When it comes to learning how to run a successful customer advisory board (CAB), it’s always insightful to learn first-hand how some companies are doing it well.
I had the pleasure of conducting an informal, “fire-side” chat with Jeff Rankin, a former executive of U.S. Bank, Visa and Bank of America. Ignite helped Jeff and U.S. Bank design, launch, manage, and facilitate its Corporate Payments Systems (CPS) group’s client advisory panel (CAP) since its inception in 2014 – and the program is still going strong today.
A few interview highlights:
Rob: Do you recall why CPS started its CAP program what were you trying to accomplish?
Jeff: One of the things that we wanted to ensure was that there was good two-way communication at the executive level with our customers and with the decision makers at the bank. Not only that, we wanted to form deeper relationships with these individuals so they knew they could call us at any time.
Rob: Do you recall any challenges of getting the CAP program off the ground?
Jeff: Well, we did it the right way and invested a lot of time in deciding what our strategic outlook was going to be. We made the decision early on to engage a third party that could help us to be somewhat bipartisan. Too many times, we have a tendency to speak to customers and not engage in dialogue. And so we brought in Ignite Advisory Group to keep it balanced. That was one of the best moves we made.
Rob: In thinking about our many in-person CAP meetings, what did you personally find the most valuable and what do you think the customers did?
Jeff: The customers got very comfortable with each other, which was fantastic. We believe it added a phenomenal level of value where they would say, “I’m going to call you next week, so we can talk about X, Y or Z.” They really appreciated those contacts that they probably wouldn’t have had if we hadn’t put the program together.
The other thing that it was important for us to do is to make sure that we were listening more than we were talking. It was important that we listen and let them question each other and then draw them out, and that worked really, really well.
Rob: Another thing I think we did really well was rotating the meeting locations around the country with various associated activities. What were some of your favorites?
Jeff: They were all favored in one way or the other, as we wanted to get to know each other in a relaxed environment. One of the things the customers really enjoyed was Top Golf in Denver. The trip to the Capitol building in Washington, DC was certainly a lot of fun and we were able to provide all of our members a flag that flew over the Capitol. We were in San Antonio at the Riverwalk, and in Atlanta we got a behind the scenes tour of CNN, which was amazing.
Rob: Another thing that you are a big proponent of was inviting outside speakers to participate in the meetings. Why did you do this and who were some of your favorite speakers?
Jeff: We wanted to avail our customers to things that were going on the industry that they probably wouldn’t see on a face-to-face basis. We were fortunate to have the chief economist from Visa, Wayne Best, who is a phenomenal speaker. We had individuals from Concur, the largest expense reporting company, come in and speak to us. We had individuals from some of the larger consulting firms who were working on electronic payments, and then, we brought in a political lobbyist who spoke about the upcoming election.
Rob: Looking back at the CAP program, what do you consider its greatest accomplishments?
Jeff: We started a dialogue between these individuals and with our executive management which was phenomenal and led to additional engagements. There were just so many things that worked well and what we accomplished was building stronger, deeper relationships with our customers.
Rob: What advice would you have for those companies considering starting a customer advisory board?
Jeff: Advisory boards offer a great opportunity to strengthen customer relationships and communicate that you’re willing to listen. But it takes an investment and commitment to doing things the right way. Having Ignite also added a level of credibility to our customers. The value that we gained out of it on behalf of our customers paid off to a level that then even we didn’t anticipate.
Rob: Is there anything I didn’t ask you about customer advisory boards that you would want to communicate?
Jeff: One last thing I think I failed to mention is that we tried to make sure that during our meetings we were not selling. The meetings were not the appropriate time to be talking about the business side of things.
Rob: Your team was always committed to the program. I always enjoyed working with you, and it was great to talk to you today.
Jeff: Thanks, Rob, it was great speaking to you as well. The CAP was one of the highlights of my career and I appreciated having the opportunity to be a part of it.
Listen to the full interview here.