When Market Research Budgets are Cut, Leverage Your Customer Advisory Council

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Q: Our market research budget has been slashed. The greatest impact is on our Customer Satisfaction tracker, which we had to reduce from once a quarter, to once a year. So we are thinking about revitalizing our Customer Advisory Council, maybe re-purposing it a bit  towards market research. Any suggestions for how we can use our Customer Advisory Council?

A: First, I love this idea. In fact, just last week I had lunch with a longtime business pal, and he too commented that many customer advisory councils seem to get stale and become neglected. But with so many companies facing market research budget cuts, it’s a great time to get creative and leverage these councils for market insights. Cutting back on Customer Sat tracker frequency is unfortunate, but if it’s the reality, options do exist.

I have 2 suggestions to get you started:

Conduct a Mock Survey Exercise at your next Customer Advisory Council Meeting: This is a great, fun way to get people to share their insights.  First, create a very short (5 question max) Satisfaction Survey. Be sure to leverage content from your tracker.  For example, one question might be, “How likely are you to recommend our service to your friends?” But instead of asking them to fill in the responses for themselves, have them estimate the results, as if an actual survey project had been completed.  So say Jack is on your Council. Jack might write, “Definitely will: 10%, Probably will 60%, Neutral 10%, Somewhat unlikely 20%, Would not 0%.”  Have each participant fill out their estimates individually. Then, as the facilitator, have each person share their answers. Write the High and Low responses to each value on a white board or flip chart.  Then you can moderate a fantastic conversation on the responses.  Were all of the responses consistent? Were they different? Why?  “Hmmm…Mary, I see that you expected only 5% of all customers would definitely recommend our service to others. Can you help me understand your thinking here?” You will hear some great stuff from this exercise! (BTW, if you can, I do recommend hiring an outside facilitator. That way you and your colleagues can focus on observing, and the council members will perhaps feel more inclined to be brutally candid).

Start/Stop/Continue: This is a classic exercise used in various types of meetings and workshops. And it works. Also, this is so simple you can even facilitate it by email if you don’t have quarterly in-person Customer Advisory Council meetings. First introduce the exercise: “We are eager for your candid feedback on how we are doing.  In this exercise, we are asking you to write down 3 things our company should START doing, 3 things we should STOP doing, and 3 things we should CONTINUE doing. There are no wrong answers, we welcome all feedback.”  This exercise is great because it is short (you are not asking for an onerous amount of time) and open-ended (you will hear things you never would have captured in a traditional questionnaire).

Do the above 2 exercises replace a Customer Satisfaction tracker? Of course not. But they will help you identify ways to improve customer satisfaction, and perhaps even identify new sources of satisfaction or dissatisfaction that have not yet hit your radar. And all while being respectful of the Council members’ time.

The whole issue of lower-cost Customer Sat tracking is a great topic; I’ll address that in my next post!

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