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Setting up a client advisory board

Change is a fundamental component of keeping a business successful. Making clients part of the change process can lead to even greater success, says Rebecca Aldridge, director, Think Smarter

In every business there are development projects on the go. For example, perhaps the website is being overhauled, the advice process is being made more efficient, or new tools are being introduced.

What’s interesting is that many of these changes are instigated for the benefit of clients, and yet clients are rarely asked outright what they want.

I know many firms that send a regular survey out to clients. Some firms even follow up with a survey by phone or in person for a small sample. This tactic can really cement great relationships as well as getting to the root of what clients do and don’t like – but it’s usually a one-off discussion. Taking things to the next level, you could think about creating a Client Advisory Board.

Client Advisory Board

A Client Advisory Board is a small group of perhaps 4-8 trusted clients who are prepared to give you their honest views about what you’re doing now, and what you’re considering doing in the future.  A good proportion of the Board should represent your target client and be active in their communities.

Preparation

When you’re pitching the idea of joining the advisory board to your clients, make it clear what the purpose is, the time commitment and what’s in it for them.

Before each meeting, send them a clear agenda and time expectation. Let them know who else is attending and their backgrounds.

Above all, make sure you are prepared and know exactly what you want to get out of the meeting.

At the meeting be honest with your clients about where your business is: your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for improvement. And once you have set the scene, listen to them.

Using the ideas

Then follow up. You will probably come out of each meeting with your head teeming with ideas. Immediately distil the key points and take them to your team. From there, you can decide what you put on the back burner and what you run with.

Beyond that, think about how to measure whether the meetings are proving valuable or not.  After a year or so, look back at what you’ve done. Have you pressed ahead confidently with projects you previously weren’t sure about? Have you cancelled projects or diverted your budget decisively on the advice of your Client Advisory Board? Have you seen an increase in positive feedback or referrals? Do you feel more confident in your vision for the future?

So, for relatively little outlay and time commitment, you could have a team of clients providing essential feedback, insight and direction, as well as acting as champions in their own circles.

 

Why a Client Advisory Board is useful

1. Impartial, quality feedback

Although the members on your Client Advisory Board may have good business credentials which may be useful, their brief is to give you their honest feedback from a client’s perspective.

Having several clients together sharing thoughts will give you a real insight into how you are perceived. Remember you don’t just want to hear the good stuff – you want to know how you can improve too.

2. Trialling new ideas

If you are considering making a change, you can trial it first with the members on your Client Advisory Board. Whether it’s a new report format, or a new website design, they can tell you how it looks to them. This means you can address any issues before you roll the change out to the rest of the client base.

3. Loyal advocates

Inviting clients onto your Client Advisory Board should significantly strengthen your relationship and as a result they are likely to become loyal advocates of your company within their own communities. Don’t be afraid to open your doors and share your concerns with them.

 

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