Maritz Global Events Blog

Getting Burned by Attendee Churn? What It Is and Why it Happens

Without fail, it happens every year. A certain percentage of your conference participants don’t return, don’t renew their association membership. They disappeared.

This is attendee churn.

A little is expected.

A lot raises eyebrows in the executive offices, which is something no one wants to experience.

Let's explore how to calculate churn and the five primary reasons for it. In the next few weeks, we’ll cover proactive ways to stop attendee churn in its tracks.

How Attendee Churn is Calculated

Here’s a simple annual meeting churn formula:

(Attendance at last year’s conference – Attendance at this year’s event)/Attendance at last year’s conference = Churn Rate

Now, let’s plugin sample raw attendance numbers:

600 – 550/600 = 8% Churn

However, this only tells a partial story.

The 550 attendees at this year’s conference don’t specify the number of new attendees.

Let’s say you had 100 first-timers. It’s only fair to take them out of the equation to understand your real turnover rate.

600-450/600 = 25% Churn

Big difference, right?

Key Stats and Questions

Here are the ultimate kickers when it comes to gaining new attendees (customers in the case of the research below).

According to Harvard Business Review, it’s between 5-25 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep a current one.

Research completed by Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company shows increasing customer retention rates by five percent increases profits by 25-95 percent.

Given this research, does your company or association have the time, energy, and funding to mine for new attendees every year?

The even bigger question is: Why don't your attendees come back?

The Attendee Story

Sometimes, individuals will tell you why they are not returning.

But most likely, they won’t share the whole story.

Which can leave you with four alternatives:

  • Ignore the feedback (i.e., it’s a fluke year, the location was wrong, etc.)
  • Take educated guesses as to what happened
  • Drill down with better questions and/or
  • Do some sleuth work of your own

The last two options will require more time, but the information you’ll receive can help shape better conferences.

However, even with the best answers, you still may experience churn for the following five reasons.

Why Attendee Churn Happens

1. Your competition offers a better conference.

Attendees usually come to a conference for three reasons: to learn something new, see breakthrough products and have a chance to grow their network.

If your competition offers the same agenda with double the attendance at half the cost, you have your work cut out for you.

2. You’re raising rates.

Do your registration and hotel costs go up each year? Do you always have your event in tier-one cities and stay in downtown properties?

Passing these expenses along to the attendee makes it problematic to "sell" your conference to their management, especially if there’s a steep increase.

3. Arduous registration process.

According to Salesforce, 74 percent of people are likely to switch brands if they find the purchasing process too complicated.

4. Your conference is too broad in scope.

Perhaps you are trying to appeal to CEOs, CFOs and directors of marketing. Each of these positions requires different education tracks. Their network is unique as well.

5. You’re not listening fully or responding swiftly.

Perhaps you have a group of vegan attendees, and their meal requirements were ignored. Or attendees filled out feedback forms with complaints and never received a response.

Remember, you only have one chance to impress them.

Consider this: According to an American Express Customer Service Barometer, 33 percent of Americans said they consider switching companies after just a single instance of poor service.

Now that we know a little more about attendee churn and why it happens, we’ll soon dig in and learn about creative ways to address each of these challenges.

De-de Mulligan is the President and Chief Content Strategist for Mulligan Management Group. As a former meeting planner who has received Ohio MPI’s Planner of the Year award twice (2006 & 2012), she brings a unique perspective to these blog posts.