As a bit of preface to these remarks, I approach customer advisory boards (CABs) from earlier experiences with supplier advisory boards and customer participation in product development. This may variously prejudice or inform here.
Customer Advisory Boards are powerful tools for engaging with customers in a variety of dimensions. Companies are using them to interactively work with their customers on developing new products and services, to keep them abreast of changes in their customers’ perceptions of the changing landscape of their business world, and more. CABs provide a platform to share and develop in an environment where the customer is present and participating. CABs are used by big and small firms, They are relatively inexpensive and potentially very high in rewards. Given this, it is of immediate interest to read a book on this topic.Customer Advisory Boards: a strategic tool for customer relationship building by Tony Carter (Binghampton, NY: Best Business Books Haworth Press, Inc. 2003)The tagline for this book, “a strategic tool for customer relationship building” only hints at the confusion of ideas within its covers. 45% of the book, “Section I:Customer Relationship Building”, is taken up with a discursive sampling of theory and practice in relationship selling, customer-centered value, and the ‘nature of relationships” (this includes a side venture into leadership and emotional intelligence theories). Many of these discussions are interesting, even provocative in themselves. Unfortunately, Carter makes no organized effort to map these onto the actual topic at hand, CABs. Further, Carter mixes in discussion of Advisory Boards for start-up firms with applications more typical for mature firms.The balance of the book, “Section II: Building Customer Advisory Boards” and “Section III: Strategic Uses and Effective Management” will not reward senior managers or consultants with much of practical value. The view of strategic value is limited to customer acquisition and customer retention. There is no useful discussion of how meetings are actually conducted, how participants interact, what values they might gain,or how the meeting facilitation role is accomplished. In the end much of these sections of the book are taken up with cases studies that seem only peripherally to shed light on CABs.For a book that pops up very high on a Google search for “customer advisory boards”, this is a disappointment.