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Answer Customer Needs by Building a Customer Advisory Board

SEOmoz January 23, 2013 Comments Off

Posted by JackieRae

We sure do love feedback at Moz. One of our biggest contributors to feedback is our Customer Advisory Board (which we lovingly call CAB). Who doesn’t love sharing the work they do with a group of awesome people, hearing their insights, and learning how to provide the most value to users based on their feedback?

Dana Lookadoo sporting her Customer Advisory Board shirt at MozCon.

A few weeks ago, our VP of Growth Marketing, Joanna Lord, did a Whiteboard Friday about 10 Ways to Get Feedback. I’d love to expand on this topic and share how we developed our CAB, what's worked well, and how we've improved.

Framing the CAB

We started the process of creating our Board over a year ago. Fortunately, our Director of Product, Samantha Britney, already had a fabulous framework formulated for us (how’s that for alliteration). It was important for us to flesh out and gather ideas in a document so we could define the purpose of the CAB, understand what it would take to be successful, and mitigate any risks that might occur.

First, we defined the purpose. Our Board members would weigh-in and validate product decisions, and they would provide feedback during early stages of product planning and design. The feedback gathered from the Board would need to be strategic and tactical, and would be used to help unveil any issues that may arise and expand on ideas we might not have thought about yet. We also wanted to develop relationships with folks in the industry in order to better understand our customers' needs. Finally, if CAB members love the work that we do, they may, over time, turn into our biggest evangelists.

Once our goals were set, it was time to move on to the "what ifs" of implementing this new program. There were a few risks we acknowledged before creating the Customer Advisory Board, which allowed us to think critically about the feedback we would received. For example, many of our contacts are relatively close to our company, brand, and/or product. This is awesome! However, their feedback might be swayed by their preconceptions about us and potentially lead to “group think.” We took steps to move away from these notions and help keep our CAB members neutral.

It was also important to set goals to ensure that our CAB was functioning like we intended it to. We defined indicators to use as benchmarks, such as participation of the CAB, quality of the feedback loops, and amount of CAB member's time we use (that last one was important, because we didn’t want to violate any promises we made to those helping us). This allowed us to gauge our success and to determine when it was time to revise our original framework.

Selecting the team

The final piece of our framework was to list the type of candidate we want to engage with. We used written "personas" to group potential candidates into more manageable sectors during our selection process. We originally called for 20-25 people (although the number has currently been upped to 35). These CAB members are open and honest with us, even if they provide negative feedback. They represent a diverse segment of our users and work in small to large companies, from in-house SEO’s to independent consultants.

To make the selection process as neutral as possible, we compiled of a list of candidates from internal recommendations, active community members, and folks who gave feedback to our Product Team in the past to make our final selections. With our final group, we were sure that we would not only hear praise, but would be provided with a significant amount of "tough love" that was needed to make the CAB project a success.

CAB members challenge us, allowing us to make better products. 

Getting to know our CAB

Now that you know the driving factors behind our process, it's time to learn a little bit more about who makes up our Customer Advisory Board.

The folks on our Board have very different backgrounds, areas of expertise, and passions, which means their feedback can be quite diverse. When a CAB member first joins, we ask them to fill out a little “getting to know you” survey. The goal is to understand that no two people are going to want the same thing, and it helps set context around the feedback that we receive.

We have 35 CAB members from seven different countries, including the U.S., Portugal, Spain, England, Austria, Australia, Brazil, and Canada. They’ve been customers of SEOmoz’s anywhere from 1 to 6 years, and some have more experience with our brand and product than others. They work in different a variety of  different environments so we can field customer needs from all sides of the inbound marketing process.

Every CAB member has different expectations at work.

So, have we been successful?

Success? I think YES! We’ve had several formal feedback loops (11 and counting), and many more informal conversations with our Customer Advisory Board members. From these meetings, we've been able to collect the following data:

  • Of the original 15 members that joined, all 15 are still active members.
  • We have an average of 9 out of 10 Customer Advisory Board members giving feedback when asked (although we’re getting closer to 9.5 out of 10!).
  • Every member that opts-in to a feedback loop (whether the loop is a survey, email, or in-person interview) has finished the feedback loop.
  • We've found the feedback is so useful that we went a step further and created a Local Customer Advisory Board for GetListed last month.

We've been thrilled with the success of our CAB so far. Though it took some time to get this process in place, our gains from answering to and gaining feedback from our CAB have far outweighed the time and effort it took to get it up and running. 

A quick thanks

Our Customer Advisory Board is doing us a huge favor by putting in time and energy towards keeping us awesome. We constantly bounce ideas off of them, show them product plans, introduce crazy new content and designs, and the list goes on and on. We are benefiting from their help in a million ways. CAB members help drive us to success (pun intended). To all our CAB members, THANK YOU!

Does your team have a Customer Advisory Board? What are the results you've seen? Please leave your tips and thoughts in the comments below!

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