We all need advisors in life. Our spouses. Our therapists. Our friends. Family. And for businesses, customers are usually the best ones. They've purchased your product or services. Literally felt your product. They know your customer experience and how it can be improved.

That doesn't mean just sending out a calendar invite to a few select customers and meeting for an hour is going to be the most valuable — for your company but, more importantly, those customers.

CMSWire Contributor Rob Jensen wrote about five things your customer advisory board members will expect in your next meeting. And we caught up with Rob for a video Q&A.

Check out the full transcript, edited for clarity:

Keeping Customer Advisory Board Meet-ups Going in New World

Dom Nicastro: Rob Jensen joining us today, CMSWire contributor from Ignite Advisory Group. What's going on Rob?

Rob Jensen: Hey, Dom, good to meet you. Good to be here.

Nicastro: Yeah, it's great to have you. You're a longtime CMSWire contributor, thank you for that. The contributors are the lifeblood of our website, no question about it. And you've been doing it since 2018. And, you know, your theme has been customer advisory boards. And we have another article today about that. And we'll get into that in a moment. But I just wanted to, Rob, paint the picture of what's been going on, in this area for customer advisory boards with the pandemic, I mean, this, this just totally blew up everything.

Jensen: Yeah, for the last couple years, I mean, everyone's been, you know, no one's been traveling, companies are worrying their employees are working from home. So for customer advisory boards, people just haven't been meeting them in person. Now, what they've been doing is they've been meeting virtually through, you know, typical Zoom meetings, or whatever the format is. So companies are still doing that. And that's been successful and good to at least keep the conversation going from when they were meeting, you can still engage with customers.

A lot of them might have had different challenges with, you know, the supply chain, for example. And then, interestingly, Dom, some customers that are on customer advisory boards, they're actually doing really well, right? It might be like a grocery store, or it might be another chain, or it might be another company that's actually doing really well. So it's good to check in with your customers, make sure they're doing okay and see how you can help them.

Related Article: Don't Invite Prospects to Your Next Customer Advisory Board Meeting

Ensuring Follow-Up on Customer Suggestions

Nicastro: And I'll tell you, literally, today, I sent an email to our advisory board at CMSWire, after editing your article, I said, oh, my, I have to do this. And what I did was I sent a follow up email to our board, and I showed them something tangible that happened based on their input. Nice. One of the things you talked about in the article that's so important.

Jensen: Yeah, you know, one of the top areas that will be a problem for customer advisory boards, traditionally, is if you continue to meet with them, and they kind of wonder, hey, whatever happened with, you know, this idea that we had, or, you know, I made this suggestion, whatever happened with that, and customers will start to lose interest. Or if they don't see progress, they can even start to drop out. Or they'll question it, right?

So it's always good to include in a meeting agenda, what, you know, kind of review previous input, like, here's what we've heard, and here's what we've done with it. Some of them we've been able to complete, right, some of them might be easy, low-hanging fruit, you may be, we're going to have on your plot a product roadmap anyway.

And then some of them might be more difficult and might take more time. And then, you know, I mean, at least you're saying, hey, we're gonna do this, we need to work with our partner, or it's on our roadmap or whatever. And then some of them, you know, sometimes customers will give you an idea, and it might be a good idea, and you just can't do it, for whatever reason. It could be money, personnel, technology, limitations, whatever. And that's okay to say, hey, that was great input. And you can, it's good to say, you know, we like the idea, but we just can't do it. And here's why. Rather than, oh, let's ignore that. And then hopefully, it'll go away.

Nicastro: Right, right. It's like, yeah, we talked about this, like, for 20 minutes in the last meeting, what's the action from that? You know, and if there's no action, like you said, it's okay. But give them an update. We looked into this, it didn't quite jibe with what we were talking about.

Related Article: 5 Ways to Create the Ultimate Customer Advisory Board Meeting for 2022

Establish Success With Customer Advisory Board Charter

Nicastro: And then, another thing you mentioned is, you know, the idea of whoever leads those boards is going back to that document from the beginning that promise, that email, if it's a living document, fine, if it's an email outline, fine. But always going back and remembering what you promised to the customer advisory board.

Jensen: Right, right. Hopefully, when companies establish the customer advisory board, they put together a charter document, which really is just, you know, put down on paper of what this board is going to be about, what the membership is, what are the goals, what is the mission, what's the scope.

And over time, sometimes that mission and can kind of creep a little bit, right? Maybe, you know, due to input or limitations that, you know, that the topics have kind of meandered a bit. And that might have happened due to COVID with the lockdowns and people doing things virtually. So when customers are getting back to meeting in person, it's probably a good idea to take a look back at that charter document and just make sure that you are, you know, doing what you promised you're doing as part of your program. And a lot of times the customers themselves remember that too. And they agreed to participate on a board that focuses on this topic with these goals. And if that's kind of morphed or changed, you want to address that. It may be a change because the customers wanted it.

But there might be some customers who might say, hey, wait a minute, this change is not what I agreed to. So it's good to know, hey, just revisit it, make sure that you're sticking to what you agreed to what you said you were going to do.

Related Article: What Every Host Company Should Bring to a Customer Advisory Board Meeting

Learning Opportunities

Create a Customer-Driven Agenda

Nicastro: And I always liked the idea too of asking if you can, I mean, they're so strapped for time these customers. They are giving you their time, you know? So sort of asking like, hey, is there anything particular you might want to discuss? And at the same time, Rob, you know, you can't expect that they're going to answer you ahead of that meeting, they're busy, sometimes they just want to show up to what's on their calendar, sit back, listen to what's going on and maybe offer a little input. So you're not always going to get the ahead-of-time input. But is that a good idea to to maybe solicit some input, so the agenda can reflect things they want to talk about versus things your company wants to talk about?

Jensen: Absolutely, Dom. We recommend that companies on their boards put together a customer-driven agenda. In other words, it's not what you want to tell the customers, it's what they want to talk about. And you might think, you know, your customers and, you know, their challenges and their problems, or at least you think the you do, and what's the priority or what's most urgent for them will often surprise the host company.

So what we recommend is, you engage with customers before that, and how you can do that is certainly for a new customer advisory board, you just literally interview them, you get some questions, you get some topics, you put them on the table, and you say, here's what we think your concerns are. And they'll say, yeah, that's a concern. Well, that's not really a concern. But what about this, it's not even on the list, this is a real concern. And then you make that a part of the agenda. And then it's prioritized. And that's what you really drill down on.

And if that's what the members want, you engage them, you interview them, you put together its own kind summary of what your customers are most challenged with. And you can do that with surveys to maybe later in the program after a couple meetings. But then you create that agenda, and then you focus on those topics.

In other words, what you don't want to do is get your customers in a room and tell them what's important to you. And you're just giving them, you know, product demos and sales, and your canned investor relations, PowerPoint, that's what you don't want to do, that'll turn them off, especially if they've traveled all the way to wherever. This could have been a webinar, right? If you're not, if you're just gonna communicate to me, you know, I don't need to be here for it. So you want to engage them on topics that they are concerned about, and then try to get some information from them. And you want to go there asking questions and wanting to learn, you know, the members to talk 80% of the time, the company only 20%.

Nicastro:  Yeah, I like to talk and it's funny. We're having, like, a contributors meetup coming up soon. And, you know, my co-workers said, hey, make sure you let them do most of the talking. And I'm like, okay, that's a friendly reminder that I like to take the state of the mic every now and again and rule the land. But yeah, step back. That's the point. That's the value you're going to get is what they say.

Jensen: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, sometimes salespeople's eyes will get all big when they light up. And they think, oh, we have, wait, we have customers trapped in a room for for eight hours. Yeah, we get my new, you know, my demo out of my new sales pitch. That's not what it's about.

Nicastro: Yeah. And they're not there to be updated on what you're doing. They're there. They're there to have you listen, and improve their experience later, based on what they say.

Jensen: Absolutely. And come up with new solutions to challenges that you, maybe, you don't even offer that you don't even address that maybe you might want to, you know, consider either launching a new product or new offering, a new market or partnering with someone. A lot of the customers are using this particular vendor to do something kind of associated with what you do. Wow, we should partner with those guys. And, you know, maybe we can come up with a joint solution to address that other challenge we don't even know about, right? So that happens pretty regularly.

Nicastro: Rob Jensen into his fifth year as a CMSWire contributor, can you believe it? I'm so glad Siobhan Fagan, my co-worker found you, connected and you're still with us. We're looking forward to future pieces on this and any other topic you feel is important to customer experience. The door is wide open. You're a great writer. So thanks for joining us today. I appreciate it.

Jensen: Thanks for having me, Dom. I love to contribute. It's great meeting you, and I look forward to contributing in the in the months and years ahead and if anyone has any questions about customer advisory boards, hit us up.

Nicastro: All right, Rob. Thanks so much. Have a good one.

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