“I think the true purpose of online registration is to create a one-to-one relationship between the event organizer and the registrant without having met them. Through a properly designed registration website, the registrant should be fully informed about the event beforehand, and they should be able to inform the event organizer what their personal desires and needs are. The event organizer in turn, should pay attention to those wishes on an individual basis and be able to deliver them.” – Mark Turner, CEO of DotCom Your Event Inc.
Historically, the collection of attendee data was done in a variety of ways – from telephone call-in to mail with cheques. As technology progressed, so did the ability to be more proficient at collecting registration data. The introduction of Excel and other database management systems meant the organizer could keep track of those that registered. Registrations could now come in from fax machines and be input into the database. With the advent of email and acceptance of credit cards, this became another way attendees could register.
The biggest challenge with these methods is human error. An employee of the organizing committee had to transcribe all the information and the margin for error was great; attendees often didn’t complete the form and the organizers had to make phone calls to get the information; if a credit card was declined, it could take some time to track down the attendee and rectify this (similar circumstances for a cheque that was not good). Most important was the lack of security. Forms could be lost in the mail, faxed to the wrong location or emails hacked into and credit cards could then be misused.
Much of this has been rectified with the use of web-based registration systems. Credit cards are encrypted; credit card holders are immediately notified if their card is not acceptable; drop down menus and ‘must complete’ fields ensure the correct information is input by the attendee. All this happens in the blink of an eye in today’s world. As this article is being written in summer 2012, mobile registration apps are just beginning to hit the conference world. What does the future hold for registration technology?
Let’s take a step back and look at the reasons we collect registration information:
- To ensure we have all relevant information about the attendee, perfectly coded, so that the attendee is well looked after on-site
- To ensure the attendee has electronically paid for the conference/event
- To collect marketing/demographic information about the attendee
Today, it is the attendee that looks after the first reason, and it is the organizer’s job to ensure such questions as dietary and other needs are requested to ensure the safety of the attendee on-site. No longer does the organizer have to decipher how a name, etc. is spelled to ensure a correct name badge. If the attendee doesn’t input it correctly, it is essentially their fault (always corrected on-site of course). An incorrectly input credit card number will not go through. If a required field is not complete, the attendee cannot finalize registration. That’s the easy part.
Let’s look at number three – collecting data. The organizer must determine ahead of time what data needs to be collected. In the early days, we were lucky to have a separate code for each direct mail piece and could manually record that code to see which piece produced the most attendees (assuming the attendee completed this portion). Now, with technology, we can tell down to the nanosecond when someone registered. With the stroke of a key, we can determine if the person is a member or non-member, which breakouts they want to attend, how many conferences they have attended and so much more.
Do we use this information to benefit the conference, or do we just ‘file it away’? I ask each of you that is responsible for registration to think about the objective of every question you ask on a registration form. How will you use it? Will you use the time of registration to help you pace your marketing pieces? Do you really need to know if the person enjoyed the year before conference? How will knowing the number of conferences a person attended help the organizers develop the program? Every question asked needs an objective and analysis post-conference – or don’t ask it.
To paraphrase, “registration has come a long way, baby!”