Category Archives: From Talk To Action To Results

Behold The Power of Events: Occupy Your World

It’s been 35 years now (yikes!), but I still remember being blown away after seeing a new movie called Network, where Howard Beale (an inspired Peter Finch) exhorted us all to go to the window, stick our heads out and yell, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”  Here’s what he said: “I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street…all I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad!”  In the movie, his unscripted live TV rant inspired millions of viewers across the country to throw open their windows and shout “I’m mad as hell!” out into the street.   It was a commentary on the power of the mass media to mobilize people to action.  Who knew that, a few decades later, social media would help produce the same kind of results?

Fast forward the DVR of your life to 2011. You see similar dramas playing out, no?  Only this time, it’s not fiction. First it was the historic events of the Arab Spring.  Then London got in on the act. Now it’s our turn in the US:  Occupy Wall Street.  Occupy LA.  Occupy Boston.  In case you missed it, last Wednesday it was Occupy Colleges Day.   I got a heads-up that morning from Elaine Young, a faculty colleague who is our resident social media expert, that a walk-out and rally had been scheduled for noon that day on the Champlain College campus here in Burlington, Vermont (as well as at 71 other colleges across the nation). As it happened, I was in class about an hour before that was to take place with a group of Event Management students, so I casually asked if any of them was planning on walking out.  Turns out only one of them had any clue what I was even talking about.  So I used it as an opportunity to talk about Occupy Wall Street and the wide variety of event offspring it was spawning.  There were a lot of unanswered questions.  We wondered about who the event planners were, what their objectives were, how they had managed to attract so many participants, whether anyone was really in charge of the “program”. We speculated about how they might define whether their event was successful—the ROI, to put it in current professional lingo.  What were they hoping to accomplish, exactly?

This reminds me of an editorial I read in the New York Times a couple of days ago about Occupy Wall Street. Here’s part of what it said:

“If you stopped by Zuccotti Park in New York and asked 10 protesters what their goals were for Occupy Wall Street, you might get 10 different answers…One protester said he and others were calling for “more economic justice, social justice — Jesus stuff — as far as feeding the poor, health care for the sick.” Another protester, a former Marine who was elected by Occupy Wall Street participants to speak for them, told NPR that he wanted to overthrow the government and reconstruct it.”  Now we have labor unions and other established interests joining forces with Occupy Wall Street, adding their own demands.  And that’s just New York—look at all of the variations in other cities around the country.   As the editorial points out, “This has led some reports to call the group unfocused, but that may be normal for an emerging movement.”  I’ve heard it suggested that the “We are the 99%” call is simply a way of establishing solidarity, a feeling of sharing a common purpose.  But at this point, the reality is that no one can say.  What we do know is that people are mad as hell.

Back to the classroom: after kicking it around for a bit, I got back to the business of talking about building an event budget, our topic for the day. Then–shortly before noon—all but three of my students stood up and walked out.  At first I felt a little insulted; after all, I’m busting my butt trying to offer them something of value here! Don’t they know this stuff is important to their futures?  But then I realized that they were motivated by honest curiosity, by the desire to find out what this event was all about.  And that’s really at the heart of education, in my opinion.  They were taking advantage of a unique opportunity to be part of something as it unfolded.  I still don’t know who organized that little event on our campus, although I did stop by the gathering in the courtyard about 20 minutes later (and yes, most of my students were still there–listening, absorbing, processing).    What I do know is that whoever initiated the event was successful at engaging a number of students, some of whom were inspired enough to take a turn speaking their minds to the small but intent crowd.  Oh, and the local TV station even showed up (perhaps because of a well-placed tip from our PR guy, Stephen Mease? Or does credit belong to the anonymous event organizers? Or someone monitoring social media channels?) to film the goings-on and help spread the word.

At this point it’s hard to tell what the outcomes of all of these Occupy events will be.  From an event planner’s perspective, they have been highly successful in attracting an audience–both the participants and the media reps who are telling the story as it plays out.  But so far “the stories” (as is the custom in modern-day infotainment) have focused mostly on the camera-friendly human dramas being played out, not about any particular issues or solutions to the problems people are saying they’re mad about.

It remains to be seen whether these events will lead to any lasting changes.  Events can be powerful tools for engaging people, harnessing their energy and ideas, and moving them to constructive action.  And as event planners, we know that it’s a colossal waste of time to go to all of the trouble of pulling an event together if there are no measurable results when it’s all over.   If you were in charge of the “Occupy” movement, what would you do to move these events beyond simply venting frustration?

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Why Customer Satisfaction Doesn’t Mean Loyalty: 10 Prescriptions

 

 

 

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP.
Everyone talks about it: “We’ve got to make sure our customers are satisfied.” Some businesses go to great lengths to define what they think it takes to satisfy their clientele and then spend lots of time and money on comment cards, online surveys, focus groups or just in-the-moment chats with customers or clients to measure how well they have done at delivering what was expected. What’s wrong with that? Well, it turns out that just because you’ve satisfied your customers doesn’t necessarily mean they will be back. And isn’t the normal assumption that, if you have satisfied their expectations, they will reward you with their loyalty?

The problem is that too many people use the terms “customer satisfaction” and “customer loyalty” to mean the same thing. They don’t. And consumer behavior research shows why this distinction is important: Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Co. found that, in a series of studies of a variety of businesses, between 65 percent and 85 percent of customers who “defected” — i.e. switched to the competition — reported that they had been “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their original provider, but they left anyway!

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not suggesting that you don’t need to be concerned with satisfying your clients, attendees, or sponsors. On the contrary, if the goal is to inspire repeat business, you need to go beyond merely meeting expectations and consider what really motivates people to be loyal. After all, satisfaction is just an attitude or opinion a customer has, but loyalty has to do with the customer’s behavior. And their behavior is what we’re ultimately interested in, not just what they think of us.

Loyal customers do more than just come back again. They are also less price-sensitive; they are more forgiving of occasional slip-ups in the product or service or experience you provide; they are more resistant to the allure of new competition and, perhaps most important, they provide crucial word-of-mouth advertising, whether it’s face-to-face or online.  Clients or guests who are only “satisfied” do not. In an era of increasing competition, we need to be looking at customer satisfaction as merely the entry fee for playing the game — sort of like the ante that allows you to sit at a poker table. If you don’t deliver satisfaction, then you don’t get to play. But “satisfying” your customers — i.e. delivering what they already think they should get anyway — only avoids chasing them away to the competition. If you want to truly inspire loyalty, you have to build a lasting bond with them.

So why do people develop loyalties to a particular company? A few years back, I conducted a study on the issue of customer loyalty at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. After studying a group of “loyal” restaurant customers, it became clear that loyal behavior is closely related to feelings of affiliation and personal connection that the client establishes with a business and its employees. These loyal customers were satisfied customers, for sure, but they also consistently expressed an appreciation for being recognized, for receiving personalized service and for being treated like valued individuals. Individualized attention like using the guest’s name, offering their regular drink, providing personal recommendations that you think this particular guest might appreciate or delivering a swift and sincere response to any problems that might arise all appear to go a long way toward establishing a sustainable relationship.

10 PRESCRIPTIONS FOR LOYALTY
I think we often put too much emphasis on hiring “experienced” customer service personnel, rather than on selecting people who are natural rapport-builders. Then we spend most of our training time on the mechanics of service, instead of on activities that will really promote loyal behavior. What kinds of action could we be taking? Here are a few suggestions:

(1) Raise awareness among both staff and management. Employees can’t be expected to appreciate loyalty’s importance on their own; it is management’s job to make them aware of its impact on everyone’s success and how their own behavior can increase loyalty. Use stories of “legendary” service incidents to help illustrate the kind of behavior you’re looking for.

(2) Hire people who have natural rapport-building skills. If it’s part of their job to build relationships with clientele, then management should be careful to recruit, hire and retain staff who have a natural talent for it.

(3) Teach and reward the learning and use of guest’s names. Bring in a memory expert to instruct your staff in memorization techniques. Build a list of guest names and personal preferences. Provide financial incentives for staff who collect new names for the list. Coach staff members on how to incorporate individual guest names into normal service encounters.

(4) Train employees to “read” guest needs and to personalize each service encounter. Stress the fact that suggestive selling should be used to make personal recommendations of items that the server thinks the client might enjoy or appreciate. Your staff should be encouraged to get creative; try to anticipate things that might appeal to the client before they ask.

(5) Go out of your way to respond to service failures or guest complains. Problem situations can be exploited for the opportunity they offer to provide a highly responsive, personalized service experience to the client, which reinforces feelings of being noticed and valued as an individual. A weak or nonexistent response will produce the opposite effect.

(6) Expect and empower employees to respond to problems without waiting for management’s approval. Data collected by the Technical Assistant Research Programs show a close link between resolving the client’s problem on the spot and their intent to patronize your business again. Staff members need to receive instruction in handling a variety of scenarios, and they also should be given clear parameters to define what corrective actions they are authorized to take.

(7) Reinforce relationship building through employee incentive and reward programs. Recognize and encourage employees who demonstrate success at building repeat patronage. For example, restaurant servers who are most often requested by guests at the door deserve credit for it. Likewise, employees who are skillful at collecting the names of repeat customers or attendees can be rewarded for their extra contribution. In both cases management is pointing out the kind of results they want their staff to be shooting for.

(8) Invest in employee retention. Studies have shown a strong correlation between high customer ratings and low employee turnover. When an employee leaves, any relationships they have built with clients are in danger of being broken. Consider taking steps to protect your best “people people” by earning their loyalty.  (By the way, these same principles apply to employee loyalty. They’re human, too!)

(9) Adjust your customer feedback tools to measure for loyalty indicators. Instead of just asking clients whether they were satisfied with their experience, find out if they would be willing to recommend your services to others. Why or why not? Do they know any of your staff or management by name? Did they feel as if they received personal attention? Were they made to feel like they matter? These may be the kinds of things that will determine whether loyalty will be produced.

(10) Provide clients with opportunities to “connect” with staff members beyond normal business transactions. Inviting guests to receptions, seminars or public-relations events will offer the possibility for social interaction not possible during normal business interactions, enhancing the potential for social bonding. You will build closer relationships by getting to know your guests as individuals, rather than as relatively anonymous consumers and providers.

Where loyalty is concerned, it’s not just what we do for people; it’s how we treat them while we’re doing it. The key question is, how do they feel when they’re walking out the door? One thing is for sure: to the degree that your clientele are allowed to feel anonymous in their interactions with you, you’ll have a hard time inspiring their loyalty.




Targeted Change: 3 Ways to flex your event planning muscles

Positive change sounds great.  But what does that look like, exactly?
Everyone I talk to about my EventsForChange initiative says it sounds like a great idea. But then, I can tell that their brain immediately switches to “what does that mean, exactly?” mode.  The concept sounds fine, but the implementation isn’t always obvious. 

What kinds of “good” can we accomplish?  In his book Saving The World At Work, Tim Sanders says that a “good” company is “one whose mission is to improve the lives of everyone in its footprint: employees, suppliers, customers, supporting communities, and the planet.”  In Corporate Social Responsibility, Philip Kotler and Nancy Lee write that social responsibility is “a commitment to improve community well-being through discretionary business practices and contributions of corporate resources.”  So when we’re talking about events, I think it’s useful to think in terms of improving individual lives, the local community and maybe even the planet.  It all boils down to a simple question: how can we leave this world a little better place than before our event took place?

Now here’s the thing: YOU get to decide what kind of change you want to promote.  As the great baseball philosopher Yogi Berra said, “You got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”  According to Yogi, it all starts with being clear about our objectives.  And once you have an objective in mind, it’s time to design an event experience that will produce the results you’re intending.  Here are a few targeted changes that can be built into any event experience:

  • EDUCATE & INFORM: you can take the opportunity to raise awareness and concern about a cause, an initiative or a political issue.  Information is power and you have the means to inform many while you have everyone gathered together in one place.  Support a behavior change campaign.  You can help bring about changes in both attitude and behavior by creating an engaging experience that alters people’s perspective.   
  • COLLECT RESOURCES:  The most obvious example here is: any kind of fundraising strategy.  You can raise money through donations from attendees or by padding the admission or registration  fee to supply a little extra.  Vendors and exhibitors could donate a portion of their proceeds.  Sponsors can provide in-kind contributions of goods or services that they provide, often for a fraction of the retail cost. And if you design a truly engaging experience, you will inspire them to give even more.  Much of this is not any different than you normally do when executing the core elements of your event–you’re just directing some of the resources to another place, spreading the wealth. 

    But it’s not just about money.  You’re also in a position to recruit people who can provide time, expertise, problem-solving abilities and even brute force for accomplishing a task or re-shaping the physical environment.  You’ve got them right there; now it’s just a matter of creating the conditions where their money, goods, ideas or efforts can be focused on a specific task that will somehow improve lives.
     
  • ORGANIZE & INSPIRE ACTION:  You know this: it’s not enough to get people’s attention and deliver a message.  The only way you produce a lasting impact is if there is some change in behavior, and often that won’t happen unless someone champions the effort and facilitates the process of moving people to action.  While everyone is here, let’s get something done!

    Get a commitment from folks to go out and spread the word to 10 others after the event is over, or to distribute materials. Vote through a policy or rule change.  Organize an email-writing campaign to your legislators.  Build something or do something  to improve the physical environment. Back in 2008 at the Democratic National Convention, a dozen or so people from the Vermont delegation carved out a few hours one afternoon, went to a local school, and built them a new playground structure.  All it took was for someone to spot the opportunity, collect tools and building materials, and build it into the program.  Attendees, staff, presenters, sponsors…all of them can be organized to leverage their time and talents while they’re there. 

Of course, if you’re planning or executing the event, this doesn’t mean you have to do all of these things by yourself.  Delegate to a staff member, if you can.  Make it part of your agreements with vendors or venues.  Or there are plenty of cause-related or non-profit organizations that would be more than happy to have a stage for spreading their message, collecting money, recruiting volunteers or organizing action.  Your power ultimately comes from pulling together multiple stakeholders and from accessing available resources.  It’s just a matter of finding partners that match well with your audience and the change that you’re interested in supporting. The key here is to recognize the unique opportunity that occurs when you gather an audience together and to use it while you have the chance!

So if you’re an event planner, I have a question for you, while you’re here:  can you offer an example of how you’ve used any of these methods to flex your event planning muscles and create a positive change?   How did you go about it?  Share your story in the Comment section below.


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