Customer Advisory Boards: Uncover “What You Know That Ain’t So”

Customer Advisory Boards are terrific tools to tap the rich source of customer insights.  But, getting that customer insight and really hearing and understanding it in the context it is intended—versus the context in which you may wish to hear it—is a challenge.

The Danger of Listening for What We Want to Hear

What do I mean by this? At a recent Board meeting, members spoke very clearly about a market need the sponsoring company should consider. The sponsoring company came away with the opinion that what they shared with the clients met that market need very effectively. While this may be a larger disconnect than others, it illustrates what can happen when we listen for what we want to hear.

As Mark Twain* said in the quote above, the purpose of the Board sessions is to find out what “we know that ain’t so” and what we don’t know. Here are three tips on how to listen more effectively in a Board meeting:

Three Tips for Listening in a Customer Advisory Board Meeting

  1. Ask, don’t answer. This is really challenging for all of us—often we provide the answer that we want to hear when we ask a question. Try to ask short, open-ended questions that allow the client to offer their views. Limiting yourself to a one word “Why,” or “How,” is a powerful way to elicit additional input.
  1. Don’t lead the witness. When asked in a rapid-fire series, even short, open-ended questions can inadvertently lead the discussion where we want it to go. Limit the number of questions you ask in a row, and let the client lead the way.
  1. Summarize what you heard and check back. Repeat the top three to five things that you heard at the end of each session. Then check back with the clients by asking, “What is missing from this summary? What is overstated?”

It isn’t easy to allow for free flowing discussion in a board meeting or to encourage clients to share their thinking on topics that you haven’t planned. But, in doing you may find that you learn some things that you thought were true that just “ain’t so.”

 

 

 

*Note: some experts attribute this quote to Mark Twain, others attribute it to Will Rogers…

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