Most managers would agree that the success of their firm depends to a large extent on whether their clients like what they are doing for them. Therefore, the most normal thing is to undertake different types of market research, like market surveys, be that formal studies or "informal" or indirect ones. Obviously the best "survey" of what the clients like or dislike is obtained through hard-core sales figures because one would assume that the firms that listen to their clients, to their needs and expectations are precisely the ones that are successful in selling their products and services. Nevertheless and in spite of noble service goals, well-oriented marketing and sales efforts and advertising slogans that seem to touch what is most important for the client, saying that "he/she is what is most important for the firm", in spite of all that, the client feels that he is placed "outside" the firm, that he does not form an integral part of it. The managers of the firm, on the other hand, are often uncertain about what the client really is thinking, or what he really wants, let alone knowing the reasons for his "consumer behaviour".
In order to compensate for this deficiency, that is to establish a stronger link between the firm and the client so that the latter feel like this is "their" firm and also so that the managers be more certain regarding the clients´wishes, IMG is offering a new service called "Customer Advisory Board" or CAB.
This is a group of 10-12 clients who are representative of the client universe and this group meets with the management of the firm on a regular basis. In this group the different points of view of the clients appear regarding the firm and its performance, and it is also a forum for expressing ideas of improvements and new possibilities, new ideas are presented, both by the clients and by management.
One could say that this group or "board" has a lot in common with focus-groups but it is quite different both in terms of the objectives of the group as well as the permanent nature of these "boards".
For this type of work to function well it is necessary to keep in mind three fundamental conditions: First, the right selection of the group members. Second, a coherent and efficient structure of the meetings themselves. Third, a clear commitment on behalf of management to act swiftly on the suggestions that appear in these meetings.
If these conditions are met then the firm has in its powers a very potent tool so that managers can be updated on what is going on with their clients and it also serves to create customer "loyalty" because the clients will feel that the firm is in reality "theirs".
- To build a strong bridge between the clients and the firm.
- To project the image that this is a firm that listens to its clients and acts on their needs.
- To help management be updated on the different points of views of their clients.
To begin with the clients are divided into different groups or segments. Along with IMG consultants a representative number is selected from each group. Later, IMG makes contacts with those that are selected and finally the CAB is configured, after interviews by IMG with possible participants. In these interviews IMG consultants try to establish whether the "candidates" are good team workers, whether they are "focused" and if they really have the time and the correct disposition to participate in this group.
The group then meets with senior management in a meeting, no longer than 2 hours duration. A consultant from IMG directs the first 2 or 3 meetings but the idea is that after that, the group is completely run by the firm itself, like a permanent way for the firm to "feel the pulse" of its clients.
A few days after the initial meeting the IMG consultant meets with management to go over the minutes of the meeting and to help them elaborate a plan of action regarding what was discussed in the meeting. The minutes along with the action plan are then sent to those clients who are part of the CAB.
Before the next meeting it is very important to demonstrate clearly that the suggestions of the clients are being acted upon, e.g. some actions already taken, others in the process of being so, etc.