Behind the Scenes

Feeling the Love

Trade shows and exhibitions are rooted in retailing, but are they keeping up with that industry’s rapidly changing trends?

About 15 years ago, the mother of my daughter’s friend, who was a manager at a Chico’s store, convinced me to buy a few items from the women’s clothing and accessories chain’s “Travelers” collection. They were wrinkle-resistant outfits that you could bunch up in a ball in your luggage yet looked great straight out of the suitcase, no iron needed. After spending a certain amount at Chico’s, I achieved “Passport Member” status, which entitled me to a regular discount and a host of other benefits.

I quickly became a regular shopper, and not just for myself. I loved seeing my mom look chic in the Chico’s outfits I bought her for birthdays and special occasions. When she passed away last year, I found hundreds of dollars worth of Chico’s items hanging unworn in her closet, tags still attached. Their presence was a sad reminder of how her illness had robbed her of so many opportunities to get out.

Wanting to return the items and give my dad a cash refund, I sent an email to a Chico’s customer-service representative that explained my situation. I received a cheery reply (“So sorry for your loss!”), followed by a copy of Chico’s return policy – returns were not accepted after 90 days.

I’m not a pushy person, so normally I would have just let it go at that. But having heard Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh speak only a few months earlier at PCMA 2011 Convening Leaders about how Zappos customer-service reps are empowered to use their own judgment to reward and refund customers – and how that has created incredible customer loyalty – I had a different perspective. It took some digging, but I found the email address for Chico’s president, and let her know that for a company that was all about making customers feel special, I wasn’t feeling the love.

Within hours, she sent me a personal email apology, promising to set things right. That same day, the VP of Chico’s called me at home to schedule an appointment for me to return the items at my closest store. And a few weeks later, a gift card with a thank-you for being a valued customer, handwritten by the VP, arrived in the mail. Needless to say, my experience has created a lasting emotional connection with the brand.

What does all of this have to do with the meetings and conventions industry? As Convene Senior Editor Barbara Palmer writes in this month’s cover story and CMP Series feature, “Exhibit Hall to Exhibit Mall” (, trade-show organizers and exhibitors are taking a page from the retailing industry by recognizing the power of making an emotional connection on the show floor. They’re beginning to scratch the surface of how to customize each attendee’s experience by harnessing technology. Or, at the very least, they’re making it easier for them to tailor it themselves. Because, as with their other shopping experiences, tradeshow attendees want to feel the love.

Learning by Design

Deloitte University is a new learning center for the exclusive use of Deloitte employees. So why would we showcase a facility that is not available to other groups? Because the way that William Pelster, Deloitte’s managing principal for talent development, designed the space says a lot about how adults learn (

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.