Special Feature

Client advisory boards

A client advisory board (CAB) is one of the most effective ways to learn about what your clients value and how you can improve your practice. This three-part series outlines questions to ask before setting up your CAB, who should be on your board, and what your board members can expect.

Practice Management

Make sure they understand their responsibilities — and yours

By Tessie Sanci |

Once you have selected some clients to join your client advisory board (CAB), you will probably find most are happy to help. But not everyone will understand how a CAB works, and it's important to ensure your clients understand what their position on your CAB entails.

Here are three key expectations you can share with your new CAB members:

1. Regular meetings
Your CAB will meet two to four times a year, with meetings lasting 90 minutes to two hours. Members should be willing to commit to a two-year or three-year term.

Ease members into the process, says Stephen Wershing, president of the Client Driven Practice in Rochester, N.Y.

"Give them a taste first," Wershing says. "Even if they understand the words ‘advisory board,' they still don't know what it means, so let them experience it."

Start by asking your clients to attend one meeting and, if that goes well, invite them to a second meeting to follow up on any suggestions that were presented. Once everyone is comfortable with the procedure, announce that you would like to continue the process throughout the year.

Members should understand these are business meetings and not social events. They are expected to be on time and to participate.

If you want to provide a lighter atmosphere for one of the meetings, says Julie Littlechild, CEO of Advisor Impact Inc. in Toronto, you might consider occasionally leaving the agenda in the office and taking members out to dinner as a way to show your appreciation,

2. Thorough discussions
Don't just ask for your CAB members' opinions of your practice, Littlechild says. Be specific. They should be ready to discuss how they define an outstanding client experience. For example, have them describe great service experiences they have had with various companies and professionals.

A client may appreciate the fact that her dentist asks about her parents during an appointment because it makes the experience more personal. While you may not think your practice has anything in common with dentistry, you will learn that some clients are looking for a more personal touch.

3. You will listen and follow through
If your CAB is putting in time and effort to provide feedback, your role is to respond.

"The way you reward these people is by following their advice," Wershing says. "If you do that, you will take good clients and make them raving fans."

Listen to the suggestions made during one meeting, consider whether they will work and follow up at the next meeting. If you implemented an idea or even part of an idea, inform your clients. If you considered the idea but found it would not work for your practice, explain why at the next meeting.

Suppose, for example, a client says he or she would prefer it if you would provide insurance services, but your research says there is no need for it among the majority of your clients. Thank that client for the suggestion. At the following meeting, inform the group that insurance services are not a great fit for your practice, but the suggestion has inspired you to find a well-respected insurance advisor who would be happy to speak to your clients.

This is the third installment in a three-part series on client advisory boards.