Let me begin by explaining that a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) is not a boring focus group. The fact that organizations would stand behind a pane of glass and watch how customers interact frankly gives me the chills.
A CAB is an internal team of customers who help grow your business by providing genuine and actionable insights on your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Regardless of size or industry, all businesses must assemble a CAB.
Over the past 18 months, I’ve worked with several organizations who want to create a CAB for their business. In this post, I will explain how I have found success in building teams of customers to help improve your customer experience.
- Craft your desired outcome and vision. Before you begin assembling your team and establishing the logistics of your meeting, you need to determine how your company is going to define success and what you’re trying to accomplish. I’ve seen organizations create a CAB simply to say that they have hosted one and to cross it off their “strategic plan.” Needless to say, this should not be your goal. A company I previously worked with stated that each quarter they wanted to create one strategic initiative to improve their customer experience based on what they learned from their CAB. Another company’s marketing team defined success by improving their landing pages from direct feedback from their CAB (in combination with doing A/B testing). The long term goal should always be to have a more intimate relationship with your customers and an opportunity to refine your customer experience.
- Build your external and internal team. The amount of customers you welcome to your CAB team depends on the size of your business. If you’re a small business, you may want to invite 2-5 customers. For a medium or large sized business, this could grow to 6-12 customers. When it comes to what type of customers you should invite, have a mix of “promoters” and “detractors.” The problem with only welcoming promoters is that they will provide feedback with rose-tinted glasses. You need to have tough, challenging conversations which your detractor customers can provide. What employees should be involved? A CAB should be hosted by your executive team (middle and large sized businesses) or owner and managers (small businesses). For middle and large sized businesses, have each of your department heads attend and then disseminate the knowledge to the entire organization.
- Establish the logistics. How often will the meetings take place (quarterly or yearly)? Where will they take place (your office or off site)? I recommend that you host them quarterly and at an offsite location. Make the meetings fun! Have the event catered and in a relaxed environment. I was recently invited to a CAB workshop hosted by my client in Whistler, it was a blast and everyone genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves.
- Develop the meeting structure. You have a fantastic opportunity to get to know your customers intimately; don’t waste their time. Your “customer task force” should meet at least one month prior to the event to finalize the content and delivery. What type of questions are we going to ask? Are we going to showcase prototypes? Who will be moderating? Who will be recording minutes? Ensure that you consider every minor detail to host a seamless meeting.
- Compensation. I have seen companies not need to compensate their CAB members, as having a catered event was enough in exchange for their time. However, I’ve witnessed other companies compensate their members $25-$100/hour. I have found that the organizations that have genuine customer loyalty don’t need to compensate their members. I work with a small coffee shop in Vancouver who I am undoubtedly loyal to and want to see succeed; I do not charge them to give insight into their business.
- Follow up. After you have gathered feedback, close the loop with your CAB members. Let them know what they can expect to come as a result of their feedback to reassure them that their time was well served and appreciated. Don’t simply send an email. Follow up in a professional and formal way by distributing a one or two page document (CAB at a Glance) that outlines all that was discussed and your next steps.
CAB meetings aren’t meant to replace VoC programs. They are there to support all other initiatives to improve the customer experience. Plus, it’s fun, educational and a sign that your company is genuinely customer centric.
Have you had success with a CAB program?