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I originally wrote today’s post for Clicktools. It appeared on their blog on March 26, 2018.

There are a lot of different ways to listen to customers and employees. 

Most companies think that surveys are the only way to go, but you can get feedback in a variety of other ways, as well. One of my favorite approaches is via a customer advisory board. (Keep in mind that you can also create an employee advisory board to get feedback from your employees.)

What is a customer advisory board? According to Wikipedia

A Customer Advisory Council (also referred to as a Customer Advisory Board or CAB) is a form of market research whereby a group of existing customers is convened on a regular basis to advise company management on industry trends, business priorities, and strategic direction.

There are a lot of reasons to set up a CAB, but says CABs will deliver:

  • Early warnings of shifts in customer needs and emerging opportunities (Market Research)
  • New product development feedback (Innovation)
  • Reduce customer attrition and churn, especially among Customer Advisory Board members (Customer Loyalty) 
  • Advice on approaching and appealing to similar customers, including referrals (Sales)
  • Intelligence on competitor’s tactics and strategies – what’s working and what’s not (Market Intelligence)
  • A Customer Advisory Board can drive significant new revenue if managed effectively!

Clearly, there are a lot of benefits to setting up and managing a customer advisory board – from listening to networking and relationship building. But those benefits can only be achieved if the CAB is properly managed. Running a customer advisory board is really a full-time job.

Here are some things to consider and questions to answer as you begin to set up your CAB. The answers to these questions can then become the basis for your CAB charter, which is an important document for the internal audience to keep everyone aligned; it is also be used to set expectations for members.

Keep in mind that a customer advisory board is all about customer listening. What you do with what you hear may drive different outcomes (including customer retention and new business), but ultimately, you are creating the CAB to listen, hear, and share information. What’s the purpose of your CAB? Is it purely about understanding customer expectations and the customer experience, or is it also strategic, centering on market trends, industry trends, regulatory climate, etc.? Or is it about identifying new products or solutions? Clearly spell out the objectives and desired outcomes for your CAB.

Who will your CAB members be, i.e., executives, daily contacts, end users, etc.? What segment (product, geographic, size, etc.) of your customers will this CAB include/cover? (Note that CABs are not meant to be comprised of only your happiest customers.)

It’s really important to note, as I mentioned earlier, that managing a CAB can be/is a full-time job. Who’s going to manage the CAB? Who’s your executive sponsor? Who will facilitate the meetings? Will you have a graphic recorder and/or a videographer?

Your CAB members will be invited to participate for a specific period of time, often two years. How long will membership last? And who can sit in for a member if he/she can’t attend a meeting? How will you replace a member if she needs to drop out? What happens at the end of those two years, e.g., a member may be asked to remain on the CAB or will be replaced? How many members will you have? Typically, in my experience, 15-20 members is about the right size, keeping in mind that not everyone will make every meeting.

Meeting Frequency
How often will you hold in-person CAB meetings? What will you do in the interim? Will you have a virtual/web meeting between in-person meetings? At what cadence or frequency? And how long will the meetings last?

Meeting Location(s)
Where will the meetings be held? Will they always be in the same place, or will they move from city to city?

Membership Roles & Expectations
How many meetings can a member miss without being removed from the CAB? Will CAB members’ names be listed anywhere publicly? What does “participation” mean for members? What is a member’s role in the CAB meetings? Who pays travel expenses to/from the CAB meeting?

Member Benefits
How will you explain the benefits of CAB participation to your members? What value will they get as a result of being a member?

The topic areas listed above can be a part of the charter document that is shared with members. There are some internal-facing topics that your customers don’t need to be privy to, including the following.

Rules of Engagement
Who owns the CAB? How will they manage it? What are expectations in terms of agenda setting before the meeting and closing the loop with members after the meeting? Who will drive the agenda for each meeting? How will members be involved in defining the agenda? Who will prepare objectives, content, and materials for each meeting? Who will receive a report of the meeting afterward? Who will participate in the meeting, not only as observers but also presenters? How frequently will the CAB manager communicate with members before, after, and between meetings?

Success Metrics – Business Outcomes
How will you measure success of the CAB for the business? What are the desired outcomes and what are the associated metrics?

Success Metrics – CAB Manager
How will you measure success of the CAB for the CAB Manager?

There are a lot of other details that are specific to recruiting, agenda development, communications, and overall CAB management. My hope is that this post gives you some high-level questions to consider as you start to consider and define for your customer advisory board.

Keep in mind that CABs are not platforms for selling anything; they are another listening post in your CX tool box. Your company attendees should not outnumber CAB member attendees. And you/your company attendees will spend 80% of your time listening and 20% of your time talking. This last point is an important one to keep in mind!

I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself. -Elon Musk