Disruption is everywhere. With the digital revolution well underway, disruption is rearing its presence and creating impact across seemingly every industry and in every field at the moment. So how does that impact B2B service providers who are trying to connect with their customers? We chatted with David Gebhardt, Chief Revenue Officer at Ingenico ePayments to get his views on the importance customer advisory boards, for customer feedback and strategic development.
How is the digital revolution impacting corporate B2B relationships with customers?
Across all industries – retailers, travel, gaming, etc. - the digital revolution is having a big impact. Customers’ expectations have drastically changed, new technologies and standards are required to deliver excellent solutions, and even the daily management of internal business processes are being required to adapt to new ways of working. The digital revolution is happening now and the speed with which the disruption is taking place, indicates the necessity for digital transformation within both B2Bs and B2Cs that want to keep up and maintain pace with their customers.
What can Customer Advisory Boards do to address this?
B2Bs need to stay ahead of the curve, in order to meet their customers’ customers’ needs. But this can be challenging without a direct link to the end-customer. A Customer Advisory Board is an excellent way to accomplish this and make sure that B2B companies maintain a close connection to their customers’ needs, a connection that are particularly vital in an age where digital changes and disruptions happen at top speed.
Last quarter as we conducted our annual meeting of the Ingenico ePayments’ Global Customer Advisory Board (GCAB) and I was struck by how similarly digital disruption seems to be affecting the various companies we work with. Throughout the various conversations, the general consensus was that everyone is working harder and faster than ever before. And yet, interestingly, different customers still provided us with different feedback on what we need to be focusing on and how we can improve, which helped us get a more complete picture of input.
How does Ingenico ePayments rely on its Customer Advisory Board (GCAB)?
We started organizing Global Customer Advisory Boards (GCAB) some years ago, when Ingenico was still considerably smaller than it is today. I began conducting some of our first regional customer community meetings, bringing together roughly six strategic customers each time, to participate in discussions that would ultimately help shape the direction of our company roadmap. Even back then, my team and I strongly believed that the group of participants would be ‘greater than the sum of its parts,’ and those community meetings provided us with the feedback we needed to provide more value for our customers. In addition to that, we noticed that our customers gained as much from these meetings as we did, from both a strategic perspective to help them develop their roadmaps, as well as for networking and relationship building.
Fast forward to where we are at Ingenico today, and unlike the rapidly-changing tech world around us, the core concept of our GCAB has stayed very much the same. Naturally, the format has evolved somewhat, but the formula that helped make it a success back then has stayed the same – we’ve remained highly focused on gathering authentic input from our customers, and I believe that is one of the reasons we’ve enjoyed substantial growth and customer loyalty over the years.
We take the feedback that we receive very seriously, which is also important for keeping the conversation going. Our participants want to know that they are truly being heard and that their participation is relevant and not just symbolic. In fact, our customers have directly contributed to our roadmap, such as our Connect API, which is currently as one of the best on the market.
It’s worth noting how we put our Global Customer Advisory Board together. Every two years, we select a handful of companies that work closely with Ingenico ePayments’ offerings while also engaging with partners and other companies in their sectors. This way, they have insight into industry-wide issues and can represent a larger cross-section of our customers. We also make an effort to balance the customer representation across multiple regions and sectors, creating the best opportunity for us to build enhancements and services that will add value for the largest number of customers.
What best practices does Ingenico ePayments implement to make sure the GCAB sessions are useful?
We do much more than just ‘wine and dine’ our GCAB participants. We team up with an external vendor, who helps us ensure that the sessions are productive and the feedback is constructive. When I reflect on our GCAB, there are four best practices that are particularly valuable for industries experiencing digital disruption:
- Ensure customer inclusion from across industries. Gather a relatively small group of customers with similar seniority levels, representing as many of the key industries as possible. This enables cross-sector discussion between peers, which is invaluable especially when discussing business threats and general disruption. These sessions should allow customers to think outside the box and encourage them to adapt best practices from other industries to stay competitive.
- Gather blind feedback. It’s probably obvious that an advisory board can bring a company and its customers closer together through personal ties. That said, it can also make it harder to be honest, particularly when the feedback is negative. Blind feedback sessions with customers only is a great way to work around this challenge. In these sessions, all Ingenico staff leaves the room so that our customers can have uninhibited discussions. At the end of the session, a group representative presents the feedback and we collect notes from the session as well. These blind feedback sessions have provided Ingenico with input for some of our most valuable innovations – which is key in a disruption landscape.
- Internalize and Externalize the information. Plan your agenda and the topics well in advance and give participants the opportunity to shape the content as well as the outcomes. Prior to our annual GCAB meeting, we ask participants to take a short survey about the topics that they want to discuss and which pain-points they want to focus on. At the end of the session, we share the discussion points with participants and circulate them internally as well, so that there is internal alignment on the outcomes. Furthermore, we always start each year’s GCAB with a summary of the topics and issues that were discussed at the previous year’s meeting, so that we can provide and update and maintain transparency on the work we are doing. In this sense, the dialogue keeps going.
- Focus on the customer journey, not (just) the customer experience. Look at every step the customer experiences, every challenge the company faces, and every opportunity the business has for improvement, across the short, medium and long terms. Be as comprehensive and holistic as possible. By doing these exercises with peers, businesses will be able to identify and anticipate potential disruptions across the entire customer journey and anticipate customers’ needs together. This allows everyone to stay ahead of the curve.
Perhaps the most important take-away from our experience with our own Customer Advisory Board is the work that happens after those meetings. We consider these relationships to be ongoing and we make sure to have regular touch-points with participants throughout the year. These can be in the form of a call, or a chat during an account review, but more often, they are one-on-one meetings that happen when our executives travel.
Within Ingenico ePayments, we truly believe that the best way to ensure that we are meeting our customers’ needs is to listen to them. And that’s something that we try to do as often and efficiently as possible.
David Gebhardt is Chief Revenue and Operating Officer at Ingenico ePayments