With the Coronavirus pandemic dragging on, the practice of customer engagement has radically changed in 2020. Gone (for now) are the face-to-face meetings that have been ideal for discovering client guidance that conference calls and virtual meetings just can’t match. But as professionals get used to communicating virtually, they are getting better at ensuring such engagements deliver valuable insights. As such, if and when the pandemic is finally “over,” some traditional methods of customer engagement may be significantly reduced – if they come back at all.
Concurrently, virtual customer advisory boards (CABs) are seeing a flourishing in use, impact and success. After all, your best customers are only too happy to discuss their challenges with you and their peers, and communicate how you can help them be successful during trying times. As such, it seems in the “new normal,” CABs – whether in-person or virtual – are replacing various traditional customer engagement mediums that are being phased out. These would include:
• Onsite customer visits: while these have long been a standard meeting medium for companies, they are all-too-often run by sales or account managers – and come across as much to customers. Discussions are usually focused around how products are functioning; with sales attendees keen on uncovering any new, unmet sales opportunities. Such meetings also focus on tactical user issues, implementation or training. Strategic ideas are usually not discussed and likely not captured by the attending account reps, as they are in well-run customer advisory board engagements.
• User group meetings: these meetings are also on the decline, as product users tend to be a bit more junior and more tactically focused. As such, executives often don’t want to invest the travel dollars to send these folks to such engagements. In addition, information from vendors in user group meetings tends to focus on product updates and upgrades, which can easily be communicated virtually to a wide audience. In turn, product input received – if any is even discussed and captured – also tends to be tactically focused, and not strategically valuable as discussions are in customer advisory board meetings.
• Industry conferences / trade shows: Not long ago, industry trade shows used to be the place to see and be seen by prospects, customers, partners, analysts and media. Unfortunately, due to high costs involved, travel and time away from the office, such events have been on the decline for years. The current pandemic may indeed be the final death knell for many such events. But for those still using trade shows to meet with customers, both sides know that everyone is busy and perhaps distracted, and here too discussions tend to focus on tactical issues or new product sales, similar to an onsite customer sales meeting. Well-managed customer advisory boards, on the contrary, allow for colleague brainstorming and executive engagement, and agenda topics are driven by customers, not the vendor.
• Surveys and NPS: Although surveys and Net Promoter Scoring (NPS) can take place online, most professionals are swamped with such invitations, and just don’t have time for them. This is even more the case for busy executives, who rarely if ever participate. And, again, such surveys focus on product feature and usage feedback, and are simply not designed to engage customers on their other business areas, process bottlenecks and strategic discussions held in customer advisory board meetings that can lead to material insights and actions by the hosting company.
The current pandemic has forced many companies to withdraw from various traditional customer engagement mediums, and focus client discussions in virtual customer advisory board meetings. Here, vendors can offer breakout discussions, polling, roadmap voting and team problem solving to address strategic imperatives. In addition, customers can discuss and learn from each other how to navigate their way through today’s challenges – which they will want to continue whether or not the pandemic ever ends.