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Author, speaker, and customer service maven Kelly McDonald at ASAE's XDP Zoeica Images/ASAE

5 Ways to Make Your Meeting More Customer-Focused

Today’s attendees demand to be treated as valued individuals. Here’s how you can show them some love.

Did you know that men hate to iron so much that they rather throw out a wrinkled shirt and buy a new one than pull out the ironing board in their hotel closet? That could just be a fun fact, but in the hands of speaker, author, and marketing and advertising specialist Kelly McDonald, founder of McDonald Marketing and a top expert in consumer trends, generational differences, and leveraging the customer experience, it’s a teachable one.

At a 15-minute pop-up talk during the first day of the American Society of Association Executive’s Xperience Design Project, McDonald outlined five ways to keep customers—your meeting attendees—rushing back for more. Here’s a bit of her advice, along with the takeaways I got for how we can apply this stuff to meetings.

1. Know what makes them tick. Omni Hotels not only took notice of the men-hate-ironing-thing, it took it to heart. Now the offers a select guest program that offers free ironing of two items.

As the Omni example demonstrates, you need to get deep into their psyches—or at least their behaviors—to come up with things that will be irrestistable to them, McDonald said. Another example she offered was Safelite AutoGlass, which sends windshield repair people to fix your glass right in your driveway. The only problem was that women customers weren’t comfortable with strange guys showing up at their houses. So now the company sends a photo of the repair person to its female customers ahead of time so they know who to expect to pull up in front of their house.

Takeaways: Observe your attendees closely and crunch the metrics data to find trends. And don’t just think about the usual topics/speakers/was the food good and the temp right. When are ladies room lines longest? What areas of the trade show floor do they avoid like the plague? And most importantly, why do they do what they do? Look at not just the behaviors, but the emotions behind the behaviors, what 360 Live Media’s Don Neal in another session called psychographics.

Once you know what makes them tick, and why, then you can come up with fixes that work with their natural ways of thinking and feeling.

2. Foster a culture of empathy. McDonald stressed, and boy do I ever agree, that you should always hire for the person, not the resume. Tasks can be taught and skills learned, but empathy is something you either have or you don’t. And don’t be afraid to look outside the usual “pond” of prospects.

As she said (one of my favorite quotes from the conference): “Awesome people are awesome everywhere.”

Takeaways: Empathy can be hard to come by when you’re frazzled and stressed as the 212th person asks you what the app’s password is—and yet how that question is answered can make a huge difference in that attendees’ experience. And the mood it creates in that person, which is important because, as we know, emotions are contagious. Staffers who emanate empathy and kindness will spark a kinder, more empathetic meeting. Who wouldn’t want that?

3, Find out what people want and give it to them. When things go wrong—as they inevitably will do—your response will make all the difference in how they feel moving forward. Let’s take a lesson from the contractor who did McDonald’s kitchen renovation. Whenever an issue cropped up, his response was, “I’ll take care of it.”

Takeaways: Hold the blame and recriminations and excuses—they don’t really care who why there’s shrimp on their plate when they had indicated they were deathly allergic to shellfish, or why the mic is shreaking feedback, or whose fault it is that they had to wait in line for 20 minutes to get their badge. All lthey want to know is that you’re on it. Period.

4. Customize. “Mass is out, customization is in,” said McDonald. My take on this part of her talk was that this is a continuation of the process started when you find out what makes them tick. Again using gender as an example, she said that there are distinct differences between men and women when it comes to making choices.

Women like to have lots of options, where men want their options limited to three, she said. Smart marketers—and planners—know this and adjust accordingly. For example, she said, look at electronics, which are mostly purchased by men. They are usually marketed in groups of three. I have been looking since she said that, and it’s true!

Takeaways: Use this in your marketing materials—segment your list as you usually would based on data about what they’ve attended or shown interest in the past, or their experience level, or however it is you’re dividing your list for customized marketing. Then further segment it by gender to offer just three suggested things men may want to check out, and multiple things for women.

She also said to take advantage of trends to find new ways to customize. For example, social sharing is trending now. One company that took advantage of that is Coca-Cola, which recently launched a campaign of personalized cans with people’s names on them. If you can’t find one with your name, no problem—just let the company know and they’ll make one just for you. They’ll even (and this made us all give happy sighs) design one with your name in Braille. What can you do to make it “all about me”?

5. Help, don’t sell. This is the sum total of her first four, I thought. It all leads up to being a resource, not just a seller of services but a trusted advisor.

Takeaways: Don’t be all, “Look at all the great speakers we are offering! And our networking events will be so awesome!” What’s in it for them? What problems will they find solutions to? Provide content that will help them in their jobs, their careers, and their lives, not just sell what you want them to buy.

This writeup in no way captures just how awesome McDonald was—she was so funny and on point. And I know it must have been close to impossible to boil her message down to 15 minutes, she gave us a lot to think about, but you couldn’t really tell. 

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