This is one of those experiences that strikes terror into the hearts of a consultant.
I was facilitating a client advisory board meeting for one of my first and best clients. We were going around the table at the beginning of the meeting sharing significant events with each other. About halfway through the group, one of the board members said, “What do you do with all this information anyway? We have met a few times and answered your questions but we never hear back about what you did with our comments.”
It was a rookie mistake (and I beg forgiveness, because I was still a relative rookie at the time). We were focused on getting feedback rather than engaging board members. Engagement is a two-way street. While there were no lasting bad feelings, this was one of the few and rare negative outcomes you can have with an advisory board. Leaving board members feeling undervalued. It can have them questioning why they participate. More importantly, it may prevent achieving the goals of deepening the relationships and developing them into ambassadors.
The foundation of a client driven practice is guiding strategy in congruence with what the clients desire (whether they know what that is or not). More than being responsive, it is showing initiative to discover unspoken needs and wants. When it works well, clients know, clients feel, you are anticipating additional value they can get from you.
Clients will respond to upgrades and changes to your service more strongly If you uncover and anticipate their needs and desires. But board members need to know you are responsive to them and their feedback. They need to know you are listening to, considering, and, ideally, acting on their feedback.
That doesn’t mean you have to do everything they say. They just need to know they have been heard.
It’s perfectly fine to let them know that you explored the recommendation and found It impossible or impractical to implement. You can’t always do what they suggest. Ideally, you can propose and evaluate an alternative.
My experience with that early client advisory board highlighted the importance of accountability. Now, at the beginning of every meeting we give an update. We inform the board about developments at the firm and the state of the business, but we also report back on action items from prior meetings. Here’s what we heard, here’s what we promised to follow up on, here’s what we did. Even if what you did was nothing yet, we let them know it is still in our consciousness.
The key is acknowledging their input. Reinforce that you have heard them and your board will respond. Asking for feedback is great. The real payoff comes when clients feel heard and see a response.