large group of people in a meeting
PHOTO: Christina @ wocintechchat.com

While there are many mediums for collecting customer experience feedback, most programs (e.g. surveys, net promoter scores, user groups, etc.) tend to focus on product users, and thus collect tactical, lower-value insights. Such input often includes login credential requests, minor software capability tweaks, customer service contact desires, and the like. 

For marketers who are interested in gathering more impactful, strategic input from customer executives, customer advisory boards (CABs) are the proven way to uncover such valuable feedback. Such insights here can include developing entirely new products or services, new markets and customer segments to target, and partner and M&A candidates.

5 Steps to Get the Most From Your Customer Advisory Board

In late 2019, we interviewed marketing leaders from ABB, AVI-SPL, ForcePoint, Ryder, UPS Capital and Wolters Kluwer to learn about how they effectively gather voice of customer insights from their CAB programs. The resulting report, "Key Drivers of High Performing Customer Advisory Boards,” includes their best practices and proven tips for making these executive engagement programs successful:

1. Write down your goals 

While several key elements go into creating a robust CAB program, the marketers surveyed emphasized the need to establish a robust charter document that communicates mutual benefit to members and the host company, the goals and objectives of the initiative, and the level of commitment requested of members. “We started with a strong foundational charter and thought about what we wanted to get out of our CAB,” said Kelly Bousman, SVP of Marketing at AVI SPL. “Our previous research uncovered a need of our customers for more executive engagement and guidance on the complex compliance challenges they were facing,” said Lisa Mohs, Client Experience and Delivery program manager from Wolters Kluwer. “As such, establishing a strong charter document was key to our program success.”

2. Confirm executive commitment

When initiating their customer engagement initiatives, CAB experts emphasized the need to establish strong support and program commitments from their own executives first. “Our CAB initiative has buy-in from our CEO, CMO, our Chief Sales Officer, two presidents and various other VPs — all of whom attend every meeting, review each account beforehand, engage with customers and remain actively involved,” said Stephanie Wicky, group marketing director at Ryder. “Their buy-in drives the participation and dedication of the rest of the Ryder company participants.” Ben Tao, VP of Marketing at Forcepoint, echoed the importance of enlisting executive support for the success of his CAB program. “We have the extreme support of our CEO, who understands the value and benefit of getting an outside view of our company.”

Related Article: It's Not the Metrics, But the Customer Story That Counts

3. Target the right customers

Successful marketers invest the time to define the recruitment criteria and ideal CAB member, collecting internal nominations and vetting the best accounts and people to invite to their programs. 

“To find the right members for our CAB program, we reviewed the professional backgrounds of all candidates, leveraged our strong customer relationships, and conducted internal education for all those involved in the recruiting process,” said Rob Massoudi, SVP of Digital Transformation at ABB. “We worked with sales to determine ideal customer types, including products in use and the industries we wanted to learn more about, such as healthcare and insurance,” said Keely Jabloner, strategy manager at UPS Capital.

4. Prepare for engagement

When it comes to hosting impactful meetings, successful CAB practitioners all agree preparation is the key: engage with clients in advance, invest in creating mutually beneficial content, and practice and review everything well before getting together with CAB members. “Preparation including customer engagement ahead of time is key to synthesizing input to create a strong, rich agenda,” said ABB’s Massoudi. “The key to a successful meeting is the planning process. We assign senior members of our team to ensure content is on track and is reviewed by numerous stakeholders including our CEO,” added Forcepoint's Tao.

Related Article: What Do Customer Experience Teams Actually Look Like?

5. Report back with inputs and actions

Successful CAB leaders agree that post-meeting follow-up and ongoing interaction is crucial to keeping program engagement strong. Several commented that this starts with a detailed meeting report, which summarizes the issues discussed, the different member perspectives gathered, and potential actions that can be taken by the host company as a result. “Our meeting report included all the key discussion points and was provided to members within a month of our meeting,” said Tao. “We review all actions internally, and we update our members on action status.” Wolters Kluwer's Mohs added, “We sent our planned actions to our customers and followed up with what we said we would do.”

Aim High With Your VoC Programs

Measuring the success of a strong CAB program and keeping up momentum in between meetings were also cited by successful CAB marketers as key elements of a strong program.

When it comes to capturing the voice of your customers, it’s almost always more impactful to aim higher within your client organizations, and invest the time and resources to establish a strong customer advisory program that emphasizes higher-value strategic input that can make a material impact on your company’s trajectory for years to come.