You can greatly improve your chances of succeeding in today’s marketplace if you focus your efforts on addressing the business issues that face your key customers. Consequently, it is more important than ever that you know ‘the voice of your customer’ and that you use this knowledge to create competitive solutions that deliver real business value.
Your Customer Advisory Board resource book
Listen to your customers
Imagine one of your customers sitting down at a luncheon with several other business owners. The subject of your business comes up. What will your customer say about you and your company?
Will it be positive? Will it be negative? Or worse yet, will it be nothing at all? Will your customer, instead, be silent, listening carefully to what’s being said by others while internally running down a list of comparisons of your company versus the other companies being discussed?
It’s a given that customers are thinking about you and the service your company provides. Even if they aren’t talking about you to other business owners, they’re evaluating your company every time you provide a service. They’re also evaluating your company every time you answer the phone, return a call, or send out an invoice or other correspondence.
Ironically, it’s often the non-technical aspects of what you do that are noticed most by customers. We know that customers often leave a company not because the company was technically incompetent, but because of the way they were treated.
It comes down to the issue of perceived indifference. You know, the little things that communicate to the customer that they aren’t as important to the company as they think they should be.
What are your company’s areas of perceived indifference? Your phone procedures? Your invoicing procedures? The way you serve customers? The amount of contact with your customers? The attitude of a team member? Delivery of product?
Whatever your issues of perceived indifference, you owe it to yourself to find out what they are and fix them — now! Every day you wait, you risk losing a customer who feels unheard or uncared for.
So, how do you determine your issues? we’ve found the best way to reveal what those issues are is to ask. Here’s the really important part, you must really listen to your customers. They already have the answers and are more than willing to share them.
When you think about it, wouldn’t it be better to get your customers talking to you directly about their concerns, frustrations, and desires rather than telling someone else? Of course it is, but the benefits don’t just stop there.
Here’s the interesting part.
You and your team probably already know much of what your customers’ concerns are. It may be that the greatest benefit from the feedback you get at the CAB will help you set your re-engineering priorities.
Based on the intensity level of your customer feedback, you’ll know which issues need to be addressed and in what order.
Beyond that, your team will be motivated more than ever before by the feedback. You see, for the first time, you and your team will be held accountable to a whole new level of customer expectation.
This is a day like no other in your business. For many companies it’s truly a turning point and the beginning of great things.
How many customers?
The number of customers that attend these meetings should be between 8 and 12 people. It’s critically important that you keep the numbers small enough to ensure that the group is manageable. It’s also important that each person has the chance to participate.
For group dynamics, the best number is around 10 people.
How long should it run?
It really depends on the overall objective. Your meeting should run for around 2.5 hours. The length really depends on how much feedback you need and the group dynamics.
The amount of time you need to allocate for the meeting is quite straightforward. You need to be there to introduce your facilitator. Then you can leave.
When the meeting is over, you need to come back in the room (your facilitator will normally give you a time and/or locate you at this time) and thank your customers with a quick ‘thank you’ speech.
At this point, your customers typically want some refreshments and then they leave.
After your customers leave, it’s important to have all the business owners allocate time with the facilitator to discuss what your customers have said and what you need to do about it. This follow-up session usually takes one hour.
The room setup has to be open and one where people can communicate easily. A boardroom style works best because everyone is facing each other.
Place jugs of iced water, glasses, and bowls of mints (or something fun) on the table. Remember, it’s a nurturing exercise. Your customers should also be issued name badges or place cards printed in a large font so that everyone can see the names clearly.
Once you’ve thanked your customers for giving their time and you’ve introduced your facilitator, the best thing you can do is leave! Now that will be very hard. But if you want the best results, it’s important that your customers see your facilitator as a neutral party. Without you in the room, you’ll find your customers will be much more open and more prepared to offer their opinion without feeling intimidated.
By removing yourself from the meeting you’ll also save yourself the trauma of taking simple comments on your business as personal attacks, which they never really are anyway.
And, of course, remember that the entire meeting is being taped, so you won’t miss out on anything.
Recording your CAB
Obviously taping your CAB is extremely important because the information that comes out of the meeting will be truly valuable.
Make sure you have sufficient tapes for 3 hours and that the equipment is set up and tested before the meeting starts.
In addition to recording the event, your facilitator will be making good, clear notes during the meeting so that the consultation with you afterwards is more meaningful.
Time of day
The time of day is not as important as matching it to the scheduling needs of your clients. Some companies have found a breakfast meeting easiest. Others have found that an extended lunch or late afternoon works best. There are no hard-and-fast rules.
You need to be sensitive to commuter issues and the geographic location of the participants involved.