Desmasdon’s Boat Works: Customer advisory board provides valuable insights

It’s one thing to win awards like Top 100 and CSI awards from manufacturers, but the only true way to understand how you’re doing with your full customer base is to actively engage them and provide opportunities for them to offer real, tangible solutions to improve the customer experience.

A few years ago, Desmasdon’s Boat Works in Pointe au Baril, Ontario, set up a customer advisory board the dealership can approach with specific or generic questions. This informal group is made up of business professionals who have lent Desmasdon’s ideas and constructive criticisms that have helped the business grow and improve. The board consists of a minimum of three and a maximum of six customers.

“Our goal is to constantly meet and exceed our customer’s expectations through strong service and new initiatives,” said Matt French, general manager of marina operations at Desmasdon’s Boat Works. “We don’t know what we don’t know, and they know what they want. So by going to a customer as opposed to just going to a staff person, we’re actually talking to the person who requires the service from us. It’s completely invaluable in terms of really hearing what they want. … Our day-to-day operations were shaped by ideas that came through the board.”

Thanks to involvement from the customer advisory board, Desmasdon’s created its Marina Monkey app, which won the 2013 Best Idea of the Year at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo.

The idea originally came when the dealership was in the planning stages of building its website. Desmasdon’s wanted to ask its customers what they were looking for in a website, and the dealership put together a small group to gauge ideas.

“We put together a little group and went to everybody and said ‘we respect your opinion, is this something you’d be interested in?’ and all of them thanked us for thinking of them and thought it was a great idea, so we sort of ran with it,” said French.

The board meets as a full group once a year, but the dealership reaches out to individual members three to five times a year. These customers have bought boats from Desmasdon’s or are a regular customer at the marina, as many of the dealership’s clients are summer visitors with island cottages who use the marina as a launch point for the season.

Several unique ideas have come from the advisory board, from the marina’s complete valet service to its Marina Monkey app, which won the Best Idea of the Year at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo in 2013. The app was created through several advisory board meetings, discussing changes, what worked and what didn’t and fine-tuning the final product so it was valuable for customers.

The app gives customers instant gratification and immediate feedback that tells them their service request has been received by the marina and is being acted upon immediately. It provided a new way for customers to communicate with the marina’s staff and was a huge improvement over the past. (You can read more about the app in the 2014 Best Ideas White Paper at

The company also began sending a yearly survey to its customers after the board suggested asking every customer once a year how Desmasdon’s is doing.

“We had a good feeling of where we thought the customers were happy with us, but [the board] said why don’t you just ask everyone? And part of the survey is what would you like to see, what ideas do you have, so we actually take ideas from all of our customers once a year,” said French. 

Other ideas include a referral program the dealership implemented in 2014 and a customer loyalty program implemented in 2015. The company purchased $100,000 worth of miles from AirMiles Canada, the largest loyalty program in the country, and the dealership awards those to customers through loyalty incentives like early scheduling for spring launch or for referring customers who buy a boat.

French has called the advisory board an invaluable resource to the dealership, especially as the dealership strives for constant improvement.

“It’s great to hear that you’re doing well but we want to know what we’re not doing well. It’s not enough to just win these awards, we want to improve every year, and those guys are brutally honest with us. They tell us where we’re lacking,” he said.   

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