This CX Mini Masterclass explores the concept of a customer advisory board (aka customer advisory council) as a Voice of Customer methodology that can yield incredibly rich insights and strengthen relationships with influential customers. Show host and customer experience expert, Julia Ahlfeldt, shares insights on where customer advisory boards are best suited as a VOC approach, and some practical tips to consider if starting one. If you’re looking for a quick yet comprehensive overview of the concept of a customer advisory board and some practical ideas that you can take back to the office, then this episode is for you.
A robust Voice of Customer approach
Episode 39 explored the concept of Voice of Customer, how this differs from CX metrics and measures, and why understanding customers is key to business success. The thing about Voice of Customer is that there are many different approaches. Some of the most popular include surveys, focus groups and interviews, but there are many others, including the customer advisory board (or customer advisory council).
A customer advisory board is organized by a product or service provider and usually consists of a group of customers who convene with the service provider on a regular basis to discuss their experiences, provide feedback, and even participate in innovation or co-creation. Most traditional VOC efforts like surveys or interviews rely on once-off interactions with customers to garner their feedback, but a customer advisory board is an ongoing thing. With the benefit of time and follow-up, one can have deeper conversations with customers.
Customers who participate may also gain an appreciation for the service provider’s business and therefore be able to be collaborative partners in things like troubleshooting and innovation. Customers who contribute their time and energy to participating are also likely to develop a vested interest in the success of the service provider’s business and may become vocal promoters. For these reasons, some companies specifically select industry influencers to be part of their customer advisory bodies.
Customer advisory bodies are more common in the B2B context where the customer journeys are often complex, needs are ongoing and the product in question may be an integral part of the customer’s business operations. That’s not to say that you can’t apply this concept to the B2C space as well. Kraft Food’s Velveeta cheese brand very effectively engaged with a council of its “super users” to reinvent how it engages with customers and positions its product in the marketplace. Read more about their approach here.
Customer advisory council ≠ customer experience council
A customer advisory council is not to be confused with a customer council or a customer experience council, which is something else. A customer experience council is usually an internal governance body or cross-functional steerco that meets to discuss customer experience management, journey improvement, etc. Even though the names are similar, the concepts are totally different. To keep the two straight, one can remember that a customer advisory board advises the business based on the external customer perspective.
Tips for starting a customer advisory board
Customer advisory boards or councils can be useful for nearly any type of product or service provider, whether that’s B2B or B2C. There are a couple of key ingredients that make a customer advisory board successful.
A clear purpose – an advisory body can provide insights that will be useful for business strategy, product development, service improvement, marketing, account management, and many other things. Customer participants need to know the objectives of the council, and the engagements should work towards these. The purpose will also inform who should participate.
Selecting the right customers to participate – B2B customers are actually a village of stakeholders. A customer’s CEO, the primary contact for account management, and the end user within the business may all bring a different perspectives. Their perspectives and resulting inputs should align to the purpose. It may also be beneficial to select participants from similar levels of seniority to facilitate peer-to-peer idea sharing. In the B2B context, service providers would also be wise to carefully select participating organizations that aren’t direct competitors of each other. The optimal group size will vary, but should strike a balance of diverse perspectives and a manageable group conversation. Participation in a customer council isn’t a small ask, so organizers can also consider how to appropriately encourage participation without skewing the feedback (i.e. tread carefully with incentives).
Establishing a consistent structure – Organizers shouldn’t walk into this without an agenda and expect to come out with insights. Objectives, timeline and approach should be clear. Where the stakes are high, it’s not unheard-of for organizations to bring in a professional facilitator. A regular cadence to the council meeting will also be needed to keep customers engaged and the flow of information going. As with group size, the frequency can vary. Some councils meet semi-annually, while others meet quarterly or more often. A regular cadence enables service providers to follow-up on issues or questions previously raised and to circle back with participating customers to let them know how their feedback is being implemented.
Want to keep learning about CX?
If you’d like to checkout more of these CX Mini Masterclasses or listen to my longer format CX expert interviews, check out the full listing of episodes for this CX podcast.
Decoding the Customer is a series of customer experience podcasts created and produced by Julia Ahlfeldt, CCXP. Julia is a customer experience strategist, speaker and business advisor. She is a Certified Customer Experience Professional and one of the top experts in customer experience management. To find out more about how Julia can help your business achieve its CX goals, check out her customer experience advisory consulting services (including CX strategy, voice of customer and culture change) or get in touch via email.