Running a Customer Advisory Board? Avoid these 3 common pitfalls.

Setting up a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) can be a powerful way to get ongoing feedback from your customers.  As facilitators, we’ve set-up and moderated quite a few CAB meetings, and over time we have seen there are three common pitfalls that can derail companies from their CAB goals, while also frustrating the customers.

Common Pitfall #1: Talking Too Much

Companies have a lot of information they want to share with customers.  And when people creating products are excited about what they are doing they tend to talk, a lot.  But with any good CAB, the focus should be on the customers and what they think.  CABs should be designed to be engaging and interactive, focused on topics of interest to the group.  A rough rule of thumb is the hosting company shouldn’t talk any more than 25% of the time.  So for example, a 15 minute company presentation would be followed by 45 minutes of structured customer discussion, breakouts, or exercises.  We spend a lot of time working with our clients to structure a strategic session that maximizes customer feedback, using innovative exercises and hands-on activities.

Common Pitfall #2: Not Being Strategic

CABs should be strategic in nature and designed to understand the customer’s larger challenges and pain points as well as their long term business goals and strategies.  If a client wants feedback on features and functions from the day to day users of a product, we typically recommend a User Group or other traditional research methods over a CAB.  Because of this it is important to get the “right” people in the room for a CAB meeting – customers who can provide the appropriate level of inputs on the topic at hand.   Because clients may already have a relationship with prospective invitees through their sales or product teams, we suggest scrubbing the list to make sure all customers have enough visibility into their organization’s goals to speak to strategy.  No matter who attends the CAB meetings, there are times customers want to dig into their specific complaints or talk tactical details about how a product works.  Having an objective facilitator helps to keep things on track, taking topics offline that can derail the session while also ensuring the customers feel heard.

Common Pitfall #3: Not Following up with Feedback

Because CABs are ongoing, members need to see the value in order to maintain enthusiasm and make participation a priority.   Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than giving a day or two of time, providing feedback, and then not hearing about what is being done as a result.  We work with clients to set-up this structured feedback loop, to ensure CAB members get updates around the key themes that came up in the CAB and how their input is affecting the strategy and product roadmaps.  Even if some of their feedback cannot be acted on, they should be told why.  If customers know they know they are being heard, they will want to come back the next time!

Avoid these 3 pitfalls and you have a much better chance at getting the level of feedback you need, while strengthening your relationship with your CAB members.  We would love to chat with you on ways to make CABS interactive, energizing, and valuable for everyone involved!

Anne Bakstad 
anne@clearworks.net

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