Customer Advisory Boards: Listening Required, Action Mandatory

We facilitate many Customer Advisory Boards with C-level audiences (CIO, CMO, COO) who are critical to the future of our clients’ businesses. In a recent meeting a Board member asked me a simple question – “what makes this work so well?” The answer – while equally simple to provide – is not simple to successfully deliver: listening and taking action.

Listening Required

Whether you are running an executive customer Advisory Council or another customer focused program, listening is a critical requirement for success. We spend a significant amount of time working to make sure that the sessions are based on discussion rather than a sales pitch. This is a challenge – for good reason. Most senior executives when meeting with their C-suite customers are expected to do one of two things: pitch or put out fires.

We work to help the senior executives use the Board session as a listening and learning opportunity. Every time the instinct is to pitch, we help them shift it to a question. Once you are through this hurdle, the sessions and conversations with customers are very powerful and yield tremendous insight. The benefits range from successful launches of new lines of business to massive organizational change. But getting to those opportunities is where the difficult part comes in – moving the listening and insight to action.

Action Mandatory

We’ve all been there – spent hours on the phone giving our advice and thinking through how to help a friend or family member. But after a year of the same conversation and zero change you grow tired and ultimately you stop participating in the relationship. The same is true of your customers. In our executive customer Advisory Boards, we work with our clients to create a path to taking action on advice – and it can be challenging.

Recently, we instituted a series of follow-on sessions that require an internal owner for each major piece of advice, and we gave the customers in the Advisory Board a timeline for when they will see action. This holds both the Board and the company’s feet to the proverbial fire.

But it isn’t easy to get to action. It takes incredible discipline and sometimes even a difficult admission to the customer that you can’t make the change that they want to see. How are your organizations taking action on advice and what are the tips you might share in getting there?

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