The pros and cons of post-show surveying

Online surveys blog imageWhile more and more businesses (events included) are turning to online surveys to gauge customer feedback, some still have concerns about the validity of the data if they are planning to use it to inform their event strategy.

Clients ask us if people are only motivated to fill in online surveys if they’ve got something really good or really bad to say, missing the views of the ‘average’ attendee.

So what does the data say?

Using a sample of 146,000 attendees who completed post-show surveys, from the database of over half a million survey responses collected by Explori in the last 24 months, we examined the response to the question: How likely are you to recommend the event to a colleague / friend, to find the Net Promoter Scores (NPS)?

NPS response is divided into three categories:

  • Those who give scores of 0-6 out of 10 are classed as detractors
  • Scores of 7-8 are passives or neutral
  • Scores of 9-10 are promoters

In our sample, 25 per cent fell in the detractor camp, 42 per cent in the promoter band and 32 per cent in the neutral or passive band.

So there was certainly a large group of people with middle ground views who had chosen to give feedback. With almost a third of respondents sitting happily in the neutral camp, (with scores of 7 and 8) and another 15 per cent “a little underwhelmed” with scores of 5 or 6, this group is more sizable than both the “lovers” or the “haters”. When it comes to post-show e-surveys, “Average Jo” is quite happy to give her opinion.

But we also see more of a spread to the extremes of the scale, including 3.5 per cent rating the show they attended as 0 or 1 out of 10. It is this group that can sometimes be under-represented in face-to-face surveys conducted on the show floor.

By collecting your feedback online after the event, you have given your visitors the fullest possible time to form their opinion of the event. In this respect it could be argued that there is more validity to their response than one taken part-way through the experience. Think about the very direct feedback you get from your exhibitors (whether they will book a stand for next year). Do you find their responses are more neutral (don’t know whether they want to book or not) in the opening days of the show and more polarised (they definitely will or won’t book) towards the end or shortly after the event? Which do you feel most represents their “true” opinion?

iphone-survey-questionSocial nicety also comes into play. Many people temper their opinions when they are talking to a real person – an unconscious attempt to protect the feelings of the interviewer, or to appear a better person before them. This can particularly impact responses to questions around income, job seniority and attitude towards professional development, where some answers are perceived to be more socially desirable than others. It also buffers the results against very low NPS scores.  In results published by a UK research agency*, it appeared not a single responder had given a score of 0 when surveyed face-to-face. Visitors are such a polite bunch!

You could address the “nice-factor” by placing self-serve terminals on your show floor in an area you are confident will attract the full spectrum of your attendees, but the cost of build and loss of prime sellable space can make this unappealing.

So should you be concerned if there is a variance between the data you get online and the data you would get face to face? Well not if you compare apples with apples; if you consistently collect your data in the same way, you are not going to run into problems when you compare year-on-year. You should also look for data that has been collected in the same way if you are looking to benchmark externally.

You know your audience – are there any groups through demographic, or line of work not accessible through email?  Or are you are looking for the views of a vital subsection of your audience? Then consider combining online and offline research to help you meet your objectives. Agencies with experience of both, or online platforms with offline partners, will be able to deliver both and work the data to give meaningful comparisons.

So in conclusion, online surveys are cost effective and getting increasingly sophisticated at capturing the full opinion spectrum from lovers to haters and everyone in between. Their big sample sizes lend themselves to detailed analysis and comparisons of the experience of segments of your visitors and they eliminate the “human” bias.

But you may well find you get differing responses between any research conducted at the show and online after the show. It would be limiting to see either as being the “true” opinions of your delegates – they both need to be treated in context when you are drawing conclusions and compared against appropriate benchmarks to help you turn your data into something meaningful to your event strategy.


Olly-ExploriGuest post by Olly Watts, Explori head of research.

Explori – an online research tool designed to make professional quality insight affordable for every event and conference.

Follow Explori on Twitter @explori for more tips getting the most out of your delegate and exhibitor feedback.

Follow @Olly_Watts for musings on all things statistical and bargain hacks for the Croydon area.

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