Growing Trend Among Small Business Owners: Customer Advisory Board

Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) have been around a long time, but it is only recently that large businesses have begun to understand how they can use these boards in a more effective way. Large business is finally learning that they need to move beyond just being enamored with the solutions they have developed and actually fall in love with their customers’ problems.CABs) have been around a long time, but it is only recently that large businesses have begun to understand how they can use these boards in a more effective way. Large business is finally learning that they need to move beyond just being enamored with the solutions they have developed and actually fall in love with their customers’ problems.

Companies can be taught, and learn to interact and engage with customers more frequently in order to understand their problems and then get a better idea of how to fix the issues of those customers who they want to serve.

This approach is already proving to yield enhanced results.

What customer advisory boards do:

A CAB is made up of specific customers that want to participate to some degree in your company by providing information about the challenges they face and what they are looking for in a product or service that you may make or are in the process of developing.

More companies are realizing just how beneficial these meetings can be in addition to the other engagement tactics that they are already attempting to utilize, such as social media and customer surveys.

With CAB meetings, you get one-on-one time to essentially “pick customers’ brains” and have a deeper context for what you can do to satisfy them.

Specific benefits from customer advisors

The engagement process with these customers can include detailed information on what criteria the person used to make a determination to purchase your product or service. As well — how did they use the item — and finally, what results did this particular customer experience while engaged with your product or service?

While this careful assessment may help you love your product or service more intently, it should also reveal new ways that you can adapt or improve your product so that the main target — your customer — will experience the same feeling as you do.

What large companies have discovered is that they didn’t know (surprise) as much as they thought they did about what the motivating factors were which were driving their customers’ decisions.

Many companies were clueless as to what issues their very targeted audience were experiencing, or even about the deeper knowledge that was needed abut their own products or services.

These additional insights from the CABs have been creating competitive advantages for the companies who leverage these customer advisors. This is especially true when a company trusts their new advisors and have used the newly provided information to start making changes and pivoting faster to where they can fill a service gap or provide greater value for these customers.

Having a CAB at your disposal can also help when and if you have to deal with any type of crisis that the company may find itself involved in.

Being able to go directly to your customer base and discuss any concerns with them can be a way to instantly solidify trust in your organization. Often companies choose to only reach out to their customer base through a press release or social media post.

The personal interaction you participate in with your CABs is crucial for letting your customer base know that you are dealing with the crisis in a transparent and honest way.

Your CABs can then relate all information back to the customer base that they are connected with through social networking. The information which is diffused out to their connections is much more valuable — as customers tend to believe other customers over the actual company who owns or manufactures the product.

Another benefit of a CAB is the opportunity to help your customers learn more about what you can offer them. While you don’t want to turn the meetings with customers into sales pitches, you can use the time as an opportunity to discuss any other options for these customers as they share information on problems they face and you see available solutions that you can immediately offer them. You can specifically link your solution to the customers’ problem and also use other customer examples to illustrate how you can — or have — helped them.

This linking will feel similar to a dialog as you share information back and forth and is an excellent way to strengthen the customer relationship and transmit the idea of value and partnership.

Many companies have experienced regular increases in product or service adoption as well as the expansion of what is already being utilized.

Additionally, this is also a way to bring in new customers. The new customer base happens naturally and basically, occurs when your traditional and basic customer seeks out their friends or family to tell about your product.

A customer will only tell those persons who they know may well benefit from these other products or services. All of this transfer of information happens from what has just been learned about during the CAB meeting.

Research has found that “customer advisory board members add 9 percent of incremental revenue to host companies starting in year two of their participation in a CAB program above non-CAB participants. In addition, such companies benefit from a retention rate of 95 percent amongst program participants.

CAB members are far more likely to recommend their host companies. In fact, CAB member participation in reference programs, testimonials and thought leadership efforts is 57 percent higher than non-CAB members.” Imagine the financial benefits that can come from these types of results for your company if you develop a CAB program?

CAB Best Practices

If you are thinking of adding this tactic to your strategy, consider these best practices approaches to having a customer advisory board:

  • Give the customers on your board the majority of talk time during each meeting and keep your own presentation down to only about twenty percent of the allotted time. This makes your customer members feel like their opinion is the focal point of the meeting, which it is! This approach increases the customer engagement and provides you with more information than if you had dominated the meeting.
  • Put considerable preparation into each CAB meeting, including planning the agenda, content, and materials as well as further time to recruit more members to the board.
  • Create a CAB scoreboard so you can quantitatively track the results of these CAB meetings. Measurements might include customer referrals, new leads, and average customer spend. These metrics determine if the CAB meetings are having a positive impact on your bottom line.
  • Consider a professional facilitator for these meetings so you can focus on the conversation you are having with the customer members but ensure that the meeting stays on target with the agenda that was created.
  • Create an actionable plan from the meeting results, including deliverables, a timeline for implementation, responsible parties and ways to track those deliverables. This ensures you get the most from the meetings.
  • Engage with CAB members throughout the year rather than just waiting for formal meetings. While you may meet once a year, you can consider quarterly calls or video conferences. You may also let your CAB members know that they have an open line of communication at all times to share their thoughts.

The CAB advisory board may seem like it has taken a long time coming to fruition, but the plain fact is that they work. When your customers realize that you really care what they think and that you have made changes in your product or service because for them, personally, all kinds of benefits to your company and relationships begin to prove themselves.

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