I just got back from Chicago. Fabulous trip! I was hired to do a couple presentations for the Diamond Retailer Summit hosted by Diamond Comics Distributors. I did two talks—Selling in a Showrooming World and Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget. I also got to do something new for me. I had a booth during their afternoon showcase. I have visited several booths over the years, but this was the first time I got to have a booth under the banner of Phil’s Forum.
I knew a little about having booths in big convention halls from my friends who own toy and baby product companies. I knew I wanted to have a booth I could carry in by myself, that wouldn’t take any special tools to build, and wouldn’t require electricity. We were in McCormick Place in Chicago and it wasn’t in my budget to pay for any “help.”
The McCormick Place website was helpful in giving me some basic information. I got my parking pass in advance so that I would have a guaranteed space in Lot A. I knew I was in the South Building, fourth floor, so I would have to take the sky bridge from parking to my building. All was good.
Until I got off the highway.
The signs leading to Lot A were all but nonexistent. I only saw one, vaguely over an area of road where several roads converged. I never knew if I was in the proper lane. I was about to turn around, thinking I had gone too far when the turn I made actually led me directly into the parking lot, surprise, surprise. One frustration down.
My signs for my booth weren’t heavy. A little awkward, but those fancier, lightweight, compact signs just weren’t in the budget. I made my way from the garage across the sky bridge into the South Building. It was dark. I was in the lobby of the building in front of the grand ballroom and rooms S101-S104. There were two big escalators, neither working. There were elevators at both ends of the lobby, neither working. There was a sign with a map of the different levels telling me I was in the South Building on Level 1, and showing that my room—S401—was also in the South Building on Level 4.
Nowhere on that sign did it give me any indication I needed to leave the South Building and go to the main entrance between the North & South Buildings to find a working elevator to get me to the 4th floor. Nowhere was there a sign to let me know that the 4th floor rooms were all the way in the back of the building, another quarter mile from where I was standing, lost, looking at their signs, or that I would have to either maneuver my signs up escalators or traverse a snaking path between the two buildings to get there. Nowhere was there any person at the bottom of the escalator from the sky bridge to direct traffic for people coming in from Lot A.
After finding a working elevator to get me to the fourth floor, I then hiked the snaking pathway between the North and South buildings until finally finding my way to room S401. (Did I mention my signs were not heavy, but awkward? By now they were feeling much heavier than when I started.)
Once I got to my room and stopped sweating, my day went infinitely better. The talks were home runs (at least that’s the immediate feedback I got.) The booth time was excellent. I met some fascinating people and may have some incredible new opportunities. The food was pretty yummy, too. All in all it was an awesome day!
Then I had to head back.
Not wanting to do the snaking pathway back along the fourth floor, I took the elevator at the back of the building down to the first floor. Rookie mistake. There are no signs anywhere that tell you the “first floor” at the back elevator is not the same “first floor” as the front elevator. Now I was lost deep in the bowels of the convention center. Fortunately, a friendly security guard directed me up a couple escalators that got me back to an area I recognized.
He admitted the signage was lacking greatly and what signage they did have was confusing. He assured me I wasn’t the first person who had made this mistake.
Let’s stop right there. “He assured me I wasn’t the first person who had made this mistake.”
If there is a “mistake” a customer has made interacting with your business, that’s a potential red flag for you. If it happens once, then it might be the customer’s fault. If it happens more than once, you have a problem you need to fix.
If multiple customers don’t know what to do or where to go, that’s on you, not them. Somewhere along the way, you haven’t made it clear what they need to do next.
This could be a problem on your website where the call-to-action isn’t clear on each page. This could be a problem with your checkout if people don’t know where to line up or put their merchandise. This could be a problem with your services if people don’t know how they work or what they have to do or where they have to go.
If you have this problem, might I suggest a sign or two? There should have been a clear sign at the bottom of the escalator from the sky bridge when I entered the South Building telling me where to go. If not that, there should have been a person stationed there to direct traffic. There should have been clear signage at the back elevator explaining that it did not lead to the same “first floor”.
McCormick Place opened in 1960, expanded several times, and is the largest convention center in North America. This isn’t their first rodeo. They should know better by now. The security guard knew it. He shouldn’t be apologizing for mistakes made by someone else. Maybe he has complained before, but no one listened. Maybe he never bothered to complain because he figured no one would listen.
There are things you should know better, too. Make sure you are listening and actively looking for those “mistakes” that can be easily corrected.
PS Yes, I probably missed something along the way. I’m not perfect. But I do like to think of myself as somewhat observant. If I missed it (and I was looking for it), I’m sure others did, too. Here is the thing, though. If your customers are made to feel stupid—even if it is their own mistake—they won’t come back. If your customers are made to feel comfortable, they will come back. If your customers are made to feel wonderful, they’ll bring their friends back with them.
PPS I am ready for my next visit to McCormick Place. If you’re looking for a dynamic speaker who isn’t afraid to admit he got lost in a convention center, who likes to learn from his mistakes, and is willing to use what he has learned from all his mistakes over the years to help you succeed, give me a holler.