Not a One-Time Event: How to Make Your Customer Advisory Board an Ongoing Program

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One of the most important concepts to learn – and communicate to your members and internal executives – is that your customer advisory board (CAB) should not be established as a “one time” meeting or an “event.” Doing so implies that your program is attempting to address a single challenge or, worse, is a test to see if it works and is successful in the first place.

Indeed, once a company goes through the process of establishing its program charter, recruiting members, creating a customer-focused agenda, holding the meeting and completing resulting actions items, some CAB managers may feel uncertain as to what to do next. The answer is to restart the CAB program creation process from the beginning once again, in the name of keeping your momentum going and making it an ongoing initiative – one that hopefully never ends. Such steps can include revisiting:

• Program charter: As this includes your CAB program mission, goals, scope and participation guidelines, it should be applicable for the first two years of your program. However, has anything change since it was published and sent to your members? Have you changed course at all, added new goals and topics, or personnel involved? We all, for example, know all too well that in-person meetings have been cancelled the last couple years due to the Covid pandemic, so revisiting your virtual and face-to-face meeting cadence would be warranted under the circumstances. Updating your program charter would especially be warranted for new members you may be recruiting going forward.

• Member recruiting: Speaking of membership, you may have had some members change companies, roles, account status or a range of other variables that would require you to replace them on your CAB. In addition, it’s only natural that some members are more verbal or helpful during your meetings than others. The thought here is to continually evaluate your membership, and always be on the lookout for potential new members (who meet your published criteria) to add. As we like to say, CAB recruiting never ends.

• Member interviews: While you (hopefully) engaged with your CAB members before your first meeting, interviewing them about their top challenges and desired topics, don’t believe this step was a one-time endeavor. After all, their challenges and priorities likely have shifted over the previous months, and interviewing them again in advance of your next meeting will ensure your agenda is on point – and they will be eager to attend it.

• Agenda creation: Companies should never simply repeat their CAB agenda from their previous meeting. Doing so will give your members the impression that your meeting will be a “re-run,” that your company is getting lazy and that their attendance is not necessary. While it is good to have some sessions repeated (e.g. an introductory “environmental scan”), feel free to shake your next meeting agenda up with breakouts, games or an exclusive guest speaker. Keeping things fresh and exciting will keep your members engaged and coming back.

• Action item capture and completion: If you were proactive in capturing and completing most of the action items from your previous CAB meeting, be sure to communicate these accomplishments to your members at the start of the next meeting. And don’t be shy about telling them which ones were not completed and are still in progress – they are your trusted advisors after all. But be prepared to once again capture, evaluate, prioritize and commit to range of new actions resulting from your next meeting – and keeping your members posted on your status of completing these as well in future engagements.

Healthy, well-run CAB programs are never “finished,” but instead are in a perpetual state of motion and always progressing forward. By continually engaging your members and keeping them abreast as to your status, you will keep their program interest, participation and satisfaction high.

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