Creating a customer advisory board provides your company customer insights that change the way you do business. Their experience, and therefore their relationship with you, improve when you listen and apply their ideas to your business model.
Survey after survey indicates that one of the most exciting areas for revenue growth in the coming year comes from listening to customers. The online survey side of listening is usually where most companies begin.
I think that misses the mark. Start with an advisory board and hone-in on how your customer can help you thrive in the coming year.
Using Customer Weigh-In
Customer weigh-in on your company strategy is valuable for any organization. Most executives agree with this statement, yet when it comes to getting the board off the ground, it doesn’t happen. The reasons you don’t move forward sound like, “we’re too busy to get that done this year” or “we already know what our customers think.”
These reasons are fair – you likely have a good pulse on what your customers like and dislike about your service or product, and yes, you’re busy. Who isn’t, your customers included? This busyness is precisely when and why you need to push pause on internal work and take time to listen.
When you think about crucial areas where you can compete, a few come to mind: product features, price, and customer experience. You can forever fight the good fight on your product and service, and you can continually guess at promotions and pressure around pricing. Alternatively, you can fine-tune your customer experience to keep the enhancements on the right track and your customers coming back. Companies who genuinely understand what their customers want and evolve to those needs are the companies that win.
Drawing the Roadmap
When you think about the customer experience, think broad. The roadmap typically hits on four key phases:
Awareness— they know nothing about you, and then they do. You get on their radar and customers discover how they can progress toward working with you. Or, they begin to feel the forces detract.
Buy— they buy or sign up for your product or service. Customers are on your website. You aren’t exactly sure why just yet, but you’ve got them. They continue to learn what they like or dislike about you with more certainty.
Use— they try you out. This spot typically gets the most focus, because by the nature of the effort the experience happens.
Support— they decide if they’ll use you a second time. Customers form an emotional attraction, indifference, or resistance to working with your company again.
Creating the Customer Advisory Board
Creating a Customer Advisory Board allows you to review, evaluate, and hear feedback on each area above as well as learn about touch points that helped seal or break their overall experience. As an added value, I also like to use an advisory board to learn about other themes in the industry my customers know about that maybe I don’t. I want to hear direct feedback on where we see our company going in the future and if we align on our customer’s needs. Here is a suggested flow to structuring an advisory board agenda:
- Bring your customers in the night before, and treat them to a dinner or a social event. This step gets your group talking and feeling comfortable, so they bring that feeling to tomorrow’s meeting. Remember, you want them talking and sharing their perspective and opinions. For most individuals, this means they need to feel relaxed and safe before they share.
- Start the meeting the next morning with an ice breaker and introductions. Make it fun. I’ve heard “that’s cheesy” more than once to some of my ice breakers, but they work to break down the screens we often put around ourselves in a meeting setting. Also, set ground rules and establish the level of privacy of the conversation and data shared.
- Start an open dialog about your industry. Ask participants about the themes and data they see and share what your company sees based on your data. Giving back is essential here. Don’t only spend the day taking. Sharing what you see shows your leadership in the industry and builds loyalty among your participants.
- Consider if a deep dive topic fits your audience and how best to execute these. Building in exercises where your group needs to collaborate in smaller groups is an excellent way to get people together and building around the topic.
- Talk about the future and your strategic direction. What’s relevant and what needs adjusting? Where is your customer base going to find the most value? Ask, ask, ask. If your organization is product heavy, show the roadmap, and get feedback on what’s coming.
- Wrap up, and talk about next steps. Usually, there are action items that come out of this group for the follow-up. Recognize those steps, and get these in motion as quickly as possible. This final step gives you more reasons to stay in touch with your best customers!
Bringing it Together
When done well, an advisory board helps guide your company, places a priority on your marketing efforts, and builds a loyal customer base. Make the time in your planning to do those three things, even when you’re too busy. The customer experience is worth the effort.