The thing about Customer Advisory Boards is you just might get what you wished for: unvarnished advice about your strategy and your business. And while this is the very reason to create a Board, it can sometimes be hard to take. But, if you can find a way to leave defensiveness at the door and take a few steps to keep things constructive you will gain much more.
Having an open dialog can be tricky, and you want to ensure that honest feedback does not devolve into complaining or reinforcing of the gaps you are trying to overcome. Here are a few things to consider to maintain constructive Council meetings:
- Listen – The Council meeting is not the place to debate the point, and your defensiveness will shut down any further conversation that will help you learn the reasons for the feedback.
- Clarify – Help advisors to break down their comments to enable you to make the advice actionable.
- Value and vision – Start with value proposition and vision and ask for advice on how to get there. You will still hear plenty on gaps, but it will be in the context of where you want to get to, which brings client advisors along for the journey.
- Avoid open-ended feedback – Sometimes executives want to take an hour or two out of an Advisory Council meeting to ask clients for general feedback. While this may sound like a good idea to encourage open dialog, it is a recipe for random complaints, rambling commentary, off-target suggestions, and insights into areas where you may have no intention of acting. Focusing the conversation makes it easier for everyone to share more effectively.
- Report on progress – It is critical to share back to the Council where you have taken action and made progress. If clients feel their remarks are falling on deaf ears, or if you only respond to places where they commented positively, you will erode the honest nature of future advice. Clients really respond to and admire those executives who take their comments to heart.
Trusted clients will tell you what they think you really need to hear to be successful and you likely will learn a lot.