Building a stronger customer experience with customer advisory boards

After some 30 years in the business, I’ve come to believe that the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is customer experience. And one excellent tool for building a richer, more collaborative experience is the customer advisory board.

What is a customer advisory board?

A customer advisory board is made up of customers who want to engage on a deeper level and meet regularly to share thoughts and ideas with an organization – as well as with each other. They might offer feedback on your product roadmap, and they can help paint a clearer picture of how your product works in the real world.

At Axway, we see our Customer Advisory Boards as a key engagement opportunity in which customers benefit from early visibility and influence with Axway’s innovation plans, as well as an opportunity to collaborate with peers and our product leadership team.

Learn more about Axway’s Customer Advisory Boards by watching our new video below:

Without taking a holistic view of the end-to-end customer experience, it’s easy to deliver a fractured service that fails to satisfy. When you don’t take the time to understand a customer’s key motivations and the problem they are trying to solve as they start building, and if you’re not there for those first post-purchase steps, they will move into the trough of disillusionment that much faster – at which point you won’t be around to help them get through it.

There’s no question we need to be responsible to our shareholders, and especially to our employees. But none of that matters if we aren’t around anymore because we failed to be there for the customer first.

Why create a customer advisory board?

If customer experience isn’t constantly at the forefront, it’s easy to fall into the myopic attitude of telling customers or would-be customers they should trust us, because we know what you need. But really, unless you’re Steve Jobs or Spanx founder Sara Blakely, chances are good you don’t really know what the customer wants.

Most often, great customer experiences are built when you ask people what it is they really want. And customer advisory boards are one way to gain a deeper understanding of your customer and their needs.

At Axway, customer experience is baked into our DNA. Even back when we were a tiny nugget inside a major systems integrator 22 years ago, we understood that our reason for being was to create something that solved a specific customer problem. We’ve stayed true to that, because as markets and expectations evolve, it’s essential to stay sharply attuned to and evolve to offer what our customers need.

From the people we hire to the way we track our success, to the investments we make, to customer advisory boards and customer events or NPS… we take all of that information, and we turn it into actions that happen either at the field level or at the product line level. It is part of our DNA, it’s the thing that wakes me up every single morning: what’s in it for them.

What it means to us is that we get to build deeper relationships. We have quite a low churn rate for our industry, and I believe it’s because we nurture long, lasting customer relationships. We have such great lifetime customers who see our value and continue to invest with us.

We still expend a lot of effort to acquire new customers – just like every B2B company does. But once we have a customer, they stay with us for a long time because we’re not looking at them as a transaction. We’re in it for the whole journey.

That transactional mindset is something many companies, especially SaaS companies, can fall victim to. But to us, customers become part of the Axway family, and we are invested in their success: we have companies or government customers that have been with us and continue to reinvest after 5, 10, 15 years, and I think it speaks more to the experience they receive than it does even to individual products.

The mutual value of a customer advisory board

The driving purpose has to be an end-to-end customer experience; if you don’t plan to take any of the feedback you’ll receive to heart and find ways to apply it, a customer advisory board is a wasted exercise.

I’m one of those people who has had the chance to sit in almost every seat at a software company. I was a salesperson, sales manager, product marketer, I’ve done corporate development, marketing, strategy, product management. It’s given me a good perspective on both ends – both how we build software and deliver services to customers, but also what it means to them both in the purchase process, the adoption process, and in their daily routine. And that drives the way I think about things.

It’s helpful in leading customer advisory boards to have the ability to say, “I’ve done your job and I know what this means to you.” And it helps you continually keep the customer at the center of it.

It’s also important for our customers to get value out of these advisory boards – after all, what’s in it for them? Quite a bit, in fact.

Customer advisory boards ensure that customers are actually solving the problems they need to solve. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, “You know what I should do? I should buy some Managed File Transfer today!” There’s something they are trying to fix, whether that’s compliance or security or process optimization.

Customers benefit from adding their perspective to our product development because it allows us to put them first as we build things, package them, and price them.

Increasing customer engagement

If you want to improve customer engagement, talk to your customers.

If you’re a company that’s trying to figure out how to drive up your Net Promoter Score or how to increase your customer lifetime value, are you trying to increase the number of problems you might solve with your business?

Talk to your customers, and understand what’s really important to them, what success looks like for them, and then find a way to fix the problems they’re grappling with. Ultimately, it is our customers who will help guide us to the new things that we should build, the new markets we should enter.

We talk to the customer individually, in small user groups, and with customer advisory boards. These Customer Advisory Boards are just a part of our Customer Advocacy Program, which enables customers to build relationships, share strategies, and even co-market with others.

We also talk to the customer in big groups and during events, and we try to cross-pollinate those groups, at times acting only as the facilitator in a larger discussion. We can introduce one banking customer to another banking customer with similar problems. This allows customers to not just engage with us but also with each other, possibly learning from each other and enriching our own understanding in the process.

So, how do you deliver a great, end-to-end customer experience and drive customer engagement? Talk – and make sure you listen to the answer.

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