Client Advisory Boards: How can you better serve your clients?

Filed under: Contributed Columns |

The fact that our economy is going through a down period is being talked about through every media outlet and probably most conferences or round tables that you attend.
As a business manager or owner, you know that having loyal and satisfied clients and customers is a large part of your success. However, it’s no longer enough just to satisfy them. The quality of your revenue is as important as its quantity, and loyal customers represent quality revenue.
Have you asked yourself what you could do better to set yourself apart from any competitor or how you could better serve your clients’ needs?
It’s great when every customer that walks away from your business has a smile on his or her face, but that is not enough. They have to be compelled to come back for more.
Many of us have used surveys to get feedback from your customers. We all want to know what we need to do to serve our clients better and keep them coming back. One of the most efficient and effective ways to get your customers’ feedback is through a Client Advisory Board. CABs help you to understand your clients’ needs and wants and understand their perspective on your service while generating loyalty.
Your customers’ feedback is critical to the success of your company, and it can help to identify critical issues and recognize which ones to work on first.
There are many different types of advisory boards that you can implement. For example, you can hold CABs with vendors or suppliers, prospective clients or referral sources, as well as top clients, but in this article, we’ll focus on working with your current clients.

The first steps

The key to carrying out a successful CAB is to make sure the time your clients give to the CAB is well spent. In order for that to happen, here are a few standards that will make your CAB time well worth it.
It’s best to have between eight and 12 clients attend your CAB. By limiting the amount of people, you’ll have enough people to receive feedback from, and it will be easier to get useful information without the group losing focus.
Invite your most loyal customers. If you are going to spend the time and energy to re-engineer your business to serve your customers better, your most loyal customers will be more interested in helping you succeed.
Diversity among the attendees is important. Some may have been customers of your business for years; some may be your largest customers, others smaller, etc. Try to cover your major customer groups. It’s important to make sure that you place different companies, industries and people on your CAB. In later CABs, you can adjust your target audience depending on the needs of your business.
Consider inviting prospective customers to your CAB. Even if they decline your offer, the impression that you made may be a springboard in the future.
The meetings shouldn’t last longer than two or three hours, and serving a nice meal during the meeting is one way to show appreciation for their input and time.

How does it work?

It will be important that you hire a facilitator to conduct the CAB. In addition, your management team should not attend the CAB. Their presence at the CAB may inhibit the conversation.
Your goal is to receive open and honest feedback.
Next, you will need to determine the questions you would like feedback on. Make sure that the questions are open ended and designed to receive honest answers.
Set rules at the beginning of the CAB meetings, like no blaming, criticizing or demanding, no interrupting and keeping the set time limits. Ask questions in order to draw out more information, to move to a different topic or to refocus your board members.
At the conclusion of the CAB, send out a personal letter thanking each attendee for their time and input.
A small gift may be appropriate as a token of appreciation for their time. Your customers will appreciate the letter and will be surprised by the gift.
Most importantly, the action you take from the suggestions that your CAB has given you will speak volumes. Your may want to consider sending a written report to all attendees and your plan of action in implementing the ideas that came out of the CAB.
Have a meeting with your own team to review and discuss the results of the CAB. Assign “champions” who will be responsible to follow through on the issues and set deadlines for implementation. Keep it simple and realistic. By implementing some of the simple suggestions right away, you will show your customers and employees that you are committed to change. Then stick to it and work through the remaining items.
Greg Papineau CPA is audit director of BiggsKofford P.C. He can be reached at papineau@biggskofford.com or 579-9090.