Published: 16 May 2016

The right direction

Martin Clarke, Marketing Director at the NEC, spoke to Exhibition News about the importance of customer experience and how it can set you apart from the competition.

Is your business good at what it does? Do you consider yourself good at what you do?

Answer yes to both of these and you’re probably doing well.  But, are you sure that you aren’t just providing a functional service that could ultimately result in a competitor coming on to the scene and taking away some of your business, knocking you off the top spot in the process?

How you make people feel will be the differentiator in ensuring you stay ahead of the competition. It isn’t just about delivering the basic needs of your customers - how you make them feel by invoking an emotional response is far more powerful.

It’s important to consider every individual customer journey and remember that each is interlinked. For example, great organiser content at a well-connected, easily accessible venue will encourage impressive visitor footfall which in turn allows organisers to sell more space to exhibitors.

If you can delve deeper into your customer’s journey and understand how people feel when they visit the venue/show then you can deliver an even more successful event.

But how can you know what customers think and feel?

It’s simple – ask them. Customer feedback is a vital component of the customer journey and can help identify ways to enhance it. Find out how your customers felt when they came to the venue, how they perceived the ease of location and how they found their travel experience. Overlay this with mystery shopping and a theory like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and you can start to build a picture of where your relationships and/or products sit.

At the NEC, we are on our own journey of enhancing our customer experience. Research found that on the whole, the NEC excelled at the functional aspects of its business but not as much on the experiential – in other words, we were great at delivering for our clients and hosting great events but there was still more work to do to understand and enhance the customer journey, which would ensure that we held on to our position as the UK’s number one venue.

Back in 2012, we created a cross functional brand project team to enhance various areas of the customer experience. Four customer groups were identified - Visitor, Exhibitor, Organiser and Conference and Live - and each journey was mapped out. We have come a long way since the project was formally launched and have made a number of changes to each customer journey which has seen real benefits.

For our visitors we have introduced take a break zones with multi-coloured pianos giving them space to relax and have fun. We have also created themed subways and a mock beach which provide for a more engaging experience.  

We are supporting exhibitors through our partnership with the AEO to deliver the National Exhibitor Masterclass providing thought leadership and top tips.

We provide our organisers with their very own welcome hosts and bespoke food hampers to keep their energy up during the show, which adds a special touch to their experience.

It’s all about making changes that will have the biggest impact on each individual customer journey and as venue marketers; it’s our responsibility to ensure we are fresh thinking in our approach and willing to take risks to enhance the customer experience. With mystery shopper results that score 90% and an average recommendation score of 7.4 out of 10, we feel that we are heading in the right direction.