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  • Writer's pictureAdam Malik

How Service Design Can Enhance the Digitisation of Events

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

For most events businesses and teams, the weeks before an event are some of the most hectic, which is understandable considering what is at stake. For many, it will culminate many months' worth of work. It is seemingly an accepted part of running an event. But it is wrong.


The two weeks running up to your event should be calm, controlled and precise. Giving you enough slack to pounce on opportunities that will either help you maximise the number of connections created at your event, like a fantastic keynote speaker, or solve any significant problems should they arise, like your registration company going bust. I kid you not; that happened.


Additionally, for many event teams, excellent service delivery equates to muscle memory built over the years by several individuals. Service levels can drop as people get promoted or leave, which is not a recipe for a successful Digitised Event.


There is an assumption that digitising service delivery—to achieve that focused and calm two-week run-in—is a tech-first problem. In reality, it is a process-first issue. This process-first approach is the discipline of Service Design, giving you a framework for systemic and repeatable service excellence.

Doubling down on service design makes incredible financial sense. It can reduce exhibitor churn, optimise your resources, significantly reduce on-site issues, and improve attendance at your events.


Inverting Event Service Delivery through Service Design

The service design framework enables you to map out your service delivery processes by taking a holistic view of how your product is delivered. The execution of live events relies on many external partners, and understanding how it all fits together is a vital first step to digitising your service delivery.

Inverting service design for Digitising Events means moving from asking, "What tech can we use to produce this event?" to asking, "How do we design an event that delivers maximum value at every touchpoint? And what tech can help us achieve that?"

While you may end up with a centralised help desk with a chatbot so you can tick the AI box, that in itself will not deliver maximum business value. Just tuning on the tech is like paving the goat path, making an outdated service playbook run faster.

Early Error Detection Saves Costs in Event Digitisation

Digitising Events in the context of service delivery ensures that every aspect of the event, from exhibitor boots to audience interaction, is crafted with the attendees and sponsors in mind. By focusing on the digital user experience from the onset, we can address potential issues upfront, ensuring a seamless experience for all involved.


Many events claim to be customer-oriented, but without a deep and sincere commitment to digitisation and attendee and exhibitor engagement, they fall short. The service design approach allows you to design for 'moments that matter' in each participant's journey.

The approach not only saves costs but also enhances the overall event experience. Digitisation considers the user experience, ensuring functionality, ease of use, and customer experience, leaving a lasting impression on attendees.


Breaking Silos in Event Experience Design

Service design in Digitising Events transforms the traditional event planning structure, encouraging collaboration and breaking down departmental silos. At a Digitised Event, we interconnect every aspect, and this seamless backend operation ensures a smooth attendee and exhibitor experience.


Silos can hinder innovation and collaboration, but digitisation ensures that ideas flow freely and transitions between different aspects of the event are seamless, all without the exhibitor or attendee ever being aware of the complexities backstage. This results in a more cohesive and innovative event experience.

By rigorously matching your customer touchpoints and experiences above the line of visibility with the backend teams, systems and individuals below the line of visibility, you can visually see where to join systems, revise processes or adopt new technology and what the role of that technology will be in delivering your service.


Two images of an orchestra, one chaotic and the other symphonic.
Move From Tech-First to Process-First when Digitising Service Delivery

Enhancing Business Through Value Delivery

The rapid pace of the digital world means that events must evolve to meet attendees' and exhibitors' service expectations constantly. Individuals' B2C experiences drive these expectations and will become an expected norm.


A truly customer-oriented event embeds the principles of digitisation and attendee focus into every aspect of its planning and execution. Many events claim to be customer-oriented, but without a deep and sincere commitment to digitisation and attendee and exhibitor engagement, they fall short. The service design approach allows you to design for 'moments that matter' in each participant's journey.


What if a high-value attendee received a personalised video message welcoming them as a registrant to the event? What if a repeat exhibitor, upon confirming their participation, was sent a link to choose from a selection of personalised digital swag rather than an auto-generated invoice? What if a speaker, upon confirming their attendance, were given access to burning questions submitted or voted on by attendees in their domain to help them tune their presentations?


Inverting Service Design for Digitised Events

Instead of starting with the physical booth, product demos, logistics, or technology, we begin with the essence of a Digitised Event: interactions, experiences, and the value delivered to each participant. This is the heart of inverting service design for Digitised Events. Instead of being an afterthought or a last-minute addition, service design becomes the foundation, a strategy for optimising business roles and resources to support our customer journeys. Here’s the distilled essence:


The Participant at the Pivot. At the heart of effective service design is the participant—whoever they are. It's about more than what they see and experience but how the entire service structure performs to meet their needs and expectations. Every touchpoint and every interaction is mapped out with the participant's journey at the core, ensuring that the service is as seamless as it is impactful.


Boundless Engagement with Omnichannel. The key to stellar service design is fostering rich, multi-layered interactions. It's like a well-conducted orchestra where every instrument (or, in this case, service element) plays its part flawlessly. Participants can immerse in a range of channels, each designed to offer a seamless blend of information, engagement, and value.


Live Feedback, Real Changes. Imagine a service so responsive that it adapts in real-time. Live feedback isn't just collected; it's acted upon instantly. This dynamic adaptability ensures the service is always in tune with the participants' needs, expectations, and responses. This could be particularly helpful on-site for presenters who could reference quotes or information shared just moments ago.


Magic Behind the 'Line of Visibility.' It's not just about the glitz and glam upfront but the intricate processes humming in the background. Every process, role, and resource below this line is fine-tuned to ensure that the participant-facing operation is not just delivered but is exceptional and exceeds expectations.


Capturing 'Moments that Matter.' These pivotal instances are not just identified but are catalysts for enhancement, ensuring that the service is not just responsive but is anticipatory and proactive. Understanding, identifying, and aligning behind these moments can create game-changing experiences, as detailed in the excellent book by Dan & Chip Heath, 'The Power of Moments'.


Creating a visual map of your service design lets you see where inefficiencies and bottlenecks lie. This allows you to holistically design processes that create an improved outcome for your teams, customers, and customers' customers, free of any constraints.


Design First, Buy Later: Avoid the Technology Trap

In this seeming gold rush to digitise, many event organisers jump straight to the allure of cutting-edge technology. The promise of AI-driven interactions, real-time analytics, and immersive virtual environments can be tempting.


Consider the case of a global pharmaceutical conference investing heavily in a 3D event platform. The idea was to allow attendees to "walk" through a virtual expo, interacting with booths as if they were physically present. While the technology was state-of-the-art, the user experience was a disaster. Many attendees needed help navigating the platform, which presumably would not be required. The result? There was a significant drop in engagement and a hefty bill for a platform that didn't deliver the desired outcomes.


This example underscores a critical point: technology, no matter how advanced, cannot compensate for a lack of thoughtful service design. The financial implications are stark. Beyond the immediate costs of the technology itself, there's the potential loss of engagement, brand reputation damage, and missed opportunities for meaningful connections and conversions.


Event organisers and stakeholders are not just curators of content but architects of experiences. Every touchpoint, interaction, and technological integration is an opportunity to elevate the audience's journey, transforming passive attendees into engaged participants.

The costs continue beyond there. Without a well-constructed service design, event organisers can find themselves in a cycle of continuously purchasing new technologies, hoping the next one will be the silver bullet. This reactive approach produces suboptimal results, exacerbating known issues and draining resources.


In essence, a well-defined service design is a roadmap for technology implementation. It is better to define your ideal processes on a technology-agnostic canvas than to try and retrofit a strategy to align with your technology.


As mentioned before, when done well, the design process also helps align stakeholders across different departments and functions. This is critical to invert your service design; you will likely need to tear up old procedures that cannot be done in isolation.


When designing a service this way, a fundamental part of the design process is establishing clear measurement indicators that help you track progress and make data-driven decisions to optimise the technology and service over time. You let your design dictate what available technology to use instead of having the available technology limit your outcomes.

A visual diagram of The MediaCTO's process mapping and service design template.
Service design helps align and optimise crucial processes.

Design Thinking for Seamless Service Delivery

Principles are only as good as their execution. So, how do we take these lofty concepts and tailor them to actual events with tangible results? Let's journey through some brief examples of real-world applications and draw a roadmap for you to take control of your events.


Centralised Help Desks: Efficiency Meets Experience

One real-world success story revolves around using centralised help desks at a major tech convention I was involved in. Previously, exhibitors often waded through layers of customer service or assistance channels from differing service providers, trying to address issues ranging from electrics to signage and stand build.

By centralising the help desk, event organisers created a singular, streamlined point of contact for exhibitors. The outcome? Enhanced exhibitor experience and reduced frustrations by having complete visibility across all service providers. Your takeaway: Always look for opportunities to simplify and streamline for your customer no matter how complex the back office challenge.

Chatbots & AI: The New Networking Champions?

AI chatbots have the potential to move beyond passive information tools to active networking facilitators. By embedding AI with natural language processing capabilities, participants could engage in real-time, asking complex questions and receiving immediate, contextually relevant responses.


Furthermore, these chatbots could facilitate networking sessions, connecting participants with similar interests or industry focuses.


The vision of this experience can only be achieved once an event is effectively digitised. Technologies, when aligned with participant needs, can revolutionise engagement and amplify value.


Integrating Technology with Comprehensive Service Design

Technology integration should be a strategic move grounded in a well-laid-out service design. It's not about deploying the most advanced tech and hoping for the best but utilising the right technology that aligns with the event's IAEK goals and enhances the audience's experience.


Only by having a clear understanding of the value creation for each participant can you begin to commit to technology adoption to help you activate this. So, let's have a quick look at how we do process mapping and service design for Digitised Events:


1 - Prepare a Starting Matrix. A comprehensive analysis and documentation of your existing processes and workflows is a foundational phase where the current state of your service delivery is mapped out to set the stage for what is to follow.


2 - Establish the Line of Visibility. Allowing you to delineate the elements of service that are visible to the customers from those that aren't. Balancing this line ensures that while participants and customers experience a seamless and engaging event, the backstage processes are equally streamlined and efficient. It's about ensuring that the visible interactions are as impactful as the invisible orchestration that powers them.


3 - Layering. Strategic interventions and optimisations mark the journey from your current state to the desired state. It's not a random leap but a calculated progression, where each step, each change, is informed by insights and aimed at enhancing the quality of service. This transition is anchored in data, insights, and a deep understanding of the audience's evolving needs and expectations.


4 - Identify 'Moments That Matter.' These are specific touchpoints or interactions that influence perception and experience significantly. By zeroing in on these moments and influencing core behavioural changes, we can transform the ordinary into extraordinary, turning passive attendees into engaged participants or apathetic exhibitors into champions.


For a hands-on approach, you can use our Service Design Template. It's a practical tool to map out activities and processes needed to deliver your products and services effectively. It aids in visualising and planning technology integration, ensuring it aligns with the event's objectives and the audience's needs.


The Outcome? Your Foundations for a Digitised Event

With service design leading the way, every stakeholder, from tech teams to the C-suite, is involved, ensuring the investment isn't just in technology but in aligning and optimising processes. This approach significantly de-risks the investment in technology, ensuring every dollar spent translates into tangible value for organisers and participants.


In a world where technology is ubiquitous, the differentiator isn't the platform but the experience. Service design is the unsung hero that transforms a typical event whether in-person or virtual, into an immersive, engaging, and transformative journey for every participant.


As we navigate the evolving landscape of Digitised Events, the integration of technology and service design emerges as a linchpin for success. We've explored the pitfalls of a tech-first approach and underscored the transformative power of leading with a comprehensive service design.


Event organisers and stakeholders are not just curators of content but architects of experiences. Every touchpoint, interaction, and technological integration is an opportunity to elevate the audience's journey, transforming passive attendees into engaged participants. Inverting service design in Digitising Events provides a more strategic approach to process mapping and a nuanced understanding of the line of visibility for both our teams and customers.


Integrating technology and service design isn't a choice but a necessity. We use it to catalyse and support immersive experiences and meaningful connections. As we embrace this integrated approach, we're not just keeping pace with the digital transformation but leading the charge, setting new benchmarks for excellence, innovation, and engagement in the world of Digitising Events.

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