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Mapping the Attendee Journey in Real Time with ExperienceGuru

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about companies mapping their “customer journey”—those key touchpoints throughout a customer’s interaction with a company—to figure out what’s working, and where the gaps between what customers want and what the company is giving them are. It’s only natural that this should migrate over into the event world—it feels pretty old school to wait for a post-con survey to see what worked and what didn’t over the course of the event, doesn’t it?

Especially since it’s pretty easy to do anecdotally—now that everyone’s tweeting their touchscreens off at most conferences, any organization worth its salt is monitoring its event hashtag to see where the bottlenecks in the lunch line are, which breakouts are so popular they’re overflowing, etc. But as I learned when speaking with American Society of Association Executives CEO John Graham at ASAE’s annual conference last month in Detroit, that organization is being a bit more organized about how it collects some real-time big data on its attendees’ journey through the ASAE conference experience.

ASAE’s Meetings and Expositions Section Council came up with the idea to get an outside-in look at its conferences, an attendee experience map similar to the customer journey maps Fortune 500 companies are using. They worked with Conferences.io, which provides a Web-based audience-response system, to come up with ExperienceGuru, which ASAE launched at its 2014 Great Ideas Conference, and also used at its 2014 Annual Meeting and Exposition, and at its 2014 Technology Conference.

The results were so good last year that ASAE is continuing the experiment at this year’s events, most recently at its 2015 Annual Meeting and Exposition. Graham said that they simply asked attendees if they wanted to be beta testers who would tell organizers about their experience at the event, using simple smiley, neutral, and frowny faces. He said that almost a quarter of attendees at the annual conference—about 1,000 participants—signed up to receive ExperienceGuru prompts and provide information about what was happening in real time, and how they felt about it.

It also allowed the association staffers to respond to problems in real time. As Graham said, “If we get a lot of frowns, we know there’s something going on” that needs to be rectified. “ExperienceGuru let us know when the lunch lines got too long so we could do what we could to reduce the inconvenience,” he said. It also let the organizers know when a couple of buses went AWOL on the opening night.

“ExperienceGuru lets us impact the event attendee experience as it’s happening,” he added.

Of course, there's always the old-fashioned idea of having lots of staff on hand to check out what's going on, interact with attendees face to face, and be on hand to soothe fevered brows when things get heated, as they are wont to do. Still, this sounds like a pretty interesting technology to make it easier to keep your finger on the pulse of what's happening, though as Graham said, "It's not easy to respond in real time to 1,000 people."

ASAE also has been experimenting with using iBeacon technology, which uses Bluetooth wireless technology to allow beacons set in various spots around a conference or expo floor to communicate with nearby mobile devices that have the iBeacon function enabled. While he said it was very effective in a lot of ways—individuals who had signed up to check out the iBeacon experience ahead of time got a recap after the meeting of everywhere they went, and exhibitors were able to not just know who was at the booth without having to swipe them, but also who of interest may have been nearby—a lot of people didn’t like it when ASAE piloted the devices at last year’s annual meeting. “They said it wears out the battery in their phone really fast.” So do the now-ubiquitous event apps, though we're so addicted to them now that we've all learned to carry extra juice with us and plug in at every possible opportunity. I'm sure that, if we find iBeacon technology to be as useful as event apps, we'll learn to forgive their effect on our devices' battery life.

What new technology are you using—or would you like to be able to beta test—for your conferences? Can you ever see something like ExperienceGuru replacing your post-con evaluations?

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