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Steal Microsoft's Customer Service Strategy for Your Next Conference

Find out how Microsoft is allowing its event attendees to enhance their experience with value-added V.I.P. packages.

One perk for Preferred Access Pass holders at Microsoft Convergence was reserved seating at the keynote sessions.
One perk for Preferred Access Pass holders at Microsoft Convergence was reserved seating at the keynote sessions.
Photo: Courtesy of Microsoft

When Scott Schenker took over as Microsoft’s general manager of worldwide events last year, he began exploring the concept of offering optional, limited-availability enhancements to attendees. The idea is modeled on perks offered by sporting and entertainment events, such as preferred seating or backstage access. “We saw this happening in other aspects of peoples’ lives and said, 'Why can’t we, why shouldn’t we, why aren’t we delivering that same type of personalized and customized experiences to the attendees at our programs?'” Schenker said.

So Schenker and his team tested the idea at Microsoft Convergence, which took place March 4 to 7 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta with 12,000 people in attendance. For an additional $300, attendees could purchase a “Preferred Access Pass,” which provided rooms in a reserved block at the Omni Hotel (adjacent to the convention center), a registration desk at the hotel, reserved seating for the keynote sessions, reserved seating in the meal hall, a dedicated work lounge, and express lines for luggage check and airport shuttle reservations. To keep the pilot program manageable from a logistical perspective and to tap into the allure of limited availability, the company offered just 300 passes. They sold out before the early bird registration period ended, and organizers said the feedback was positive.

“We looked at what are the most valued experiences our attendees are telling us they want to have and how do we help to deliver them,” Schenker said. “Nothing was taken away from everybody at the program, but certain things were made available to those who valued those things. If you are happy at a conference and pleased with the experiences you are having … chances are that will extend to your relationship with the company hosting the experience, as well. The second thing we looked at was the impact from an economic perspective. I was very pleased with how a select few making a value decision on their own contributed to the bottom line of the event."

In response to requests during the conference, Microsoft modified the program to allow pass holders to bring two guests with them into the work lounge for meetings and networking. Future changes may come based on the results of a survey sent to the pass holders. “We have a lot of anecdotal information from feedback on site and social media, but you have to have an analytics stage … if for no other reason than to allow us to make adjustments to the package in the future,” Schenker said.

The company is looking to replicate the experience at other events, starting by identifying what each audience values the most. This pilot program focused on adding perks that offered convenience for attendees, but future packages could be geared toward something else, such as networking. “As we move forward it becomes not how do we do this same thing for 3,000 people, but how do we have five or 10 experiences that 300 people are participating in that now allow 3,000 people to have selected what is most relevant to them,” Schenker said. "I see a day when every attendee has made a selection of some form or another, and it becomes the norm to be able customize your experience, different from just selecting your content."

Scott Schenker will discuss other event and meeting strategies in the BizBash- and Eventbrite-hosted Webinar on April 9. More information can be found here.