I've been an advocate of using a customer advisory board for over 30 years. I've used them in every business I've ever owned and every time I wonder why I didn't use one before.
There is only one way to get high quality feedback about your company and your service. The way is to ask your customers what you think. Asking one on one is a good start. Asking with a group of customers at once is magic.
Don't do surveys.
I know, this is a post about advisory boards. I need to start with this. Surveys in my opinion are a waste of time. You're asking one question and getting one answer. The real value in an advisory board is the follow-up question and the follow-up on the follow-up question.
A survey will probably make you feel good. Your customers will choose nice things to pick. I've yet to see a survey that came up with solid actionable items a company could take. Don't waste your time and money. Go right to an advisory board.
There is synergy in a group.
I'm often told, "I don't need an advisory board, I talk with my customers all of the time." I'm sure this is true. If you're running a great business you're talking to your customers. If not, then start there.
The great thing about an advisory board is that your members will get energy from each other. Ideas will build on each other and you'll find suggestions you get can help you make your company significantly better. The key is to take action on the suggestions you get.
Have your advisory board meet regularly.
The better your advisory board knows each other the more comfortable they'll become. Conversation becomes more honest when your board knows and trusts each other. You need to have your board meet at least two times per year. You'll find that board members will look forward to the meeting. Customers love making their suppliers better. If you become better your customers are the ones who benefit.
You want at least one curmudgeon on your board. They'll often start a conversation that's worth while having. They'll talk about a real issue that your company needs to address. It's important to have someone start this conversation.
Prepare for your meetings.
Good board members are busy. They have lots of competing activities that call for their attention. If you don't prepare properly your good members will drop out.
When you prepare properly you're showing respect for advisory board members. When you just throw something together, board members will get the message that you don't think is very important. You don't want to waste the time of your best customers. You want their honest and enthusiastic feedback.
Keep your board in the loop.
Make sure you give your advisory board updates from time to time. You'll want to provide your board members with a report of what happened at the meeting. Every six weeks or so send them a short update about what you've been working on and changes the company has made.
You'll want to remember that it's small experiments that will produce the best long-term results. It's easy to report to your board how your small experiments turned out.
Make sure conversations are from board members point of view.
This is the most important part of advisory boards. You'll hear board members say "you should do this." When a board member says this you MUST ask if they themselves would spend money on their idea. If their answer is yes, it's a valid point. If they so no, but other people would want the service you should discount what they said.
In my experience of running advisory boards, only statements that include members using a service are valid. Valid statements are the one I drill in with follow up questions. The follow up questions are the ones that bring the nuggets that I'm looking for.
Have you ever thought about using an advisory board? What's keeping you from starting today?