We attended a Customer Advisory Board roundtable meeting with fellow CAB.org members, all program managers…
Due to the recent Coronavirus outbreak, preventing travel, it is impossible to host in-person advisory board meetings (hopefully that will change soon). As a result we are seeing an uptick in the number of online CAB meetings, as companies switch to a virtual meeting platform to host their meetings. It must be remembered that in-person meetings are far more effective at generating customer insights, building relationships and achieving many of the objectives of CAB programs… However, if an in-person meeting (at least annually or bi-annually) is not possible, then an online meeting or virtual conference call is a good second choice. There are also tremendous cost savings as both clients and host company employees travel, hotel, meeting room and food costs are avoided. The downside is that customer engagement levels are much lower. This article contains some great tips on how to increase customer engagement during online meetings.
- Allow 2 minutes after the start of the meeting, before officially beginning, to allow for people who are running late.
- Always do a roll-call, so everyone know who is on the phone.
- Encourage people to use their webcams (you need to prompt everyone in advance so they can test their cameras and prepare). Research shows there will be far more interaction if people can actually see each other.
- Appoint a dedicated facilitator and allow them to state the facilitation guidelines at the beginning of the meeting so everyone knows who is responsible for moving through the agenda, encouraging comments, summarizing and gaining consensus etc etc
- The facilitator cannot ‘read the room’ in terms of seeing people’s body language, so it’s more difficult to know if people are frustrated, tired, trying to make a comment or need a break. It’s therefore necessary for the facilitator to more actively probe the attendees in the absence of visual body language
- Within the first 10 minutes it’s important to hear EVERYONE’s voice on the phone. The reason is, once someone has spoken for the first time, they are far more likely to feel confident enough to come off mute and share their insights again. This is sometimes called ‘breaking the seal’. One technique to get everyone off mute and speaking initially is to do a ‘go-around’ inviting each member, one-by-one to respond to a question.
- If you do incorporate a go-around facilitation technique, set a time limit for the exercise, tell everyone they have say ONE minute to respond. For example with 15 customers, that would be a 15 minute exercise, however if you don’t set a time limit and each person speaks for 4 minutes then it becomes a 1 hour exercise!
- Always put the questions you plan to ask the meeting attendees, CLEARLY on the screen in the virtual meeting, so they can see exactly what you are asking them to respond to.
- Don’t forget to introduce any meeting attendees that arrive late during the call, and get them to ‘break the seal’s everyone hears their voice and they feel comfortable engaging from then on.
- One thing to avoid is directly calling out members during the call “Jeff, we have not heard from you yet, what is your opinion?” as people do not like being put on the spot, they may have been temporarily distracted, may no be following the discussion and now they will be forced to explain themselves. This is not a comfortable position to put attendees in.
- Do try to use ALL the virtual meeting capabilities that are available to you – polling, surveys, commenting – these are all great ways to keep people engaged and get great insights. However, avoid over-using one technique, as people can get burnt out easily from doing poll after poll for example.
There are lots and lots of other techniques, these are just a sampling, if you are interested in learning more, please consider becoming a member of CAB.org, attending one of our quarterly calls or annual conference and downloading the excellent resources we have online.