Sculpting Customer Feedback To Design Your Conference

2013.12.09_One and Other-Ice Sculpture

The voice of the customer is always right.

Or is it?

When conference organizers look for ways to improve the attendees’ experience, they typically turn to their registrants for feedback. They turn to their customers to direct their investment decisions for conference improvements.

Gaining Conference Attendee Intelligence

Conference organizers use a variety of ways to collect customer feedback. Usually, they send an overall conference evaluation to all of their stakeholders. Some organizers provide evaluations after each education session. Some turn to social media to mine the conference hashtag conversations.

Others have one-on-one random interviews with attendees during the conference. Some set up focus groups onsite. Others provide conference call interviews to hand selected attendees after the event.

All of these methods are used to gain more insights about how to improve the conference experience.

Once the feedback is collected and read, we usually fix those areas that our attendees complain about the most. Or we improve the issues that are largest customers mention.

Three Challenges With Customer Feedback

Gaining insights from our conference customers is great for many things. It is usually helpful for fixing problems that surfaced during the feedback process. However, it is not helpful in identifying the unique benefits your customers receive from attending the event. The feedback typically falls into the common benefit category, the things every conference says they provide.

Here are three challenges with improving conferences from customer feedback as identified by the Corporate Executive Board Company:

1. Focuses only on where customers have a voice.

Conference attendees don’t usually suggest or provide feedback on new or different conference experiences that you could provide. Their feedback rarely helps you identify and demonstrate your unique benefits not found in other conference experiences.

2. Keeps you firmly focused on common benefits.

Benefits, although varied in nature, typically fall into two areas: common and unique. Good customer service and responsive feedback are common benefits. Unique benefits are very specific to attendees’ experience. Feedback like, “it is always an out-of-box experience,” and “they try new things,” are unique benefits.

Unfortunately, most attendee feedback is bland, generic and non-specific such as you don’t understand my problems. Common benefit feedback is left open to interpretation and rarely improves the overall attendees’ unique experience.

3. May lead you into the arms race for conference benefits.

Attendees may be able to surface areas where your competitors’ unique benefits shine. This may be because you do not have the resources or know how to compete in those areas. You are not positioned to compete in that benefit. If you’re not careful, you can throw all of your money chasing a benefit that you may never own.

4. Faces lack of experience.

Unfortunately, the customer doesn’t know what they don’t know. It’s hard to ask for diamonds when all you’ve ever experienced is coal. Attendees’ own experience, or lack thereof, may hinder your need to develop a unique conference experience.

Does Customer Feedback Have All The Answers?

One of the mistakes of relying on the customer voice is assuming it has all the answers. Customer feedback should be treated as an input not an output says Jeremy Whyte, director of customer feedback and reporting with Oracle Corporation.

Whyte describes how customer feedback is like a chunk of marble. You have to eliminate the comments that are out of context or not specific enough for directions. Then you chisel away the commentary that doesn’t focus on your current work. Once that is done you take all the comments and look for patterns and themes.

Just as a sculptor sees shapes and pictures in stone, you have to see big ideas in the feedback. You also have to interpret the feedback understanding what the customers really want. Once you have analyzed and interpreted the feedback, put the big ideas into a survey. Then have your customers weigh the relative importance of each idea that you were able to chip away from the raw data of marble.

Once you’ve followed these steps, then you can work on designing a conference experience that meets or exceed these new unique attendee benefits.

What are some of the other challenges with relying on conference customer feedback when making conference improvements? What steps should you take to analyze customer feedback and receive insights from other sources to improve the conference experience?

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  1. I agree. “… you have to see big ideas in the feedback. You also have to interpret the feedback understanding what the customers really want.” That interpretation of member/customer underlaying needs is critical. An apt example: Everyone told Henry Ford they wanted a better buggy whip.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      You nailed it…everybody told Henry Ford they wanted a faster horse! They didn’t even know what an automobile was but that’s ultimately what they really wanted. Interpretation is critical to improvements.

      Thanks for reading and adding to the discussion.

  2. I would say its not necessarily how feedback is collected and more about what you ask. But I agree, people can only comment on what they know.

    I have found when working with teams if I want to ask them if they had a great team experience I have to set up in advance what a great team experience looks like. So I would suggest being clear on the objectives for the session or key things you want feedback on. Start off the conference by having random people selected that you articulate key areas you want them to evaluate, tell them what great looks like. After the conference ask for their feedback on wither or not the goal/objective was achieved.


    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and adding a great example of how to get better feedback. I like what you said, “…I have to set up in advance what a great team experience looks like.” What a great point to apply to “What a great session looks like.”

  3. […] What type of customer feedback do you collect for your conference improvement and design? Can you trust all of your attendee feedback?  […]

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