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Sunday, September 10, 2017

THE BEST TIME OF YEAR TO IMPROVE CX: CUSTOMER CONFERENCES

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Mini-journey mapping and other employee/customer engagement strategies can help make your next conference the best one yet.

Customer conferences provide a wealth of opportunities for companies to build long-lasting relationships with customers, but exciting keynote speakers and relevant breakout sessions aren’t the only ingredients for success. From registration to closing, every interaction—even the micro ones—between your customers and your employees can make the difference between an amazing or so-so experience for conference attendees.

At our company, we took a good, hard look at our annual Engage customer conference through the lens of our CX program. By any measure, it was already a successful event between the growing number of attendees and high satisfaction scores. Why did our CX team focus on the event? We wanted to be sure we weren’t limiting ourselves to a “we’ve always done it this way” philosophy.

Each year, we employ many of the same principles and approaches that we also apply to improving our customers’ daily interactions with us. Using a combination of design tools and methodologies, we focused on enhancing direct customer interactions while also driving engagement for the employees who work the events. This translated into making changes in the way we plan, staff and program Engage—all with a goal to take CX to the next level for our guests.

Here are five approaches and examples that have made a significant difference in our blueprint for this year’s conference:

1. View the customer conference asmini-CX journey.

We began by assembling a committee to study our CX efforts at the conference. Because the customer journey map is the linchpin of our CX program, we decided to view the conference as a mini-CX journey for attendees, and to map every step of it, from registration to breakout sessions to closing breakfast.

Applying survey data and individual customer feedback to the map, we clearly identified two key areas in which we could improve CX: 1) Guest arrival and registration. We were missing opportunities to set the tone for a fun and informative event. 2) Programming. Customers said they wanted more time to network with each other and share their stories. Interviewing employees who worked the event in previous years gave us insight—and some fresh ideas—on ways we could improve these areas.

2. Assign a chief of staff for the event.

Just as an organization develops silos, our event had become so large that it had silos, too. There were teams that planned the breakout sessions, others that coordinated customer demonstration areas and others focused on social events. General oversight was lacking on how individual team members could be assigned most efficiently, so we appointed a chief-of-staff to help ensure the right people were assigned to the right places, and also that there was sufficient support during the high-traffic times.

3. Brainstorm ways to warm the welcome.

We took steps to streamline the registration process, which also served as the focus in our employee engagement plans. Our strategy here is simple: How our employees are feeling affects the customer experience. By minimizing distractions, helping registration workers and other frontline staff be more confident and comfortable on opening day, this group naturally welcomed customers with a smile and high energy. What better way to get things started on a positive note?

We also found ways to involve the hotel in the spirit of welcome to the conference. Room keys branded with our company name, along with branded bottles of water for attendees at check-in, and goodie bags at registration, add a special touch that goes beyond the mention of the conference on the hotel’s daily event board.

4. Be creative to keep employees engaged.

Our CX Catalyst Network is a program that enlists formal and informal leaders within each department to serve as CX motivators for their teams. We’ve given all employees designated as CX catalysts a free pass to the conference, a good way for them to build connections and gain feedback from customers.

The day before the conference opens, we increased our “boots on the ground” to assist with setup. We’ve added ways to formalize our appreciation of all employees involved in the event over the course of the week—group photos and a special dinner organized by the leaders of each functional group. We’ve also assigned one person to be responsible for “thank-yous” to ensure this important component of employee engagement doesn’t get overlooked. And to help our frontline team members smooth over any issues that might have inconvenienced a guest, we have provided them with a supply of extra passes to our VIP Lounge.

5. Add more customer networking opportunities.

I think it’s a universal tendency for event hosts to want to talk about themselves—their accomplishments in the past year, the great things being done for their customers—and with good reason. But beware. A little of this can go a long way at a conference. We have found through our surveys and interviews that our customers want to hear from each other, too. In response, we have added more “air time” for our customers to share their stories from the stage. And isn’t that, after all, the best way for a company to share its successes?

For example, we have scheduled stories from more than 20 customers who will take the stage during our three keynote sessions. That’s in addition to more than 80 customers already leading breakout sessions. We are confident these sessions will be the starting point for more customer-to-customer conversations between special events. We have also added informal networking sessions, like our VIP Lounge, to give customers additional opportunities to share their challenges and successes, and afternoon “roundtables” where attendees can gather around a specific topic to share best practices.

Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture

Customer relationships are built on more than interactions with customer service and the sales team; they are built every time a customer interacts with your company and experiences your brand. The customer conference is your opportunity to put the brand on display and show you really mean whatever it promises. That’s why it’s important for the CX team to make a critical assessment to be sure the event hits the target every year.

Above all, planning the conference should be more than an exercise in “finding and fixing” last year’s glitches. How do we enhance an already successful event? How do we ensure the best possible experience for our customers? Details are important, but the CX team can help keep the focus on the big picture, too.

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