Customer Advisory Boards – The Perfect Project Think Tanks

If you want to know what customers think about your product, the best way to find out is to ask them. Why do unnecessary guesswork when you can ask the customers directly? The customer advisory board, or CAB is a group of about 10-15 customers who meet regularly on behalf of your company to discuss their views on a particular product, of which they are end users. The discussions, which are based on the board member’s firsthand experience with the product, include thoughts on customer desires, motivations, and values, as well as information on competing products and industry trends. The CAB ultimately creates a list of actionable items for your company, which will facilitate product improvement, and in a more general sense, will help to assess prospective business priorities and direction. Assessing and using the data from CAB meetings is a great way to ensure that your company’s vision is kept in alignment with customers’ desires, safeguarding product profitability.


Providing this information to your project teams is the best way to ensure that your products are slam-dunks. Here’s why:


Better than Individual Feedback

Something special happens when you get a group together. There’s a synergy that’s created, when customers can talk honestly together about a product with each other. They feed off each other and bounce experiences off each other. With each new comment, CAB members inspire each other to explore concepts further, and ideas start to build. Amazing suggestions can come from CAB meetings, the likes of which would never materialize without the energy of the group. This is because the group discussion environment is ideal for brainstorming and qualitative thinking. It’s also great for bringing up and delving into real issues that your company needs to address. These issues are often overlooked in surveys, which tend to cause customers to skew too positive (or negative) in their feedback.


CABs are Great for Project Teams

Although a project team will not work directly with the CAB, they benefit greatly from the CAB’s viewpoints. Based on their experience as end users, the board prioritizes the value of existing features and brainstorms potential new features, which is extremely valuable information that will guide a project team, ensuring that all project work is aligned with customer’s needs. It’s also helpful for a project team to have an understanding of how customers feel about competitor products and how they think the industry is trending, generally. All this information will help a project team to prioritize decisions and build on an appropriate trajectory, always keeping the customer’s and therefore the company’s best interests at the forefront of the design process. Since the CAB’s advice is not biased toward the company in any way, associated with sales, or hampered by ulterior motives, the information that comes out of the CAB meetings will be organically en pointe. When you factor in the creative synergy that emerges from the CAB group dynamic, you’ll find the data that comes from these meetings is truly dynamic and highly relevant, in short, the best data a company is going to get on their products and the best information to give to any project team to ensure a great success.


Here are guidelines for setting up Customer Advisory Boards for your products:


How to Select a CAB

Select a group of peers who will be comfortable talking together without feeling judged or intimidated. Natural leaders may emerge, but avoid selecting “experts” who will dominate over others and block the group’s creative flow. There should be representatives from your entire customer base, not just a certain demographic within it. The board members should be articulate and willing to share their ideas with the group. Finally, the members need to be end users of the particular product you’d like the group to discuss, and they must be available to come to meetings through the duration of the group’s term.


How to Structure the Meetings

The meetings should have a structure and process and take place one to two times per year. There should be an unbiased environment and focused topics (3-5) for round table discussion, where members can feel productive and heard. The round table discussion should conclude with a prioritization of topics discussed and a list of possible action items to present to the company. Members should feel comfortable and enthusiastic about being a part of the CAB. Incentives are a great way to help members stay eager and committed. Typical incentives include: honorariums, perks like fancy meeting locales, or industry even tie ins, complimentary transportation and fun activities built into the meeting.


Drop us a note to chat more about how Customer Advisory Boards will be a boon to your projects teams, or to discuss any other project needs