Survey after survey brings in results indicating one of the most exciting areas for revenue growth in the coming year will be done by listening to customers. The online survey side of listening is usually where most companies begin. To me, that misses the mark. To really hone-in on how your customer can help you thrive in the coming year, start with an advisory board.

Having your customers weigh in on your company strategy is one of the most valuable assets to any organization. Most executives agree with this statement, yet when it comes to getting the board off the ground, it doesn’t happen. Reasons sound like “we’re too busy to get that done this year,” to “we already know what our customers think.” This is fair – you likely have a good pulse on what your customers like and dislike about your service or product and yes, you’re busy. Who isn’t, your customers included! This is exactly when and why you need to push pause on the swirl around your work and take time to listen.

When you think about key areas where you can compete, a few come to mind:  product features, price and customer experience. You can forever be fighting the good fight on your product and service, and you can continually guess at promotions and pressure around pricing; or, you can fine tune your customer experience to keep the enhancements on the right track and your customers coming back. Companies who deeply understand what their customers want and evolve to those needs are the companies that will win.

When you think about the customer experience, think broad. The roadmap typically hits on four key phases: 

Awareness. Where they know nothing about you and then they do. You get on their radar and they begin discovering how they can progress toward working with you, or, they can begin to feel the forces that detract.

Buy. Where they have bought or signed up for your product or service. They’re in your web. You aren’t exactly sure why just yet, but you’ve got them. They continue to learn what they like about you and dislike with more certainty.

Use. Where they tried you out. This spot typically gets the most focus because, by the nature of the effort, the experience happens.

Support. Where they decide if they’ll use you a second time. Where they form an emotional attraction, indifference or resistance to working with your company again.

Creating a Customer Advisory Board allows you to review, evaluate and hear feedback on each area above as well as learn about touch points that helped seal or break their overall experience. As added value, I like to also use an advisory board to learn about other themes in the industry my customers know about that maybe I don’t. I want to hear direct feedback on where we see our company going in the future and if we are aligned on our customer’s needs. Here is a suggested flow to structuring an advisory board agenda:

Bring your customers in the night before and treat them to a dinner and/or an event that’s social. This gets your group talking and feeling comfortable so they bring that feeling to tomorrow’s meeting. Remember, you want them talking and sharing their perspective and opinions. For most individuals, this means they need to feel relaxed and safe before they share.

Start the meeting the next morning with an ice breaker and introductions. Make it fun. I’ve heard “that’s cheesy” more than once to some of my ice breakers but they really work to break down the screens we can often put around ourselves in a meeting setting. You’ll also want to set ground rules here as you see fit based on the level of privacy on the conversation and data shared.

Start an open dialog about your industry. Ask participants about the themes and data they see and share what your company is seeing based on your data. The sharing back is important here; do not simply spend the day taking. Sharing what you see helps show your leadership in the industry and build loyalty among your participants.

Consider if a deep dive topic fits your audience and how best to execute the topic. Building in exercises where your group needs to collaborate together in smaller groups can be a good way to get people together and building around the topic.

Talk about the future and your strategic direction. What’s relevant and what needs adjusted? Where is your customer base going to find the most value? Ask, ask, ask. If your organization is product heavy, show the roadmap and get feedback to what’s coming.

Wrap up and talk about next steps. Usually, there will be action items out of this group for follow up. You’ll want to recognize those steps and get them in motion as quickly as possible. More reasons to stay in touch with your best customers!

When done well, an advisory board can help guide your company, place priority on your marketing efforts and build a loyal customer base. Making the time to do those three things should be vital in your planning, even when you’re too busy.

Raquel Richardson is a practice lead with Centric Consulting.

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