We all know that meaningful conversations are essential for any relationship to grow – be it with your spouse, family members, business partners, neighbors, pastor or friends. The same is true for the relationship any business has with their customers. Deep and well-structured conversations with your customers are extremely valuable for many reasons, amongst them are:
- Receiving structured feedback on your products or services
- Receiving new ideas for service improvements or product innovations
- Testing your ideas for new products during the development process and receiving customer feedback
- The opportunity to increase customer trust and loyalty and to possibly even develop customers into friends or fans
- The opportunity to intentionally question and listen to satisfied and unsatisfied customers alike and therefore learn to solve problems you might not be aware of. This increases your customers’ openness to speak directly to you and can prevent negative exposure or comments about your company and products by them to others
Many business owners are well aware of the benefits that such conversations offer, but we know that most of them are so involved in daily business that they never find the time to actually have these conversations.
Certainly, social media can be a channel to communicate with and listen to your customers, and, if done right, can be very cost efficient and effective. However, it cannot replace a real conversation where you are able to dig deeper to truly understand and get to the root of a problem.
Depending on your business model you might be dealing with a very small or a very large number of customers. The higher the number of customers the more difficult it will be to have that meaningful exchange. This is where a Customer Advisory Board can and should play an important role in any successful business.
A customer advisory board is a group of 10 – 12 influential executives who make strategic decisions in their roles, that could be relevant to your business, product and services. The board is designed to meet once or twice per year (or as needed) to give you advice on how you and your business can help them significantly improve their business by using your products and services. A CAB is mainly future oriented and concentrates on what your customers need from you in the future to be more successful and how you can pivot your company to serve your customers better.
It is particularly valuable now because the world and many business models are changing, which in turn might change your customers’ needs in relation to your services or products. Now is the best time to begin these structured and future oriented conversations with your customers so that you can become more and better equipped to serve them well and solve their problems through the crisis, and in the future, in the best possible way.
To clarify, a CAB is not a sales event, a customer appreciation event or a user forum to discuss problems or glitches. The main components are:
- WHO (potential members): a decision maker who makes strategic decisions in their business that are relevant to YOUR business (they are ideally c-suite or influential leaders)
- WHAT: your customers sharing with YOU their advice on meeting their specific needs so you understand how to improve your offers and also how to accordingly deliver your service to help them succeed.
- HOW: a structured and effectively facilitated meeting with 10 to 12 executives who are also eager to serve and learn from each other and who are willing to help you to help them run their business better.
Customers will value that you are interested in their opinion, experience, and input. And this gives you an opportunity to demonstrate that you care about them by wanting to understand their business and their needs, however it is vitally important that you are genuine. You must deeply listen and act on the insights you gain and also provide feedback on any decisions you make in relation to what they entrust to you.
A Customer Advisory Board is a very powerful yet fairly inexpensive way to engage strategic customers and gain the mutual benefit of improving your business and theirs – a great way to stand out among the competition.