Customer Experience Featured Article

Consider an Advisory Board to Hear the Real Voices of Your Customers

May 14, 2014

A lot of lip service is paid to the idea of listening to customers. The “voice of the customer,” while a great modern tool to help understand what customers want, isn’t always enough. The idea of recording customer calls and running them through analytics to spot problems, strengths and trends—as well as to predict which customers are likely to churn—is an important one, but it doesn’t necessarily provide a complete picture.

Today, many organizations are choosing to regularly hold “customer advisory boards,” or CABs. The idea is similar to a focus group, but more in-depth and more cross-organizational. Customers are tapped to come into a company and speak frankly about their customer experiences, their likes and dislikes and their needs. Smart companies are listening.

For some organizations, forming a CAB is something to scratch off a to-do list, and those organizations aren’t being serious enough about the process are doing little except wasting money. A poorly organized CAB can simply be used as a cheerleading effort for an individual or a department trying to change aspects of the organization for internal purposes. According to a recent article by Michael Falcon writing for Business2Community, the CAB needn’t be large, but it shouldn’t only consist of those customers who are fans of a company’s products and services.

“If you’re a small business, you may want to invite 2-5 customers,” writes Falcon. “For a medium or large sized business, this could grow to 6-12 customers. When it comes to what type of customers you should invite, have a mix of ‘promoters’ and ‘detractors.’ The problem with only welcoming promoters is that they will provide feedback with rose-tinted glasses.”

The point of a CAB isn’t only to confirm what a company is doing right, but also what it’s doing wrong. There may be people in the organization who don’t want to hear the bad news because they have a lot invested in projects that may simply not be working. According to Falcon, one way to get the most out of a CAB before assembling a team is to determine how the company is going to define success and what it’s trying to accomplish. It’s also critical to have a good meeting structure.

“You have a fantastic opportunity to get to know your customers intimately; don’t waste their time,” writes Falcon. “Your ‘customer task force’ should meet at least one month prior to the event to finalize the content and delivery. What type of questions are we going to ask? Are we going to showcase prototypes? Who will be moderating? Who will be recording minutes? Ensure that you consider every minor detail to host a seamless meeting.”

Some companies compensate their CABs financially; others simply offer a good catered meal. Whichever option works for you, ensure you plan well enough so that you get the most out of the gathering. The idea of a CAB won’t replace critical processes like regular customer surveying after purchases or voice of the customer programs, but it will give your company deep insight into whether you’re providing your customers with what they want and need. 

Edited by Alisen Downey

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