A client advisory board (CAB), is an effective client-feedback tool. It gives clients a say in the service they receive and helps you find ways to improve the way you run your business.

“Any way in which you can give clients a voice in your business is going to drive deeper engagement,” says Julie Littlechild, president of Advisor Impact Inc. in Toronto. “And that drives growth.”

But a CAB meeting can be effective only if it is well planned and structured. Follow these tips to organize a successful CAB meeting:

> Start with a plan
Think carefully about what you want to accomplish in your CAB meeting.

“A CAB meeting is an activity that can be absolutely critical to a business,” Littlechild says. “[Without planning], it can just become a nice discussion with clients.”

Create a strategic plan, she says, to make the meeting meaningful. For example, outline how you will define success, what information you are looking for and how that information will be used.

> Bring in “fresh blood”
Look for a variety of perspectives through your CAB.

Your CAB meeting should involve between eight and 12 members, Littlechild says. To reach that number of guests, you may need to send out as many as 15 invitations.

But you shouldn’t have the same members at every meeting. To create a regular stream of fresh faces, devise a rotating guest list. For example, if there are eight people on your board, you might ask two clients to participate in meetings for one year, while another two members would attend sessions for two years and the remaining participants would rotate.

> Hire a moderator
For a useful and successful conversation at a CAB meeting, Littlechild highly recommends using a professional facilitator. However, that can be costly.

If you decide to act as a moderator yourself, she says, you must feel comfortable taking control of the meeting. Be prepared to intervene and move the discussion along if one person — possibly a top client — starts to dominate the conversation.

> Co-ordinate with other client feedback
If you’ve already done some general research, such as a client survey, a CAB meeting can help you find out specifics about that research. Structure your a CAB meeting around your survey, Littlechild suggests.

For example, if a survey revealed a general dissatisfaction with your service offerings, you could ask CAB members to explain why they feel that way.

As well, Littlechild says, give CAB members a chance to voice their own concerns. At the start of the meeting, ask members whether there is anything not on the agenda that they’d like to talk about, and pencil it in for discussion later in the meeting.

> Share the results
Let your clients know the results of the CAB meeting to show that you are listening to their concerns.

As part of your client-communication program, Littlechild says, send a brief summary of issues discussed at the last CAB meeting. Even people who are not part of the board will be interested in knowing that your business strategy includes input from clients.