In a recent blog on eHow.com, Devra Garteinstein posted that "to create value in business relationships, you must provide intangible benefits for the customer above and beyond the basic product or service they receive." She went on to say that "every company creates value for its customers in its own way, and that the process of creating that value can be one of the most satisfying and meaningful aspects of owning and/or operating a business."
Customer Advisory Councils are one way of creating this kind of value for your customers. Intangible benefits are exactly what members receive from their participation. Through personal interactions (e.g. face-to-face meetings) with their peers and members of the host's leadership team, Advisory Council members have the opportunity to build professional relationships with other market leaders. They share insights and collaborate on ideas. They learn from one another, and take what they learn home to better serve their own organizations.
Together, advisory council members influence the strategic direction of the host organization. They have a seat at the table with members of the leadership team and provide unfiltered feedback on potential offerings. They are often the "first to know" about product updates and new offerings. They have direct access and ongoing dialog with members of the executive leadership team and participate in productive and straight-forward discussions. As one member recently stated, "It has been brilliant to properly meet and get to know members of the executive team. It has been an extremely valuable experience. Very well done!”
Indeed, personal interactions are important for developing relationships and are a key component of an advisory council meeting. There must be a good balance of meeting and free time to allow for the development of such relationships. In the Forbes Insights research report, The Case for Face-to-Face, researchers reported that "executives expressed an overwhelming preference for face-to-face meetings" because they "build stronger, more meaningful relationships." They said that "personal interaction - getting together to talk over dinner, drinks or a cup of coffee--- is the foundation on which business relationships are built."
So if you want to create value and enhance relationships with customers in the coming year, provide them with intangible benefits. Bring them together. Give them an opportunity to interact with their peers and get to know you and members of your executive leadership team on a personal level. Let them learn from one another. Allow them to influence your strategies. Who knows...Devra may be right.... it may just be one of the most satisfying and meaningful things you do in 2011!