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Companies utilize different methods of engaging with their customer base. While some firms employ comprehensive programs to gather input from their clients, others claim to have customer engagement covered, but often with suspect programs (at best).

While there are various mediums to engage with customers, each has its pros and cons:

Method 1: Account / relationship management (via sales)

  • Pros: Ability to use your existing sales team to consult with clients
  • Cons: Such engagements can be ad-hoc and hit-and-miss when it comes to uncovering the likes and needs of customers. Often, favor is given to the largest accounts, or attention given to the biggest complainers (the “squeaky wheels”). In addition, sales folks are mostly (only?) interested in generating add-on sales, and clients realize this – and consider every engagement with them as a sales meeting.

Method 2: Customer surveys

  • Pros: Fast and cheap, no need to leave the office
  • Cons: Here too, results can be hit and miss, and may mostly elicit complaints. Survey participation is notoriously low, skewing insight to the few who participate. Finally, any insight will likely be minimal and shallow at best.

Method 3: Customer Satisfaction Scoring (e.g. NPS or CSAT)

  • Pros: A more formal and comprehensive version of customer polling, results can be more insightful than mere surveys
  • Cons: These programs can be surprisingly expensive and resource intensive – many companies outsource these to consulting firms or hire employees dedicated to managing them. Despite this, there is still no (or minimal) face-to-face engagement, insight can be shallow, and the program is more about determining whether the client would recommend your company to their colleagues. While this information is good to know, it provides little insight that can help your company from a strategic, product or marketing perspective.

Method 4: Use Group Meetings

  • Pros: Works well for gathering a large contingent of your customers
  • Cons: User groups are mostly one-way communications, in which roadmaps, demos, and new versions are shown to large audiences of mid- to lower-level product users. As such, these sessions allow for minimal opportunity for deeper engagement, which are sometimes held ad-hoc in offline discussions. In addition, these discussions are likely more about product features, use or issues, as opposed to collecting strategic input.

Method 5: Social Media (e.g. LinkedIn groups)

  • Pros: Requires minimal commitment from customers and marketing staff. Might be more accessible for Generation X, Y or Z customers.
  • Cons: Here too, input conveyed is rarely strategic or material, and more often gathers complaints—which are now in front of all your customers to see. Again, participation is often lower-level users, as opposed to strategic executives. Finally, gathering participation itself in such online communities can be disappointing – we’ve seen many companies initiate such programs only to abandon them soon after due to lack of customer involvement.

Method 6: No program

  • Pros: No action or expense
  • Cons: High likelihood of missing out on strategic, product and marketing opportunities and execution. Customer input (if any) will be likely (exclusively?) complaints, causing your company to react and make material changes based on minimal (single?) data points, likely missing the mark with your other customers.

Method 7: Customer Advisory Board (CAB) Program

  • Pros: CABs present the best method to engage with your customer executives: face-to-face with member-driven agendas and facilitated meetings that uncover actionable strategic, product and marketing input – and proven ROI – for your company.
  • Cons: Well-run CAB programs require dedication from companies to do them right. The program must have a dedicated executive sponsor and management team, as well as the resources and time to create a beneficial program with members put front and center. If not, the program can do more harm than good.

Bottom line: While there are various methods for engaging with your customers, each has its pros and cons. In fact, some of our clients have come to us after trying one of the above mediums, only to be disappointed in the results and desiring a more robust and deeper program to engage with their most valuable executive clients. While we are partial to well-run customer advisory boards, we urge anyone thinking about establishing a customer engagement program to do their program well – or not do one at all.

Read more: Make Room in Your Budget for Customer Engagement