you can roll it into your regular email newsletter. The important thing is to maintain a set cadence around how you communicate your plans.

You can also take a few positive highlights and share them on social media. But remember this advice: if you do post to social media, be sure to limit it to positive outcomes that can paint your brand in a positive light. After all, this information will be public once you post to social media.

Finally, be sure to give each customer advisory board member a thank you call after each meeting. On these calls, you can ask them for any follow-up advice or insights they would like to share. Taking the time to call each member individually will ensure they feel valued and maintain a desire to continue participating.

Conclusion

Forming and coordinating a customer advisory board can produce huge benefits for your business. When you show customers that you want them to help you form your strategy and drive the evolution of your product or service, they feel part of a collaborative effort. They will sense that you see them as partners rather than revenue sources.

When customers feel this type of connection to your company, they will stick around longer and show more loyalty to your brand. This will ensure the long-term survival of your business.

Are you using a customer advisory board to help you plan for the future? If so, which tactics work best for you? What insight can you provide from your specific experience? Share it with us in the comments section below!

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Gabriel Swain

Gabriel has nearly a decade of content and digital marketing experience in the software and technology space. He also has over 13 years of professional writing experience—both in the nonprofit and corporate spaces. His goal is to help small and growing businesses maintain insight into emerging trends and best practices, provide a stellar customer experience, and remain highly competitive in their respective industries.

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