Clever Carly: Building Client Loyalty

Getting repeat business takes more than just satisfying clients—here’s how to let that work for you

Hello, faithful readers!

I’ve been thinking lately about what creates loyalty—not just the loyalty between you and me (thank you for that, by the way!), but the loyalty that keeps clients coming back to us event after event, year after year. The first rule for getting repeat clients is to satisfy them, right? Well … not exactly.

It turns out that creating devotion involves more than just doing a good job and making people happy. In fact, some factors that drive repeat business might at first appear to be outside of your control. Research recently published in the Journal of Convention & Event Tourism shows that the No. 1 factor in whether people repeat their attendance at a regularly scheduled convention was networking, followed by education and the environment of the event. Whether people were satisfied with the convention played a role in their decision to return, but there was a lot more in the mix.

That might seem counterintuitive, particularly for those of us who chose this career because we love seeing the delight in clients’ faces once a perfectly planned event has gone off without a hitch. (And really, that’s most of us in this business.) But there are ways to use this insight to help ensure repeat business while keeping clients’ and attendees’ satisfaction sky-high.

Build networking into every type of meeting.

Networking doesn’t need to explicitly be your meeting purpose for it to play a crucial role. But by priming every meeting to be a networking-rich environment, you not only maximize a key point of in-person meetings—but you also hand guests their top reason for coming back. Use conversation starters, networking-friendly refreshments and chat-oriented room layouts to your advantage. Or just suggest that all sessions, regardless of purpose, use quick traditional icebreakers at the top of the session to help get people talking.

And don’t forget the most obvious way to get people talking: social media. Using social media before your event will help facilitate communication without you having to do a thing once the meeting begins.

Focus on your venue.

Another top reason that people were likely to be repeat attendees? A good physical environment. We’re not talking about plush carpets and silk wallpaper (though great décor never hurts!)—things like security, convenience and accessibility topped the list of attendee concerns. In fact, those factors were more important to garnering repeat business than the actual destination, which means that the allure of a glamorous locale is ultimately less important than whether a venue suits the needs of your attendees.

What that means for you: The energy you expend in your venue selection process will pay dividends years down the line. Use tools to compare things such as venue, square footage, breakout rooms and level of luxury; once you’ve landed a location, work with your event manager to address any concerns upfront.

Track session attendance.

Planners often focus on maximizing opportunities by accommodating numerous breakout sessions to make sure attendees emerge with new information and improved skills. And that’s good! But too much segmentation within larger meetings can lead to an uneven experience for attendees. This is particularly true when it comes to Educate sessions, where breaking off into groups for more hands-on learning can leave attendees feeling accomplished and satisfied—but doesn’t really do anything to create attendee loyalty.

You shouldn’t urge your clients to cut out smaller sessions altogether, though; instead, try tracking all sessions and then including that data, along with suggestions on how to improve breakout session attendance, when you debrief with clients after the event. Showing that you have a strategy that keeps satisfaction top of mind but also addresses the factors that underscore loyalty will help gain trust—and repeat business.

The bottom line: You went into event planning because you wanted to give people good experiences. And congratulations—you’re doing exactly that! Now it’s time to get shrewd in how you’ll keep them coming back year after year so you can continue to handle the parts of this business that you love.

Until next time, trusty readers,

Clever Carly