As the Coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on businesses around the world, many companies may be unsure of what role their customer advisory board (CAB) should play during the crisis.
Some are canceling or postponing engagements planned for the spring and even early summer. Others that were interested in initiating a CAB program are putting their plans on hold until after the crisis has passed (however long that may take).
Though such actions may initially seem logical, I recommend an opposite approach: Now is an ideal time for your CAB to take a proactive, leadership role during the ongoing crisis.
Here are five things you should do now with your customer advisory board during the Coronavirus pandemic.
1. Start your program
If you don't have a CAB program, or you were considering initiating one but you've put your plans on hold, now is actually a great time to get started.
The current restrictions around personal interaction and business travel creates an ideal (and all too rare) opportunity to invest the time necessary to establish and plan for a strong program:
- To determine program goals and create a robust CAB charter
- To evaluate and prioritize customers to recruit to join the CAB
- And to engage them virtually to uncover their top-of-mind challenges and issues they want to address with their fellow members in future engagements
On the flip side, my firm is sometimes approached by companies that want to initiate a CAB program, but want to host their first meeting a mere few weeks after getting started. Often, that approach creates a rushed, inferior program in which crucial strategic planning steps are hurried and a focus on logistical meeting details often takes priority.
Use this business slowdown as an opportunity to invest the time to establish a strong CAB program foundation—which will set you up for maximum success later.
2. Show your leadership
With the steady drumbeat of alarming pandemic news, your customers are likely seeking guidance on how they should be responding and adapting, learning how others in their industries are coping, and connecting (and perhaps commiserating) with colleagues who are also suffering through the crisis.
Accordingly, the pandemic presents an ideal opportunity for your company to demonstrate proactive leadership by gathering executive colleagues and determining pragmatic solutions to current business inhibitors.
Leading companies are using their CABs at this time to reach out to their clients to gauge how they are doing during the crisis, communicate how their own products and services may be altered during various business reductions, and determine how host companies can better serve rapidly changing customer needs.
3. Use virtual technologies
Most professionals are working remotely during the current crisis, and nearly everyone is holding virtual meetings and becoming adept at online meeting platforms to keep their businesses moving forward. You can use those same technologies to host a strong virtual meeting with your CAB members.
Many companies have simply moved planned in-person meetings online, or they are already holding such meetings as part of their regular communications timelines. But you'll want to properly prepare, plan for participant engagement, and communicate outcomes to make such calls productive and informative for your CAB members.
4. Plan for in-person meetings
At some point, the Coronavirus pandemic is going to end, though estimates as to exactly when... tend to vary and to change. We all may be getting back to business and in-person meetings by the fall of 2020.
When the proverbial "all clear" does come, there may be a rush for meeting space and hotel reservations. Why not get ahead of the rush and think about your fall meeting planning now? What city makes the most sense for your members? What are some engaging social activities and properties ideal to support them? There is certainly an abundance of availability and even reduced pricing available now that likely won't be later (possibly soon).
5. Prepare for the 'new normal'
When we return to work, your business will (still) need input and guidance from your best customers on your business strategies and operations—which may have even changed as a result of the current pandemic.
Again, as businesses feel an inevitable pressure to return to standard operations as quickly as possible, your business can prepare for the future "new normal" by engaging your customers and making such changes or improvements, discovering innovative and perhaps previously unknown solutions, and uncovering new business opportunities that can help your company not only return to business but flourish in the coming post-Coronavirus era.
* * *
While the current Coronavirus emergency is dominating the headlines and our attentions, wise business leaders are taking a broader, longer-term perspective because they know that the crisis is temporary.
Companies that act now to use their CAB to help them prepare for the other side of the crisis will emerge not only ready but also well positioned to prosper.
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