Why your business needs a customer advisory board

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Guest post by  Brian Crotty, Chief Operating Officer at Broadview Networks

All successful companies experience change and a natural evolution as they grow, whether that includes mergers, reorganizations, a new product niche or shifting business goals. As businesses continually redefine what makes them successful, it is vital that they regularly source customer feedback as part of the process to ensure their approach is effective and customer needs are met. In recent years, clients have come to expect a customer-centric approach that consistently provides personal and exceptional, 24/7 service.

The customer experience should always be a top priority, instilled in every employee and reinforced through a company’s culture, new hire training and careful integration into policies and procedures. The goal is to naturally convert employees into customer experience all-stars who go above and beyond for the customer – while making it easy for them to do so. It also helps to incentivize employees and reward them for outstanding customer service. Focusing on the needs of the customer is a basic tenant of the SixSigma process and how we operate at Broadview Networks.

Customers are often an untapped resource for improving your business strategy. They experience your products, services and customer service with their own unique perspective. Companies should regularly gather feedback from customers through surveys. In addition to rating overall performance and satisfaction, organizations must invite suggestions for improvement through open-ended questions.

In addition to sourcing direct customer feedback, the development of a customer advisory board has proven to be invaluable to many companies in recent years, including ours. As its name implies, a customer advisory board takes the concept of a traditional advisory board and focuses the discussion and impact on customer experience. While surveys are helpful, they may only scratch the surface. Studies have shown that outperforming companies are 54 percent more likely to collaborate extensively with their customers.

What makes a winning customer advisory board? 

A successful customer advisory board should include a diverse cross-section of both customers and employees who are passionate about their individual roles. Selected customers should vary in size, revenue, industry, location and the length of their relationship with your business. To ensure the success of the board, organizations must make sure that participants fully understand the value of participation and influence, the benefits of the board and the overall goals.

Similarly, organizations must select a wide variety of employees to participate, including individuals of varying ages, departments and tenures. It may be a time commitment for both parties, but the receipt of direct feedback that can be put into practice for the betterment of one’s company, certainly makes it worth the while.

Members of your customer advisory board should also be rewarded for their time and efforts. In fact, we incentivized our members with free trials of new and existing services for the length of their membership.

For example, we initially began designing our new portal for our OfficeSuite product-based feature requests from our customer service and sales teams. Based on our nearly 10 years’ experience in provided hosted phone service, we knew that our customers wanted the ability to manage all of their products, services, notifications, settings and system preferences from one website that is accessible from anywhere, anytime on any device.

We then shared a prototype of it with our OfficeSuite Customer Advisory Board and learned that, as much as they all wanted various features and capabilities, they used them in different ways and thus all had different preferences about the layout they preferred. Equipped with this customer insight, we designed our new MyOfficeSuite portal to be fully customizable. It allows every customer to manage all of their services from a single website, but have each user’s experience tailored to their unique needs, with the widget-based layout organized exactly as they desire. As it turns out, this is one of users’ favorite capabilities so the customer advisory board helped make our new MyOfficeSuite portal a big success.

As you collect these anecdotal insights, analyze the information alongside survey results and online feedback. In fact, sourcing a variety of feedback will build a more accurate “big picture,” allowing you to prioritize next steps and immediate action items. Some suggestions will be small and simple, while others could reshape the customer experience. Understandably, the way businesses prioritize these changes will differ for every company and every budget, but will be worth the effort.

‘Accountability and regular meetings are necessary’

The customer advisory board should meet on a regular basis to assess how the changes instituted are being received and what type of impact they are making. More specifically, the board should ask if the results are what they expected and if a few additional tweaks could make an even bigger difference. Once compiled, organizations must share key takeaways with their customer advisory board. While doing so, one must give them insight into the feedback gathered and the overall picture it has painted. This approach to ongoing active engagement will ensure priorities and goals are aligned.

When customers from the board see that you have actually listened, taken action and made measurable progress, they will be much more likely to continue participating. Accountability and regular meetings are necessary in order to make this a successful effort.

Although listening to your customers takes time and you must continually measure results, these efforts will eventually lead to positive change. Both the process and the outcome can instill loyalty and turn those customers into company advocates. Transforming customer feedback into action is always a win-win.

[Ed. note: For more on advisory boards, see this post on the pros and cons of bringing one into your company]

Brian Crotty has more than 21 years of senior management experience in the telecom industry and under his leadership Broadview has been a pioneer in the cloud services market with its OfficeSuite® portfolio of services aimed at helping companies leverage technology to improve their overall operation. Mr. Crotty obtained a degree in Business Administration from St. Norbert College.

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