Thursday, July 24, 2008

3 Reasons why Virtual Trade Shows Can't Afford to Lose the Personal Touch

Virtual trade shows can't afford to lose the personal touch. Here are 3 reasons for this statement:
  1. Save your show, grow your brand: With email filters and spam fighting tools getting more and more aggressive, email invitations, automated responses, email alerts and notifiers sometimes do not reach the intended recipient. I am told they simply get vaporized. In a corporate trade show for a very large Fortune 100 company, we sometimes offer to follow up on their initial emails with one or two people on the phones. All that our people do is call the intended recipient, and ask them if they have received the invitation email or alert email, and if they have had a chance to read through it. We do it mainly for those who have been invited to exhibit but failed to register. The response on the phone usually is one of gratitude for the follow-up, and often goes as follows: "I have so many emails, I know I have seen it but would you mind re-sending it to me right now while you have me on the phone so that I can go over it with you." or "I am sure I did not receive your email. Let me get your domain white-listed so that I receive future emails from you". In most of these closed-corporate virtual trade shows that we do for our producer-clients, the exhibitors would do anything to get the opportunity to exhibit and get in front of those corporations. The personal touch does wonders for the trade show and more importantly, for our brand.
  2. Our natural craving for human contact and reassurance in unfamiliar surroundings: In two recent virtual trade shows as I monitored the support lines and the communication process, we learned that when an online exhibitor or attendee is not very familiar with how standard Internet experiences work, then it is best to have a member of the support team pick up the phone and call them. We had a situation where the online support was very responsive over an exchange of 4 emails, but what could have been resolved in a 5 minute call, later took an hour because the online exhibitor was pining to hear a reassuring human voice on the phone.
  3. Leveraging crowd-surf: Something that I have seen work wonderfully well is to have one dedicated live chat room for Customer Support during live online events. Put a few support folks on it from your side to listen in and answer questions. Let it be the place where people can come and publicly post messages for help. There is always a small percentage of visitors who are either rushed or not familiar with online environments. When they post a question, often other online attendees answer them to help them out. From a support-perspective, it is akin to addressing a crowd in a room and letting the crowd's own dynamics form an informal safety net that carries the event forward successfully. It gives you the opportunity to have your ears on the ground and look for areas of navigation that are not intuitive, and guide the crowd collectively or through a private chat message. It gives you the ability to know if there are technical problems in environments that your testing process did not factor in.

In virtual trade shows and other forms of virtual fairs even though it is common for people to not be surprised if their requests are not answered swiftly, if you want to distinguish your event-brand, then give it your personality. Keep it real, and keep it as personal as possible. The Internet is just an efficient medium that connects real humans seeking to interact with one another. Do not take away the human element.