August 6, 2014 by Donna Kastner
Secret shopping conferences and trade shows is something we do regularly.
We don’t call it secret shopping. At the end of the day, it’s an apt description, as we’re immersing ourselves in the attendee (buyer’s) experience. We’re evaluating every component through the attendee’s lens to assess what’s working, what needs to be tweaked, and what needs to be 86’ed.
One week, we’ll be at a medical conference, surrounded by doctors as we watch live stream of surgery being performed halfway across the world. The next, it’s a conference designed for engineers or teachers. While it might sound daunting to move in and out of sessions where the subject matter is sometimes beyond our grasp, it actually frees us up to focus solely on the experiential elements.
Among the many items on our secret shopping checklist (sorted by category):
There are dozens more questions to ponder, depending on the size and scope of the event.
It’s interesting but some of the best insight comes through spontaneous chats with attendees, often before sessions start, on shuttle rides and at meals. Sometimes simply asking “What was your best experience so far?” opens up the feedback floodgates. “What was your worst experience?” is another question that sometimes reveals surprising observations from attendees.
While some conference organizers might elect to have a staff member secret shop their event, that’s not advised. Staff are too familiar with the planning process, too invested in the end result, and they’ll likely miss things an outsider will spot. A secret shopper will step into the attendee’s shoes to document the highs, the lows, and everything in between. With the right secret shopper, you’ll glean a wealth of actionable insight.
Have you ever engaged someone to secret shop your event? If so, were there any surprising revelations? Did this insight prove to be helpful in guiding future improvement initiatives?
Adapted from Donna’s Meeting Innovation post on Cvent’s Event Planning blog. ©2014.
Filed Under: Experience Design
This is the BEST checklist EVER. I have posted it to LinkedIn already, suggesting that anyone who is involved with a group that learns needs to check this out. Thanks again for being the BEST at what you do!!!
‘@Tricia: Your comment made our day – because helpfulness is what we’re about. Thanks so much!
Do you network? If so, do you tell the truth, or do you have to dream up a backstory beforehand?
I definitely mingle… As for how transparent or undercover I am, that’s dictated by the client.
While I never lead with why I’m there, when asked, I’ll often share that I’m there to help guide continuous improvements. Then I’ll ask permission to pose a question or two. No one has ever said no — and in fact, sometimes these people scout me out later to share something more. Many appreciate that the conference organizer is doing this.
Great question – thanks for asking it!
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