Bonnie Smith, Head of Executive Customer Marketing Programs at Akamai, discussed the value of the Customer Advisory Board and how to put together the most effective one.
At the outset of her keynote presentation at the 2017 Customer Experience Leadership Forum held in Boston on November 2, Smith announced she was going to describe the secrets to putting together a customer advisory board (CAB) that drives the change companies need.
A CAB is:
• A strategy-level focus group
• Comprised of top customers
• A formalized vehicle for these customers to meet with your executive staff on an ongoing basis to discuss trends, drivers, and challenges they face
• Used to gather guidance and perspective to create a roadmap and shape your business
The benefits of a CAB to customer experience include obtaining insights on the how the customer experience at a company impacts the top customers’ top decision-makers’ ability to:
• Meet their existing and future business challenges
• Turn new ideas into reality
• Do business with you…
• And, in turn, do business with their customers
• Open new markets and take advantage of new business opportunities
“There are more traditional benefits of a CAB that don’t necessarily have a direct impact on your customer experience, and they’re not small,” stated Smith. These include:
• Gaining internal alignment on your go-to-market plans
• Deepening relationships with top key accounts
• Generating customer referrals and increasing revenues from existing customers
• Increasing customer loyalty, retention, and satisfaction
• Validating strategy and gaining feedback for new ideas and product development
• Receiving market intelligence on competitors’ strategies
• Developing customer advocates
"The big question when you’re building a CAB for customer experience is, ‘What aspects of our customer experience get in the way of our customers’ ability to do business?’”
“The big question when you’re building a CAB for customer experience is, ‘What aspects of our customer experience get in the way of our customers’ ability to do business?’”
Smith offered the following steps to creating an effective CAB:
1. Identify an important question that needs to be answered and an executive who's tightly bound to outcomes from the answer to that question to serve as that CAB’s executive sponsor.
2. Next, identify your top customer accounts.
3. Identify the right level of individuals in those accounts to help answer that big, important question.
4. Create and communicate a clarity of purpose—write down the purpose, how many times and where the CAB will meet, intended outcomes, and target members for your CAB (i.e., a CAB “charter”).
5. Engage your executives and field staff in identifying customers to fulfill your membership goal.
A question that’s often asked is, “Why don’t we just do a survey to find out this information?” Smith explained, “The problem with that is you don’t know who’s taking the survey, and you don’t have a lot of control over that. Also, survey fatigue is real, so survey responses go down every year. And we know that people who are unhappy tend to respond to surveys more than people who are happy.”
“The problem with [surveys] is you don’t know who’s taking the survey. Also, survey fatigue is real, so survey responses go down every year. And we know that people who are unhappy tend to respond to surveys more than people who are happy.”
The secrets of a successful CAB:
• Create a sense of a shared future for your business and your members—WIIFM.
• Keep membership at 10 to 20 members, so everyone on the CAB feels important.
• Members need to be peers—equal stature and equal perspective.
• Maintain ongoing, year-round engagement (and therefore management).
• Ensure powerful content and discussion format, co-created with the members.
• Make sure customers talk 80% of the time and you talk 20% of the time.
Regarding CABs, Smith stressed that companies need to act on feedback. “This is one of the most important and most challenging areas for many companies—collecting feedback and putting it into a format that your business processes can take in and make changes on. It helps to have an executive sponsor who’s tightly aligned with your CAB. Another important action is to communicate to members, on a regular basis, what’s been acted on, what hasn’t and why, and where other actions stand.” Finally,” stated Smith, “communicate on a regular basis internally to your organization on the business impact from CAB feedback.”
In closing, Smith noted, “CAB is an extremely well-qualified, voice-of-the-customer listening post, so incorporate it into your formalized VOC program processes.”
ABOUT BONNIE SMITH:
Bonnie is passionate about the idea of possibility and believes that great leaps forward often start with the simple question, “What if?” Consequently, Bonnie joined Akamai in 2013 to create its future-focused Global Customer Advisory Board program and its more present-oriented sister, the Global Executive Briefing Center program.
Prior to Akamai, Bonnie spent 14 years in senior management roles at BMC Software, Compuware, and Programart leading sales engineering and customer engagement.
Bonnie holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Business Administration from Gordon College. Bonnie is a mom of two high schoolers (Go Boston Latin Academy!) and enjoys scuba diving and living on boats.