We give you 12 practical tips to show why and how creating relationships and meaningful discussions with customers in the event technology business is more crucial yet much easier now than it has ever been before.
Everything has changed. The way we work, the way we connect with each other, the way we earn our income and spend the money we earn, the way we go about our daily lives. Some of these changes crept up on us gradually, not unlike the news of the coronavirus outbreak in China, and some whacked us over the head overnight. The event industry, for instance, woke up to an entirely different reality once the virus started spreading from continent to continent, and found itself in the extremely unpleasant dilemma of choosing between making a living and sustaining people and their families, and protecting the health and lives of the very same. This, of course, is true not just for event professionals, but also their clientele, who must prioritize their spending more than ever before.
The event technology sector has players of many different sizes, with various types of clients and partners, and their income largely depends on in-person, live events, and while virtual and hybrid meetings are on the rise, many clients still prefer canceling instead of postponing their events altogether. Those companies with a less expansive portfolio or a single line of business, and especially those that are privately owned, are in a much vulnerable position than giant corporations. Keeping and gaining customers is the single most important action a company can take right now, and while business consultancy firms offer great CRM advice, every industry is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the current situation. With no in-person meetings or conferences, concerts, or theatre productions in sight, what can event technology providers do to save their businesses?
Even while going through the trauma of the pandemic-related changes, our members recognized early on the opportunity in the devastation: there never was a time when connecting with clients old and new had been more crucial than it is right now. Building and nourishing client relationships during the coronavirus pandemic has often been a topic of conversation in the past months, and we have learned a great deal from some of our members’ approaches and ideas on taking care of business even when there is little to none to be found. We have gathered our AV Alliance members’ insights to create a two-part article, the first part of which explores all the different ways client relationships can be developed, while next week’s second part will present you their own examples and experiences in customer relations of the past couple of months.
Twelve steps to build customer relations in the event technology business
Here we have collected the 12 most important steps event production companies and service providers can take to adapt to changing client relationships, and ensure that their customers still feel valued and taken care of, regardless of the current circumstances:
1. Check up on them from time to time
Your clients are human, too, and may be facing issues similar to your own. Treat them like individuals first, and business partners second: reaching out to them, checking on their well-being, mutually sharing hopes, concerns, and experiences, and offering support or even just a sympathetic ear in the time of need goes a long way in strengthening your relationship even with brand new clients, let alone old ones.
2. Stay in touch
Covid-19 does not need to minimize your personal interactions! Many people find that despite the social distancing it is easier now to form stronger bonds with others than it used to be before. Keep close to your clients by, for example, sending them regular updates about your activities and new services, sharing with them your health and safety guidelines and protocols that ensure maximum safety of your employees and existing and potential clients, or just mailing them hand-written well wishes.
You can also find fun, creative ways to keep in touch (and combat “Zoom fatigue”), such as creating WhatsApp groups, informal gatherings, and if your clients are a fun-loving bunch, even virtual happy hours, game nights, etc.
3. Be accessible
You can never know when business opportunities come and find you. Make it your priority to always stay available to existing and potential clients, even if your offices are temporarily closed. Make sure that emails are replied to, and phones are picked up during work hours. Being reachable and dependable even in difficult times proves to your clients that no matter the circumstances, you have their backs.
4. Build on customer loyalty
Loyal clients are the ultimate goal for any business that is customer-focused, and the event industry is heavily dependent on loyal clientele. In a time like the Covid-19 crisis, when business as we know it has been challenged, many of our customers are much more at a loss than we are. Their event needs have changed, but the key to identifying, navigating, and executing those needs is in our hands.
Reward your loyal customer base with personalized offers on how you can help them with their virtual event needs, special terms and conditions, or discounts for future projects that enable maintaining a long-term relationship, etc.
5. Listen to your clients
There is no better time to conduct client surveys than right now to identify what you can improve about your business in the current situation. Make an assessment of your services based on customer feedback. Ask them what they like about you, what they expect from their event technology provider at this time, what can be improved, what they have no use of, etc.
If you prefer personal conversations over SurveyMonkey, even better: take them out for a safe, socially distanced coffee or pick up the phone and get them talking! Knowing what your clients want will help you significantly in figuring out how to best adapt to their changed needs.
6. Make the necessary changes
Times of crisis tend to shed light on aspects of our lives as well as our business that no longer work or can be improved significantly. With much time on our hands, there are things that can be done in these months that have been postponed for years. If you still have your team on board but there is no event to be done, this is the perfect time to work on your inventory and warehouse space.
Take time to assess how your company operates, and if necessary, reconsider your business model, re-evaluate your values and goals, work on your pricing, re-think certain positions, change or enhance your processes and services. Once you follow through with these changes that you may have wanted for a while but never had the time until now, your company will have smarter and smoother processes, as well as better suited services and prices for your existing and new customers.
7. Be the expert they need
Being submerged in the world of virtual and hybrid solutions, there is a good chance your customers feel a little lost. Be a source of knowledge and take the responsibility of figuring out how to create own their events off their shoulders.
Even if you don’t know the answer to their questions, let them know that you will find a solution, and then deliver on your promise, so your customers can rest assured that you will take care of their current and future needs, no matter how complex the task is. Adding to that, raise your profile by offering your clients free educational webinars and podcasts to share your experiences (e.g. in hosting virtual and hybrid events), ideas, solutions (e.g. to safely returning to live meetings) if you can.
(Photo and video “Demystifying Virtual Events” by Stage Right Inc. | AV Alliance)
8. Overhaul your online presence
When a good portion of our clients find our services online, the company’s website is one of the first representations of you that they will encounter, therefore it is an enormously important point of contact for new business. Take a good and objective look at your website and online channels to see what no longer works for you or represents you and your business.
If you have the capacity and budget to bring in an SEO expert, you can use this time to improve your website’s ranking on search engines, weed out errors that potentially hurt your online efficiency, etc. If you are unhappy with your design or page structure, overhaul it and make it more customer friendly. The better and more functional your website becomes, the more likely it is to yield new clients.
9. Boost your social media
Social media has become more important than ever in the past months. If you have not jumped on the bandwagon for whatever reason, consider this the perfect time to create your company’s Facebook page, Instagram account, LinkedIn, or YouTube channel (or TikTok, if you feel adventurous). If you have been actively using social media in the past months, pay special attention to the types of messages you post on the internet, and the message they convey.
While it isn’t always easy, keep your tone positive and forward-looking, find that sweet spot between personal and professional, formal and informal, and keep your clients – existing and potential alike – engaged with your posts and content, cultivating a loyal and interested community.
10. Sort out the finances
Delayed payment and outstanding invoices are a source of dread and anxiety these days, whether you are the client or the service provider, but transparency and flexibility can go a long way to fix the problem. If you are not able to make payments on time to your suppliers or partners, be upfront and transparent about it, and offer a solution that will show that you are dedicated to fulfill your financial obligations towards them.
If it is your client that owes you payment for a job, do not sit idly and wait for a solution, but approach them with the same transparency and honesty that you expect from them. If they are unable to pay right away, offer them flexible payment conditions or alternatives that will ensure future collaboration with your customers.
11. Be proactive in finding solutions
Take part in creating a better future for the event technology business by joining forward-thinking conversations with your peers, brainstorm new solutions, join forums, keep an eye on what your competition is doing, and realize the potential in new, if slightly scary, technologies. Moreover, go the extra mile for your clients to *-proactively research virtual and hybrid platforms and innovative event formats to make their dreams and goals a reality with or without a live audience.
12. Give back to the community, if you can
With no events to work on, sitting idly can be increasingly difficult for event professionals. If you have the manpower and the capacity, and your city or country is not enforcing strict lockdown regulations, do not let your equipment gather dust! Instead, look at your community and offer your time and technology to those who are in need or in isolation. Organize remote concerts or movie nights for care home inhabitants, help the elderly or the quarantined connect virtually with relatives and loved ones, and spread smiles wherever possible. Your community will remember your name once live events return.
The world we live in and the business we do may be difficult to recognize anymore, but one thing has remained the same, and that is the importance of nurturing personal, meaningful client relationships, whether you are working with end clients in the corporate world or with associations, or suppliers and partners within the event sector. If anything, these relationships have only become more valuable than ever before, and the return on your investment in taking care of them will be just as great as the demand for trusted technology supplierswill be once the live event business makes a glorious return someday soon.
Next week we will present to you how our AV Alliance members have successfully handled customer relationship management in the past couple of months – stay tuned!