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Host a Big Event, and Watch Your Customer Base Grow It's not all about online promotion. A fun and savvy customer-appreciation event in real life can still be just as powerful.

By Chip R. Bell Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

meinzahn | Shutterstock.com

It happens about once a year. The local bank, hardware store or real-estate firm holds their customer-appreciation event. Where I live, these events are almost always accompanied with barbeque, beer and local country music group on a flatbed trailer. Sometimes, the event is an open house for a new branch or office opening. But, the banter, banner and band is about the same.

Related: 6 Steps to Planning a Free Startup Event and Making a Splash

Too often, there are missed opportunities for turning the special gathering into a smart garnering of new or expanded business. Here are nine ways to turn a ho-hum event into a memorable one with a return on investment (ROI).

1. Create a committee of customers to help you plan the customer event.

Remember -- customers care when they share. Getting their input and feedback can help your event be more collaborative and wired for winning. And, customers with skin in the game will help you turn an okay event into a success you want.

2. Craft a publicity approach that builds a 'circus is coming to town' kind of excitement.

Don't be afraid to put a bit of P.T. Barnum into your event planning. Signs at the event site, billboards, articles in the local paper and emails that encourage current customers to bring their friends can help ensure a good turnout.

3. Ensure the time and location is convenient for your target market.

This is why a bit of customer intelligence and participation can bring accuracy and fit. After all, the event is designed for your customers and prospects. Making it convenient only to your staff is starting at the wrong end. Start with what works best for your guests.

4. Make a warm welcoming experience your top priority.

Have plenty of staff people upfront with their best smiles aimed directly at your arriving guests. How long customers hang around can be directly tied to how well you and your staff demonstrate superb, attentive hosting.

Related: Bonnaroo's Founder on Hosting a Blockbuster Bash

5. Don't forget to entertain all children who might be along.

We have all heard the adage, "If mama is not happy, no one is happy!" When it comes to customer events, that rule applies to children, not mamas. And, a bored child attending your event can be a looming problem! Make sure there are activities for children, and they get some of your hosting attention.

6. Accommodate special needs -- e.g., gluten free snacks or handicapped-accessible rest rooms.

Even if your visitors have no special needs, they appreciate it if you have been attentive to that possibility. How you care for those with special physical needs tells customers or prospects a lot about how you will manage their special-service needs.

7. Add a feature that gets people talking -- a magician, a famous sports hero signing autographs, a mime, etc.

People remember events that have something special or unique. Good food and good music are assumed. Look for adding a feature that becomes the talk of the town. Stay away from politicians wanting votes or controversial people seeking attention. Events with a delightful buzz lead to customers eager to return.

8. Create ways to capture contact information from those in attendance -- e.g., a drawing for a prize.

There are some attendees you know well, especially if they are loyal customers. But the goal of customer events should be more than just a "thank you." It should be a way to help you grow your business.

9. Include an unexpected generous action during your event.

Show your generosity by thoughtful gestures that thank guests for attending. Wash parked cars during your event. Provide lots of logo-ed takeaways. Create "today only" deep discounts. Give to your guests the best that you have -- and the best will likely come back to you.

Related: Hire Professional Moderators So Your Event Panels Don't Suck

The customer event should not end when the last person has departed. Plan a way to follow-up with those who attended -- and follow-up soon after the customer event. When you follow-up, be sure to thank customers or prospects for attending and let them know you are eager to serve them. Don't let your customer event fizzle like a balloon overnight. Turn it into a hit with thoughtful planning and careful attention to your guests.

Chip R. Bell

Keynote Speaker, Author and Customer-Loyalty Consultant

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books including his newest, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service. He can be reached at www.chipbell.com.

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