Technology companies and other business to business companies, particularly in the USA, have a fairly long established tradition of developing and running Customer Advisory Councils or Customer Advisory Boards. According to the Wikipedia description these comprise “a group of existing customers, convened on a regular basis to advise company management on industry trends, business priorities, and strategic direction.”  They “typically consist of 10 to 15 customers, selected to represent a cross section of the customer base.”

This approach doesn’t seem to be as widely used here in the UK, but we are increasingly seeing interest in similar kinds of approaches. We are currently developing a similar programme, for example, with Portsmouth Water, the water company serving some of the South West of England. In this case, the advisory body will be made up of 20 or so domestic customers. These customers will be invited to form an ongoing panel, meeting on a regular basis and building their knowledge of the company. They will also develop a unique understanding of the company’s issues and key business planning dilemmas. Their views and input will be sought regularly as the company’s next five-year Business Plan is being developed.

Similarly, earlier this year we helped a Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to develop an ongoing Patient’s Panel – a group of local residents who will work alongside the CCG over the long term, feeding in the patients’ perspective to key commissioning decisions.

Such bodies can be useful in a number of different ways. Their role can be very varied and might include providing:

  • Input to strategic decisions from the customer’s viewpoint;
  • Early warnings of shifts in customer needs and emerging opportunities;
  • New service or product development feedback;
  • Advice on how to better serve customers;
  • Intelligence on competitor or peer organisation’s tactics and strategies – what’s working and what’s not;
  • A link to a wider network of customers – asking others (colleagues, friends, family, other networks) what they think about issues.
  • Comments on customer facing communications.

Whilst these small scale and highly intensive methods, where customers are brought directly into the heart of decision making, cannot replace wider and broader engagement and research, they do have a unique role and, we believe, can add a great deal of value.

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