The visitor experience

“Visitor experience” has been a buzz phrase for a number of years now in the event and trade show industry.  I worked at companies contributing great value at this so called experience, all of them at least in words, and some in deeds.

Let me start by agreeing that a good visitor experience is an important element in the mix of arguments to convince an attendee to show up.  To the contrary, a lousy experience would certainly be sufficient to never show up again, or at least for a while.  But what actually is important to the visitor experience ?

I would argue that mere bedazzlement isn’t part of a great experience, at least not at trade shows, maybe a bit more at corporate events.  Definitely it doesn’t equal experience.   People are being bedazzled all the time, or great resources are aimed at trying to do so, and subsequently they are a little bit fed up with flashy, shiny and awesome design constructions or light/sound/visual effects.  So stop putting heaps of money in building temporary impressive catering areas, just make sure the food and drinks are good and honestly priced.  Stop investing exhaustively in decorating the entrance, just make sure the registration process is fluent, staff is friendly and people can enter the event fast.  After all it’s what they came for.  Allow the exhibitors the joy of bedazzling visitors.  And invest in teaching those exhibitors that need it, how to treat visitors so that they feel bedazzled and VIP.

“Visitor experience” doesn’t start at the show’s entrance either, it’s quality control from the first interaction with the potential visitor up until when he/she gets back home from the event.  A complete trajectory with many touch points along the way and thus many opportunities to impact the feeling of importance and welcome.

Real “Visitor experience” is actively helping the visitor with his (daily) struggles throughout that trajectory.  These struggles are basically the same for many of us and involve easy transport, parking, avoid time loss, easy orientation, find what you were looking for, share, too much things to remember or do, annoyance/frustration about little things.

Just a couple of examples : to-the-point, personalized, snacklike promotional communication, swift online ticket sales and registration, registration confirmation mail with ics-file, reminder e-mail with up-to-date practical details, easy and comfortable parking, speedy onsite registration, welcome e-mail right after entering the event, e-mail with feature exhibitors or promotions not to miss, functional event app, location based messaging, helpful interactive digital signage, free toilets, free wifi, thank-you-for-your-visit e-mail after the event.

The evaluation made by the visitor on the quality of his/her experience is made when returning home or even days/weeks after the event.  On top the visitor experience is what’s called a “losing game”, with much more severe dissatisfiers than satisfiers.  This means that excellent, over the top, expensive decoration will be of no value if basic things like tidiness in the restrooms isn’t at accepted standards.  So aim efforts at setting a basic standard on every single touch point with the visitor that you can control and check, then increase each level evenly with an emphasis on helping the visitor finding what he/she came for.  And believe me this visitor didn’t come to be impressed with the state-of-the-art design of the champagne bar, on which most visitors aren’t event allowed access. 

My advice would be to make a map of all the steps in the visitor experience (touchpoints) from pre-visit until post-visit and a map of the pain points.  Try to imagine what your visitor was thinking or doing at each stage.  Example : when leaving an event the visitor will undoubtedly be thinking “where did I leave my car ?”.  Look at how you can help him remember that.

Then compare and look at where and how you can influence at large to convert the pain points into winner points enhancing the experience.

Something like this but then filled out to match the specifics of your event.

Map of complete event trajectory.

Map of complete event trajectory.

Map of complete event trajectory.

Map of complete event trajectory with impact points.