I ran my first Customer Advisory Board (CAB) about five years ago. Going in to it, I wasn’t sure what to expect or why it was so important. I was told to work with so and so and have a CAB. That was it. As the meeting took place, my eyes were opened to the power of the CAB. Five years later and a few more CABs under my belt, I am still a huge proponent of them.
Here’s a CAB 101 for you.
What is it? A CAB is a select group of customers (either in a B2B or B2c setting) that have been selected to give feedback on a particular company or product.
Why have a CAB? CABs offer companies a direct touch model for communicating with customers. We sometimes get so wrapped up in what our product does and how it’s better than the competition that we forget that people actually use the product. I can write a blog post that I think is the best blog post ever written, and then turn around and have someone tell me it stunk because of X, Y and Z. Yes, I might be shocked but it’s only going to help me become a better writer. Take the feedback and make a better product for your customer, not for you! They are the ones signing the P.O.’s right?
Who belongs? You need to determine who you want to hear from. Maybe it’s your most loyal customers. Maybe it’s your unhappy customers. If Chrysler isn’t doing well with women ages 20-35 and they want to make that demographic a larger part of their customer base, then they’ll make sure that they have a good representation of that group in their CAB. Select people you want to hear from.
How is a CAB different from just listening to customers? Most companies don’t actually listen to their customers. As crazy as it sounds, it’s true. Most companies just want the next product to come out and for revenue and billings to hit the target numbers. Sitting down with a customer and saying “How can we help you?” usually ends there. No feedback is given to the executives or decision makers in the company. I’m not saying all feedback needs to be given, but there has to be a formal closed-loop process. By having a hand selected group of people allows you to get targeted feedback. This feedback is then given to the powers that be and something is done about it. A closed-loop process is critical for a CAB. Without it you just have a bunch of people talking.
How do you host a CAB? There is no golden rule on how to host a CAB. I have done both in-person CABs as well as virtual CABs where it’s a video webinar. With the economy the way it is now, a virtual CAB might be the most cost effective. Chrysler has created an online CAB which also works.
Why would a customer want to join a CAB? Who doesn’t have an opinion? And who doesn’t want to feel like they are important? By selecting specific customers to be part of a CAB, you are building customer loyalty because you’re asking for their opinion and doing something about it. A successful CAB also allows participant direct access to executives at your company – so make sure you know who you want joining and make sure you have executive buy-in.
If you’re still not sold on a CAB, check out what Chrysler has done. I have never met Mopar Norm, but the guy knows what he is doing. Don’t just read his post, read his CAB member comments and it’ll sell you on the value of a CAB. Mopar Norm has successfully engaged and encouraged the voice of the customer – something very few companies have done and even fewer have done well.
Here are some comments from Chrysler’s CAB blog that I think speak volumes:
“The two fastest changes in the short time that the CAB and Chrysler LLC has existed was the new Lifetime Warranty and the numerous interior quality changes made, some even in mid-model year, including the interior upgrade to the Jeep Patriot.”
“The most interesting discussions, albeit the most chaotic, are the live chats that we have with various Department Vice Presidents and Managers, up to and including Vice Chairman and President Jim Press. He proved that Chrysler does listen by giving out his email address to the group. “
“Overall it is the best of any industry attempt to gain direct customer input in order to build a better and more appealing product, because ‘Chrysler Listens’!”
“Sometimes you are so close to a product that it takes outside eyes, looking from a fresh perspective, to spot and identify problems. That is what the CAB brings to the table.”
“As long as the CAB is around Chrysler will have an edge up on their competition.”
“With the help of CAB members Chrysler can once again begin to listen to real world customers instead of guessing what people will and will not like.”
If you’re going to start a CAB I think the two most important things are 1) pick exactly who you want to hear from. You can rotate membership every 6 months or year if you want. And 2) don’t just listen…act! Do something about what you’re being told or else the customers will think that they’re wasting their time. Make them feel important and make changes. Who wouldn’t want to say “Yeah, the cup holder in the back seat of the new car was my idea!”? Imagine the possibilities.
After reading all the Chrysler CAB comments I’m tempted to sell my Honda tomorrow and buy a Chyrsler!
Great work Norm!!!!!!!!