Are you brave enough for a Customer Advisory Board?


In sales, for years we’ve used the term ‘happy ears’ to define how the sales rep only listens to good news or hears the positives they want to hear.  Sometimes our views on customer experience is similar – we only want to focus on the positive. Too often I’m asked ‘why are we focusing on the negative’ –it’s a good question…of course, we want to hear and measure what we’re doing well and ensure that we keep the consistency and it doesn’t fall backwards.  However, we need to pay particular attention to things that need improving – the experiences that annoy, frustrate or upset our customers are those that are critical to them and must be to us too.

Research shows up to 90% of customers will switch companies, not because of price or product but because of a poor experience – and anyone in sales or marketing knows it costs significantly more (and takes longer) to acquire a new customer than it does to grow and existing satisfied one.  However, there seems to be a mis-match between what we think is going well and what actually is happening. One step in the journey of customer experience evolution is building a panel of advisors – we have board advisors, coaches and mentors but ask yourself, how often do you have a select group of customers who truly open up to you regularly and ones that you can share confidentially your plans and actions.  This is a bold step but one that truly does measure just how serious you take customer feedback.

The establishment of a ‘customer advisory board’ or CAB is one that can set a foundation of open and honest discussion and feedback that leads to true insights from your customer point of views.  

We’re often asked how do we start a CAB and what’s involved, and below are the top tips we recommend to any business looking to establish a Customer Advisory Board:

1.     Pick your board members carefully – include a diverse range, not just everyone who’s happy with us, but those that range from new customers, to seasoned veterans and if you can even those that we’ve lost as customers.   Ensure they’re people who have a point of view that’s relevant (good or bad), and even include business partners in this as they’re just as important as your customers. Be very mindful of having direct competitors in the room and how open they may be about their needs and wants?

2.     Agree a mandate or charter for the board – ensure you set the ground rules, confidentially, open discussion, honest feedback and two way communication. Identifying and understanding your customers goals in relation to the partnership with your company is important, so pre-submitted topics might also be worth considering for some selected customers.

3.     What’s in it for them?  - ask yourself is this all one way?  What will my customer advisory board members get out of being part of this – it’s an investment in their time, which is hugely valuable. Based on the senior executives you are inviting, this is also an excellent opportunity for them to build their network of peers and learn from each other. If you’re not so sure...ask them…we’ve witnessed successful boards setup where you share product road maps, make them feel exclusive, part of the extended leadership advisory board – whatever it is, be sure you have a clear answer to what’s in it for them.

4.     Set a Budget - any customer advisory board is going to take some form of investment, whether it’s a location to facilitate it or full blown travel and expense budget to fly your panel to a central location – this means you need to plan, set the expectation of how many meetings are done virtually or face to face.  Our recommendation is blend the two and always be conscious of the effort and time put in by the attendees but above all ‘make it easy for them’.

5.     Set –Measure – Adjust – listening to feedback is critical, and just as critical is informing the panel of what initiatives you have to drive change in customer or employee experience and ensuring that you set goals, measure the progress and adjust as needed.  Ensure they are part of the feedback loop and remember that as you change direction so will your competitors, so constantly keep an eye on what’s happening in the market from the customers point of view. Its important to wrap the CAB up with some agreed tangible improvements to work on as advised by your Advisory board of customers, the reason you are in business! They will want to see measured outcomes that will benefit them directly in exchange for their time.

Establishment of a Customer Advisory Board is a great investment but hugely beneficial to you and your customers – it allows you to take your thinking from the ‘internal’ and share it with trusted advisors.  Many companies will only take this step when they feel confident enough but our advice is just to start it anytime, regardless of when you think you’re going to be ready it will provide invaluable insights from a tight trusted group that will without a doubt drive change and improvement in both your employee and customer experience