Simplifying Your Approach to Collecting Attendee Feedback

HappyOrNot uses smiley-face indicators to measure the happiness of retail customers, airline passengers, and health-care patients. The system could make a big difference for collecting opinions from attendees and exhibitors, too.


HappyOrNot Service

HappyOrNot’s Smiley terminals make it easy for customers — or event attendees — to provide their feedback. (HappyOrNot photo)

When a meeting or a conference is over, organizers are anxious to understand what participants thought of the experience. The feedback will play a crucial role in knowing what worked, what needs to be improved, and what can be done to make next year’s program more appealing to prospective attendees and exhibitors. With that in mind, many organizers focus on crafting post-event surveys that aim to evaluate speakers, sessions, ability to accommodate dietary needs, networking opportunities, and more. They want to know everything.

For example, a recent conference I attended asked me to rank the level of value I felt I received from two keynote speakers and four breakout sessions, my level of satisfaction with the food and beverage options at the venue, and my experience with the host hotel — and those questions were confined to the first day of the program. Two more 10-question surveys followed for the other days on the program. Spoiler alert: I didn’t complete the questions.

To entice more people to offer their opinions, one company is eliminating most of the questions. The company is called HappyOrNot, and it aims to gauge one basic attitude: Are you happy or not? Collecting those responses doesn’t involve sending emails or crafting online surveys. Instead, the company uses terminals that include four buttons that range from dark green (very happy, demonstrated by a very big smiley face) to dark red (very unhappy, proven by a frowning face).

The technology, which I first read about in The New Yorker, may sound fairly basic, and that’s the entire point. “We saw that, if you make it easy, people will give feedback every day,” Heikki Väänänen, CEO of HappyOrNot, told the magazine, “even if you don’t give them a prize for doing it.”

That lack of a prize is especially notable for the events industry that often ties some type of incentive — “Submit your response, and be entered for the chance to win a $100 gift card!” — for survey completion. What’s even more notable is the number of responses these simple smiley faces are able to collect. Passengers moving through London Southend Airport have submitted more than 1.5 million smiley faces since the airport started using them in 2016.

HappyOrNot's emoticons

HappyOrNot’s emoticons (HappyOrNot artwork)

Smiley Faces Coming to Conventions

In addition to showing up in airports and retail stores, HappyOrNot’s smiley-face system is in use at the Greater Columbus Convention Center (GCCC) to measure the experience outside of education sessions. The venue installed the system in each of its 50 restrooms. Think attendees don’t want to offer perspectives on their bathroom experiences? Think again. The venue managed to collect more than 500,000 data points in less than one year. “Even though most of the data collected has been positive, we are still gathering measurable and actionable feedback,” Ryan Thorpe, assistant general manager for GCCC, said in a release about the program. “The data collected has allowed our team to resolve service issues while customers are still on the premises.”

Consider the possibilities of deploying those terminals at exit points of ballrooms and exhibit halls. Rather than waiting for attendees to return home (when they will have long forgotten how happy they were during a speaker’s session), the system can yield immediate answers. With a better idea of how happy attendees are, I’m betting that organizers will be sharing some dark green smiles, too.

The minds behind HappyOrNot aren’t the only ones who place value in how enjoyment people get out of an experience. Learn why the president of C2 Montreal believes that the only KPI is happiness.