Blog Customer FeedbackWhat is a Customer Advisory Board and How to Create it?

What is a Customer Advisory Board and How to Create it?

A customer advisory board is a selection of your best customers whose feedback can fuel your business growth. Here is how you can create one.

Customer Feedback
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Customer Advisory Board guide.

Your customers are your greatest asset, in more ways than one. Besides keeping your revenue up and your bills paid, your customers can help you figure out what to do to improve your product or service. But the key is in knowing which customers to ask. This is what a customer advisory board is for.

Customer advisory boards are groups of customers whose opinions are worth a bit more than the rest of the pack. With a bit of preparation, you too can create one of these boards and have continuous flows of valuable feedback.

Here is how you can do just that. 👇

What is a customer advisory board?

A customer advisory board (CAB) is a group of key customers that a business invites into meetings to give them feedback about the product or service and the overall impression of a brand and where it is going.

It is a common way to get qualitative feedback while improving customer engagement and turning faithful customers into brand champions. Setting up a customer advisory board does not require special tools or processes - just identifying who your key customers are and sitting down to occasionally talk to them about their customer experience is just fine.

Customer Advisory Board strategy (Source)

A customer advisory board is a good strategy for a variety of business models, and it can steer the future direction of your company.

But it may seem like a lot of work, so let’s show you why it’s worth your time.

The benefits of a customer advisory board

There are easier and quicker ways to track feedback from your customers, but a customer advisory board has some pros that you should keep in mind.

1. Direct insights from customers

You don’t have to scour the web, social media platforms, and review sites to find out what your customers think about your product, customer service, user experience, and every other relevant detail you’re interested in. You can get input on your strategic direction straight from the people who purchase from you.

You can talk to a hand-selected number of customers to get direct insights about these issues. What’s even better is that you can ask follow-up questions and get in-depth insights that would typically require extensive research.

2. Improved product/service development

Don’t know what to take out of your backlog and push to development? Wondering which feature will bring the most value to your customers, while ensuring higher revenue? You don’t have to rack your brains anymore.

Customer advisory boards can help you align your future features and product launches with customer expectations. You won’t build blindly, but instead, you’ll provide value to the most faithful customers you have and guide your product strategy along the way.

3. Improved customer relationships

73% of customers stay loyal to brands because of friendly customer service agents. With a customer advisory board, you’re not just helping someone out in a dire situation. You’re creating a team of customer success champions.

How customer success helps your business (Source)

Instead, you’re asking them for feedback on how to take your product to the next level. The customers on the advisory board feel heard and respected. You’re actively giving your best to retain them as customers and turn them into brand champions and advocates who can promote you to the world.

4. Detecting issues early

Churn is the silent killer of businesses in many industries, and a customer advisory board is a great way to reduce, if not eliminate it. If there are issues in your product, such as bad user experience, integrations that break, poor customer service, and others, the regular user won’t complain until it’s too late.

Research by Zendesk shows that customers are more likely to share their negative feedback publicly than positive thoughts.

On the flip side, you need as many as 40 positive reviews to undo the damage from just one negative review. 😅

A customer advisory board will help pinpoint issues early before they snowball out of control and turn into reasons for churn. Your product team can use this feedback and inspect if it happens with the larger customer base too.

Your customers investigate the competition before they turn to you for help. They can give you precious insights on why they chose you, what was missing from the competitors’ offers, and which other products they were considering.

On the other hand, they’re not just your customers - they also use a number of other tools and services and have a broader perspective on where your business and industry are going. This can lead to invaluable insights about features, integrations, and products you should be offering.

For B2B companies, this is an invaluable market intelligence strategy that is much cheaper compared to hiring industry experts such as research agencies.

6. Idea validation

Don’t know if your next feature idea is a win or a bust?

You could run a survey or a poll, but customer advisory boards can give you more detailed insights. You can ask each board member about their opinions on the value of a certain feature or a fix.

If you already have a list of items you want to put on the product roadmap, a customer advisory board is the most valuable tool for idea validation. However, to avoid wasted resources, it’s best to first let your customers validate an idea through public voting and commenting, in a tool such as Featurebase.

6. Improved innovation

After you and your team have been together in one company for a while, you can develop symptoms of groupthink.

This is when all the members in the different departments start having similar ideas and assumptions about your target audience. This can lead to a flawed customer marketing strategy.

A customer advisory board gives you a wide range of perspectives and opinions that help you think outside of the box. You’re forced to come up with new ways to provide value to the end user instead of relying on “build it and they will come” as a mantra. With competitive products, this can give you an edge and determine your company direction.

7. Customer advocacy

A customer advisory board is not just someone who pays for your product or service. They’re an active participant in product development, someone who has an impact on where the product is going. Their relationship with the company is much more personal and not just transactional.

This makes them ideal brand advocates. Even when not prompted, they will speak highly of your brand and promote it to others because of that special relationship. And since they know where the product is headed, they can create a more convincing sales pitch than any landing page or sales rep.

How to create a customer advisory board (Step by step)

With so many benefits of creating a customer advisory board, you may be prompted to create your own. The great news is that you don’t need a lot of money, time or tools to get this job done. 😃

1. Define your CAB goals

What do you want to achieve with your customer advisory board? Sure, you could create one for the sake of creating it, but it’s better if you have specific goals in mind. Some examples of CAB goals include:

  • Understanding customer needs better
  • Validating product ideas
  • Reducing churn by identifying bottlenecks
  • Improving customer service
  • Gathering qualitative product feedback
  • Identifying future brand advocates and promoters
  • And many others

Your chosen goal(s) determine every future step of the process. Based on the direction of the CAB program, you’ll start looking for certain people in your customer base, which is your next step.

2. Identify & select the members of your CAB

For a customer advisory board to work as intended, you need a diverse set of customers. You may think that the happiest, most vocal supporters should be the only ones in a CAB, but the reality is that this is a small portion of your customer base and may not give you the best input for your product direction.

Some factors to consider when choosing members of your advisory board include:

  • Industry
  • Company size
  • Previous feedback (e.g., quantitative such as NPS scores or qualitative, such as product reviews)
  • Geographical location
  • Product usage patterns
  • Customer lifetime value
  • And other factors

The more diverse the members of the board, the more valuable the customer feedback will be. Ultimately, you want to invite members who are not only knowledgeable but willing to participate and provide value. With a list by your hand, you can start reaching out to these customers.

4. Invite the members

This is arguably the most important step of the process because you need to convince the future CAB members wfhy they should join you. The elements you should include are:

  • A formal invitation to the program
  • The reason why you’re inviting them
  • The expected time commitment (hours per week/month)
  • The benefits they stand to gain from participating

It’s crucial to highlight how valuable the customers are to your business and that you are choosing them out of a pool of thousands of people because of their unique points of view. 🤩

Remember that they are setting aside their personal time to help, so clearly explain how much of that time they should give to you. There are no rules set in stone, but having a one-hour meeting once or twice a month is a good starting point. Whatever the time frame, stick to your promises.

Last but not least, tell them what’s in it for them. Access to special features before their official release, discounts on future purchases, free upgrades to a higher product tier, gift cards for Amazon… The list is endless. However, choose something that is respectful and meaningful for your target audience.

5. Plan out the meetings

Before you even send out the invitations, it’s useful to plan out the schedule for the customer advisory board meetings. For example, every other Monday in a month, once per month, once per quarter, whatever suits the goals for your CAB. It’s important that you run them on a regular basis.

Send out the meeting invitations well in advance so customers can align the meetings with their own schedules.

Second, determine the format of the CAB meetings. Running them in person is an excellent idea, but one that is not likely to be possible for most companies. If online, determine the platform, the number of participants and the way you’ll handle the meeting schedule. E.g. you have a list of topics and CAB members can speak after a company representative. But even more importantly…

6. Prepare the advisory board agenda

Each CAB meeting should have a purpose and a specific agenda. This can be an initiative, a discussion about upcoming features, feedback on ongoing product development and any other topic you can think of.

Besides the main topic for the agenda, think of the schedule. Who gets to speak and when? You want to inspire confidence and a sense that you are running the meeting. At the same time, you need to give everyone in your CAB a chance to speak their minds.

Once you know the agenda for the meeting, share it beforehand so that customers have ample time to prepare.

7. Facilitate the meetings

You’ll need at least one customer representative to run and facilitate the meetings. Their goal is not just to lead on behalf of the company. They should also ensure that everyone follows the agenda and that participants have a chance to speak their minds and give open, honest feedback.

The company representative should also ensure that the meetings are recorded for future purposes and always let customers know that they are recorded.

8. Act on the feedback and communicate the changes

Once you collect the feedback from your CAB members, you can prioritize internally and determine the most important actions for the product and your business goals. As you start working on these issues, inform the CAB and specific members who contributed the feedback that you’re working on their suggestions.

Once the work is done, let everyone know that a bug was fixed, a feature was launched, a new product was created, etc.

This helps close the feedback loop and reinforces the value of a CAB, as well as stresses the importance of the CAB members’ contributions.

A.F.C.A customer feedback loop inforgraphic
A.F.C.A customer feedback loop

9. Evaluate and iterate

Determine the set of metrics that will show whether your customer advisory board is successful and track them over time. For example, customer effort surveys (CES), customer satisfaction surveys (CSAT), NPS, and others.

Once again, these metrics will depend on your overall customer advisory board goals.

10. Recognize and reward CAB members

Some members of your advisory boards deserve extra praise. 🏅

Perhaps they provided valuable feedback, shared their own use case, ran a test within their account and user base, or submitted a bug report that saves major customers from churning.

While everyone in your CAB is valuable, some members go the extra mile. Shout them out in your public channels, and let the rest of the advisory board know that this person is amazing. If possible, award them with something like an upgrade to their account.

Alternatives to customer advisory boards

If you don’t want to go through the trouble of setting up a customer advisory board, there are other choices for collecting qualitative and quantitative feedback.

  1. Feedback boards such as Featurebase
  2. Customer surveys
  3. Customer interviews
  4. Online community forums
  5. Social media monitoring
  6. User testing

All can work equally well for collecting user feedback, and for the best results, you may want to combine multiple methods. For example, interviews can provide detailed feedback and create deeper relationships with your customers, but they are time-consuming compared to surveys.

Featurebase's feedback portal with voting boards and roadmaps.
Feedback boards, surveys, and forums - all in one tool! (Featurebase)

Wrapping up

Having a customer advisory board is a great idea, no matter the industry you’re in or the size of your business. Not only can it help you collect qualitative feedback and grow your business, but it’s also a superb way to prevent an echo chamber in your sales and marketing departments.

But what do you do when you want better results, more quickly?

You can use a feedback management tool such as Featurebase. It's free and requires minimal setup. With a quick setup, you can easily collect, analyze, and prioritize qualitative and quantitative feedback.

Start collecting and managing customer feedback with Featurebase for free →