Whether they’re called client advisory boards, user groups, or customer feedback sessions, most such meetings are held face-to-face, and for good reason. Trusting relationships are easier to cultivate eye-to-eye, and honest two-way communications are usually far more effective when nonverbal forms of communication come into play. But clients’ overbooked calendars coupled with budget restrictions means that you can’t convene these groups as often as you would like – unless you can find a way to arrange a virtual advisory board meeting that will keep people focused and engaged. We’re not suggesting replacing onsite client advisory meetings with online sessions. But we are recommending that you consider augmenting these onsite sessions with well-planned and productive online sessions to continue vital discussions and build on important relationships.
Here are some points to remember:
- Start with a face-to-face client group session: Despite all of technology at our fingertips, we cannot circumvent the face-to-face client sessions and leap right to remote client advisory board sessions. It takes face time to create the required trusting relationships among clients, and between you and this client group. No remote session, regardless of how advanced the technology or brilliantly-constructed the agenda, can replace the power of face-to-face conversations, especially when you’re seeking candid feedback and bold ideas.
- Clarify intended outcomes: Make sure that all understand the purpose of the remote meeting, and how it relates to the face-to-face meetings. For example, a remote session may be designed to build on new ideas that sprang up in the face-to-face session or to solicit feedback about a new product or service. If the conversation is likely to be very different from the usual face-to-face meetings, say so to allow people to opt out if needed.
- Create a multi-pronged communications plan to augment the face-to-face sessions. To keep the momentum going and relationships fresh, create a communication program that allows clients to communicate with each other and with your organization in ways that are easy, comfortable and mutually rewarding. While email may typically act as the glue, consider introducing additional forms of communication, including a private shared portal and web conferencing service that can be used synchronously and asynchronously. If you do a good job selecting your group members, they’ll see value in networking among themselves, and they’ll appreciate any help you can give.
- Familiarize clients with new technology during an onsite session. Introduce whatever technology you plan for your remote session while people are face to face. This way, they will be more comfortable and confident using these tools, which will increase the chances of their participation later on. For example, if you’ll be brainstorming new ideas as part of your onsite session, have clients use the appropriate web conferencing tool from their laptop in the conference room. Demonstrate one or two capabilities as part of this session, so when you reconvene remotely, people will be ready to go right away.
Posted by Nancy Settle-Murphy