Attendee Satisfaction Or Delight Does Not Lead To Conference Loyalty


Organizations tend to overestimate the loyalty they get from exceeding customer expectations and customer satisfaction says new research from CEB.

So what does this mean to conferences? Satisfaction of a conference experience is not a predictor of loyalty to the conference or organization.

“…We found no statistical relationship between how a customer rates a company on a satisfaction survey and their future customer loyalty,” says authors Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman and Rick DeLisi in The Effortless Experience. The relationship between satisfaction and loyalty is weak at best.

The Myth That Customer Satisfaction Causes Loyalty

Too many conference hosts and organizers consider attendee satisfaction rates as a predictor of customer loyalty. Companies strongly believe that customer satisfaction leads directly to loyalty by a margin of 83% says these CEB authors. And too many companies believe that exceeding a customer’s expectations also leads to loyalty.

We’ve all heard of amazing stories of when a company goes out of its way to create unparalleled customer service.

Viral stories like the WestJet Christmas Miracle and Nordstrom’s Diamond Search stick in our minds. They are so compelling that they actually may distort our thinking about customer service and loyalty. We have a long-held belief that “above and beyond” customer service experience creates raging loyal fans and keeps the competitors away.

However this strongly held belief that customer satisfaction leads to loyalty should be marked as myth.

It’s a finding that’s been verified by not only the Effortless Experience authors but by other researchers as well. According to author and researcher Fred Reichheld, 60% to 80% of customers who defect had said they were satisfied or even very satisfied the last time they participated in a survey.

Defining Loyalty

So what is loyalty?

The Effortless Experience authors define loyalty with three specific behaviors:

  • Repurchase – customers continue to buy from you
  • Share of wallet – customers buy more from you over time
  • Advocacy – customers say good things about your company to family, friends, coworkers and even strangers.

At Velvet Chainsaw, we see conference loyalty as much more than retention. It’s paying attendees that will attend at least two out of three years. It’s sponsors and exhibitors that immediately demonstrate their intent to renew and maintain or increase their spend with you each year.

It’s not about getting attendees to return to you because they have to, because you are the sole-source of information for their profession or the only provider or CEUs. It’s about getting paying attendees to return to you because they want to. That’s when the true loyalty starts.

Then those loyal attendees start looking for other opportunities to purchase from you as they increase their spend. And they begin to tell others that your conference is worth attending as well.

Now that’s real loyalty.

So what drives conference loyalty?

Giving customers what is promised to them and helping them solve their problems. If the conference experience is not meeting your attendees’ needs and helping them solve their most pressing issues, make a midcourse correction. Fix it fast! Not a year later or it may be too late.

If customer satisfaction does not lead to loyalty, what do conferences need to do to provide gain more attendee, exhibitor and sponsor loyalty? Why do we equate customer satisfaction with loyalty?

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  1. Chris Bailey says:

    Brilliant post, Jeff. You’re spot on: the old handcuffs that associations could rely upon are long gone. It must be about relentlessly delivering value.

    I think we equate satisfaction with loyalty because CSat a fairly easy metric to uncover. But CSat is a snapshot metric that measures perception in this moment of time. Loyalty is a longer-term metric that is multi-layered to include not only satisfaction but financial willingness to continue the relationship. As you say, if someone feels they *have* to stick with you instead of *wanting* to stick with you, that’s not loyalty…that’s a burdensome yoke that will be cast aside when someone else offers a more fulfilling and value-focused conference or member experience.

  2. […] Attendee satisfaction does not lead to conference loyalty. Nor does exceeding an attendee's expectation lead to loyalty. Find out what you need to do.  […]

  3. Certainly Customer DISsatisfaction does not cause loyalty!

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