Invite them to provide honest feedback at a Client Advisory Dinner.
Face-to-face, no holds barred feedback from customers is priceless to the growth and development of any company. Yet so few owners take the time to facilitate these interactions and discussions. At goBRANDgo!, we weren’t getting client feedback, but it wasn’t because we weren’t interested (note: if you don’t want customer feedback, then you probably shouldn’t be a business owner). It was because we had yet to think of a way to mine constructive feedback instead of gracious but unhelpful commentary. Then the idea of forming a Customer Advisory Board was brought to life.
Our Customer Advisory Board has single-handedly:
- Helped us double yearly revenues with several clients
- Improved customer relationships
- Turned customers into major brand advocates for our company
- Opened our employees’ eyes to the frustrations and gratitude of our clients
- Been one of the smartest systems we have put in place for engaging customers
Customer Advisory Boards bring customers closer to your brand by giving them the ability to influence how you conduct business. It invites them into the process of helping you build a better business to serve them. These customers not only stay longer but become more engaged with your company and often generate referrals for more business!
Here’s how we do it:
1. Choose a nice venue for your dinner.
Make the dinner an experience for them. We target $100-$150 per client for dinner and invite one or two of our employees along to listen to what clients have to say. We have found that this level of spend expresses our appreciation for our clients.
2. Invite 20-25 clients to get 10-15 to attend.
We have found that inviting your clients to a dinner removes a lot of the formality and pressure they might otherwise feel. When you fill the room with peers, people are more open to sharing what’s on their mind. It often takes just one person in the group to open up and share for the rest of the attendees to feel comfortable speaking as well.
3. Set the Schedule.
We have found the optimal time to be:
- 5:30 – 6 pm—Happy hour/arrival time
- 6 – 6:15 pm—Everyone is seated and orders their meal
- 6:15-8 pm—Structured discussion time
4. Prepare a list of open-ended questions such as:
- What was your first impression of (your company name)?
- What influences your decision to buy (your company’s service)
- What would you change about (company name) to make a better experience?
- What trends do you see coming that you’d like to see (company name) address?
- What does (company name) do better than anyone else?
- What would you like to see (company name) start, stop, and keep doing?
These questions will encourage dialogue among your clients and they will start building upon these questions with answers you hadn’t even thought to cover. Clients will see you being vulnerable and open to change and improve. Once they see this, they will become more forgiving moving forward with mistakes you make. Encourage everyone to share, and do your best to keep the conversation to a single discussion that moves along.
5. Get them talking about what you do for them.
Have you ever sold one service to a client, but wished they would make a larger investment with you? Using this format, clients will share their experience interacting with your firm. This will open up dialogue for services you perform for one client but not another. This is your chance to drive home the other services you offer and open the door for more business. What’s better is that your clients are hearing about your services from someone other than you!
6. Be open to constructive criticism.
If someone is still doing business with you and they accepted your invitation, then they still care about/need you. If you want to keep their business, you should listen to what they have to say. When you engage them publicly, it will curtail some of the emotion of any past errors you have made, and clients will be more open to hearing what struggles others have had. We have been surprised at the level of responsibility for errors clients take when they publicly talk about missteps with our company. We have found that this level of sharing endears clients to us more and builds rapport with them like no other firm has ever taken the chance to do.
7. Ask questions, probe, and SHUT UP.
Don’t get defensive or explanatory with any answers. Simply nod and smile as clients respond. If you jump in and defend yourself, people will sense that you’re not open and they will shut down. You won’t get the honest answers that you seek. Shut up and listen. If your clients agree upon a common issue, you now have something you know you need to work on. If others come to your defense (which will most likely happen and it’s really cool when it does), you will learn where you are succeeding, and where you need to focus more.
8. Close the loop.
After the dinner, take the time to send out notes on the key things you learned and what you are going to do to fix them. This says to your clients that they were heard, which shows them that you care and will improve the things you said you are going to improve. Clients love it when we follow up and close the loop with them. This lets them know that our intention was to come away with actionable items and become even better for them.
Aim to hear new voices every time you host a dinner by inviting different people. We host three dinners each year and invite different clients each time. We invite both long-term and short-term clients and don’t discriminate based on how much they spend with us. We try to keep the group to 8-12 people total so it’s a manageable size. This helps keep people engaged and limits the conversation to a single discussion.
Client Advisory Boards can be transformative for your business if you follow these steps. By taking the time to get real feedback, truly listen to your clients, and follow up you are deepening your relationships and setting the course to further refine your business. These dinners have been so successful for us that we have started running them on behalf of our clients as well. Many of them tell us that it’s the best investment they have made in their company in a long time.