How Great Customer Service Can Increase Your Bottom Line

by Cassie Palacios, Events Manager, SmithBucklin


Cassie Palacios, Events Manager, SmithBucklinEvery day, we each experience numerous encounters with service employees; let me paint a picture for you.

You go to a nice steak restaurant (Restaurant A) for your friend’s birthday dinner. When you arrive, they don’t have your reservation on file and tell you it will be a 30-minute wait. You ask if there’s somewhere that you can sit while you wait and they shrug and say “sure, you can sit at the bar – it’s first come, first served”. You look at the bar and realize that with the bar line three deep, you may not be served for ten minutes, let alone get a seat. So you leave.

As you’re walking out, you call another steak restaurant (Restaurant B) and explain what just happened and beg them to get you a table. Luckily for you, they have a table available! So, you and your friend go there and as you walk in, they greet you by name. ‘How did they know it was me’? you wonder. You’ll never really know. As you sit down at your table, a server brings you two complimentary glasses of champagne and apologizes for the inconvenience at Restaurant A, but wishes your friend a happy birthday. You know this is going to be a great experience.

Will you ever return to Restaurant A? Probably not. But Restaurant B? Maybe this will become your new annual birthday spot. And with that, Restaurant B makes more money.

The philosophy of great customer service increasing the bottom line directly translates into the Exhibitions and Events industry through the interactions we all have daily with exhibitors, sponsors, partners, and suppliers. As you look to increase your conference bottom line, you are relying on a certain percentage of your exhibitors and sponsors to return (known as your exhibitor or sponsor retention rate). But how can you ensure this happens?


The initial pre-show touch point typically begins with your sales manager then transfers to the show manager to complete the planning cycle. It’s important to make a good first impression, but just as important, is how you help the exhibitor prepare. Consider these tips when helping your exhibitors during pre-show planning: 

  • Create a comprehensive exhibitor communication plan including an introductory email, regular (but not too regular; see this article) exhibitor e-newsletters, phone calls to large or anchor exhibitors and sponsors, and an exhibitor webinar series.
  • Establish an exhibitor resource website or portal which exhibitors can bookmark and visit frequently to answer many FAQs.
  • Hold yourself and your team accountable to a 24-hour response time for exhibitor inquiries.
  • Train your team that the answers “no” and “I don’t know” should not be in their vocabulary.
  • If your focus is on retaining first-time exhibitors, create a New Exhibitor Program specifically tailored to their needs. This could include an enhanced communication plan with an introductory phone call to all new exhibitors and special signage or ribbons onsite, so that you can easily recognize who may need a little extra attention.
  • Provide exhibitors with a list of cost-saving tips (for example - ordering by the discount deadlines, consolidating shipments, and making travel arrangements early).
  • Keep a list of any issues that arise (even if they are already resolved) so that you can check in with the exhibitor on-site.


At the event may be your one chance per year to see your exhibitors and sponsors face-to-face so it’s important to make the most of this opportunity.

  • Board booth visits are a great way to make the exhibitors and sponsors feel valued. Arm your board members with a pre-determined list of exhibitors to visit, along with any important notes and a few talking points.
  • Exhibitor feedback meetings, focus groups, and round-table discussions are all great ways to gather insight while on-site. Focus the meeting to keep the tone constructive. If you struggle with attendance, incentivize exhibitors to attend by giving them something they value such as a complimentary post-show attendee list.
  • Handwritten thank-you cards or a small gift, distributed to exhibitors and sponsors, can go a long way. When I was delivering a hand written thank you card to a booth a few years ago, I had an exhibitor stop and thank me so sincerely. He said it was the nicest gesture any show manager had ever done for him.
  • Host something fun for exhibitors such as a move-out beer cart. One show manager drives around on a golf cart distributing beer as her exhibitors are packing up. What a great way to say thanks!


The conclusion of the event gives you another touchpoint with your exhibitors and sponsors.  

  • Your exhibitor communication plan should include a post-show email thanking exhibitors and providing details such as final attendance numbers and information about signing up for the following year.
  • Conduct a post-show survey to gather exhibitor feedback anonymously. Consider incentivizing them with a drawing for a gift card or complimentary advertising opportunities.
  • Complete and share post-show sponsorship reports to help sponsors realize their ROI. How many impressions did their mobile app ad receive? How many cups of coffee were served from their sponsored coffee bar?


Effective show managers don’t let the customer service experience end post-event. Keep your exhibitors engaged with year-round opportunities to interact such as sponsorship and advertising opportunities. Some form of ongoing feedback mechanism such as an Exhibitor Advisory Council is a great way to vet future changes which you are considering.

I can tell you through personal experience that maintaining a “Ritz-Carlton” level of service consistently across different types of events can be tough, but always keep in mind how a great interaction makes you feel and don’t let your conference experience be like Restaurant A. If you aren’t sure where to begin but know that you need to increase your bottom line, start by measuring your exhibitor and sponsor retention for the past three years and set your goals from there. Happy servicing! 

Are you interested in submitting a blog? Submissions can be sent to IAEE MWC Chapter Coordinator, Elizabeth Haley at [email protected].