We talk to Layla Northern, Global Head of Digital Customer Research, about RX Global’ ‘COVID Customer Need and Mindset Barometer’ ‒ a global tracking survey which is helping to identify changing customer event attitudes and needs, and inform decision making at every level of the company.

Q. What is the COVID Customer Need and Mindset Barometer?

Developed by RX Global’ Global Digital Insights team, and involving nearly 3,000 exhibitors and over 9,000 visitors events across 20 business units, it’s the biggest and most ambitious research project we have ever undertaken. It’s a monthly tracking survey of how COVID is impacting on our customers, from a personal and a business perspective. The first wave was published in July, establishing a benchmark against which we can understand how best to evolve our products, services and communications in line with our customers’ changing needs, at a global and local level.

Q. How did the research come about?

A. When COVID-19 struck my team quickly began gathering and sharing external data on the general public’s feelings about the pandemic. But we had no comparable data on our customers’ needs and mind-set and the potential implications for our business. The research was pulled together at unprecedented scale and speed and couldn’t have been done without the support of our business units. It shows the power of what can be achieved when we collaborate.

Q. Can you tell us more about the content of the survey and what we hope to learn?

A. There are two parts to the survey. The first is the tracking section in which the questions are the same each month. This is designed to reveal customer attitudes to travel, personal health and safety, their business challenges, their feelings about attending trade shows (drivers and barriers) and what they want from a trade show in the ‘new normal’ in terms of safeguarding and business needs. The questions in the second section change each month enabling us to take a deep dive into customer responses to virtual shows and tools. This will help us to identify new business opportunities and customer needs as they arrive and create a funnel for product development.

Q. The Wave 1 results were published in July. What were the key findings?

A. There were so many valuable findings, but I will just focus on three.  Firstly, the data revealed that visitors were more open to attending events in the ‘new normal’ than exhibitors gave them credit for, highlighting an opportunity to reassure our exhibitors. Secondly, uncertain times lead to new behaviours. 83% of customers have tried at least one new digital service since lockdown; 42% of customer globally have tried online learning for the first time; and 62% said they would be likely to sign up to a digital trade show. In short, they are pragmatic about digital tools and open to finding new ways to meet their objectives.  Thirdly, physical shows remain important to our exhibitors and visitors; however they are understandably wary about attending and have clear expectations around health and safety which we are working to reassure them on through regular and consistent communication.

Q. How is the research being used?

A. It’s not often you do a piece of research that reveals so many things to so many people. Our Exhibition Leadership Team, and Commercial team are using it to help plan and implement global strategy.  At the same time, every participating business has access to their own data enabling them to get really granular with the findings. It’s empowering for show teams to be able to read the pulse of their customers. Critically too, our digital and customer insight teams in GTech are using the findings to help define and develop our digital offerings. Our business has been pretty smart and nimble in developing virtual tools, and the next wave of research will explore their appeal and potential in more detail.

Q. What do the initial findings tell us about our overall response to COVID so far, and the challenges and opportunities ahead?

Nothing we have learned tells us we have taken a wrong turn on this so far. Our response feels appropriate and useful to our customers, and this gives us confidence that we are moving in the right direction. Everyone has worked so hard to deliver for their customers through this pandemic and it’s heartening to be able to demonstrate that our customers are open to our efforts and engaging with them. None of us are under any illusions about the challenges ahead, but with the help of these monthly insights we have a much better chance of navigating our way through them.