Success comes from meeting customers’ expectations and satisfying their needs. Both expectations and needs change over time and keeping abreast of these changes is essential. The owner of a small business usually knows their customers personally. This is an excellent beginning for the development of a relationship that can help you with your marketing and in the acquisition of new customers.
A customer advisory board
A customer advisory board is a representative group of your own customers that have agreed to share their experiences and evaluate new options and opportunities. You can gain a strategic advantage by gathering knowledge about your competitors from your customers. You’ll find out how they feel about your competitor’s offerings, identify any gaps in their (or your) products and services, uncover unmet customer needs and discover new offerings that will keep your customers loyal.
The goals of your customer advisory board need to be established before anything can proceed. Do you want it to determine better ways of providing customer service? Do you want it to test new products? Do you want it to evaluate your advertising before it goes into print?
The selection process
Once the goals have been determined the next task is to select the customers that will make up your advisory board. B2B marketers may want a particular size of business customer for their board. B2C retailers may want only those customers with a particular set of demographic or purchasing characteristics.
Personalities also have to be considered. Board members must be able to articulate their perceptions and feelings. They need to be positive and willing to make a contribution. They also have to commit to regular meetings and to whatever follow up work might be required. Customer advisory boards can be sourced for input in many ways. They can meet at the business premises or in another location if it’s more convenient. They can participate in a teleconference, they can be surveyed by mail or telephone, or even meet online.
Use a trained moderator
Each meeting of the board needs to be moderated. Concepts must be clearly presented and questions answered objectively to optimise the value of the board’s contributions. Good management of the board is essential and shouldn’t be delegated to someone who does not possess good customer relationship skills. Your customer advisory board will be a bridge to your customers that keeps you in touch with their opinions and their changing needs. It’s the way to leverage existing business assets to drive your business towards growth in the most cost effective way.
Reward them for their help
Naturally the board participants deserve to be rewarded for their assistance. It doesn’t have to be a financial reward, although this is often the case. Probably the best approach is to have a ‘basic’ reward that’s financial based on so much per participation, plus some sort of gift certificate or a useful consumer product at the end of the term. The feedback from the board will be an important element of your planning strategy. Because of this the programme needs to be well managed so that events happen on schedule, participants’ amenities are provided, and meeting notes are accurately and completely recorded.