By Jeremy Koellish, COO
When you first start a business, it feels like your baby. You’re tired and excited and every time you look at her you swell with pride because she is beautiful and special (even if her head is a little coned and her cry sounds like a squeaky door).
But a business is not your baby (a lesson that becomes very clear as you scale up) and at some point, you need to separate from the emotional attachment you have to it in order to grow. And you find out how you ought to grow by asking your clients. Enter the Client Advisory Committee. We call ours TAG (TekTegrity Advisory Group) – but the name is not important. Getting it right is. Here’s how:
Step 1: Adopt an Attitude of Professional Humility
Think of your clients as experts in your business operations. Only it’s better than that because your clients are not just impartial critics, they honestly care about helping make your business better and that makes their input solid gold. But in order to really hear what they have to say at your Advisory Meetings, you need to be able to adopt an attitude of professional humility. This means not dominating the conversation with long presentations, but sitting back and really hearing what your clients are telling you.
Step 2: Build a Communication Framework for Deeper Engagement
That header is one buzzword too many, I know, but here is the gist: In order to get your clients to give you valuable feedback in a way that can be readily used by your team (and that is the whole point, right?) you need to provide some structure. For example, we start by kicking things off with an icebreaker pertinent to why everyone is here (this last time we asked everyone to share the best piece of customer service advice they had ever received). Then we hand out an “interactive” agenda with writing prompts so as each of my partners and I introduce a new discussion topic, we capture notes from the group. As a wrap, we run a ‘start / stop’ exercise and ask everyone to write down what they want us to start doing and what they want us to stop doing which makes it really easy to analyze our feedback later.
Step 3: Embrace the Feedback Loop
If you are not planning on implementing any of the feedback you get from your clients, then you might as well scrap the whole thing. This is most likely obvious to you, so I won’t belabor the point too much except to say that if you want your Client Advisory Committee to be sustainable and meaningful it is critical that you roll your client’s feedback into your business plan. This serves two functions: to distill all available value from the meeting to improve your business operations, and to reinforce to your clients that you take their input seriously. You never want your clients thinking “Why am I even here?” while sitting in your Advisory meeting. Instead, the goal is to inspire loyalty in your clients so they leave asking, “When is the next one?”