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What it’s like to attend the Medallia Experience conference

I finally got to attend a Medallia Experience conference, and just like with my write up of the Qualtrics X4 event last year, I’d like to share my experiences and learnings.

First, it’s hard not to compare two events. Both companies compete head to head with each other for customers. But in this post, I’ll just say that Medallia Experience feels much more like a general CX conference, whereas Qualtrics X4 is a magnitude bigger and much more unusual in their approach.

Location and Attendees

The event took place at the Wynn, which has all you can expect from a 5-star casino resort with a golf course in Las Vegas. An impressive hotel with crazy art and light shows, opulent decorations, non-stop gambling and a Balenciaga store for those few that get lucky. The rooms were large, comfy and high-tech enabled. If you were one of the important attendees, you got a view of the Sphere. VIPs saw a show there during the event. One person shared that it’s unlike anything he experienced before.

The long corridors at the Wynn, Medallia's conference venue

There were more people than I expected. I saw representatives of most major banks, airlines, hotels and casinos - Medallia’s bread and butter enterprise customers. But there were also some large tech companies. There was an unexpectedly high ratio of Medallia employees. It makes sense to bring as many people as possible to spend time with customers and learn what matters to them. I saw very few people who weren’t yet customers of Medallia.

The Keynotes

The CEO’s Joe Tyrell’s keynote was a highlight for me. The cool visuals signaled that this is a company that cares about high tech and the story itself was both funny and relatable. This year Medallia announced a self-service agile market research suite and 4 innovations in Generative AI. The ultimate focus is on unlocking the value unstructured data holds. Joe stated that the only way we can personalize experiences at scale is if we organize and tag all data in a granular way.

As someone who worked in AI and CX for many years I was really excited to hear that the industry is headed into the direction I envisioned when we founded Thematic. Last year, we wrote about how Atlassian built infinite customer feedback loop using AI which is based on similar ideas: personalized connection with users through granular feedback analytics.

Of course, any conversation about AI also needs to talk about trust. Medallia’s Chief Product Officer Simonetta Turek said that “trust is underlying everything”, and the company wants to cultivate trust in AI by launching an AI advisory board. At Thematic, we’ve learned early on that trust is critical when it comes to AI-powered analysis and created tools that provide transparency into how AI makes decisions. It’s a different approach, but one that resonates well with researchers and insights managers.

After a few short product demos, Kristin Bell entertained us in a light-hearted interview. The audience loved how relatable she was, a mum who juggles work and career. But, after so much focus on the value of data, I was surprised to hear that Kristin believes that it’s best to make decisions using your gut. She did comment that it’s good to be a contrarian.

Kristin Bell - Celebrity speaker at Medallia

I was curious about what the attendees thought about Medallia’s keynotes. Kristin was unanimously adored! But when it came to other announcements, the opinions were mixed. One attendee shared “I’m excited to try this out as soon as I can. I’d like to see if it really works as predicted”. Another said “I guess I’m skeptical… I’ve been coming to these events for years. There’s always lots of excitement about new tech, but it takes a long time until we get to see it, if at all.”

In a sponsor hall dominated by Medallia and flanked by a dozen partner vendors, users could try some but not all of the new offerings. The largest booth was AI focused. You could see a demo of AskAthena, a ChatGPT like interface that lets you ask questions about your customer data. The demo was impressive and had a well-designed interface. The best part of the solution was the integration with customer profiles. For example, you could ask what are the most common issues at the hotel, and then click through to 15 people who mentioned bad breakfast, including their email addresses.

The Sessions

To dig deeper into AI, CX, EX and ROI, Medallia Experience had a packed agenda of sessions led by Medallia product people, consultants / speakers and practitioners. A majority of sessions I attended were very good, although some were a bit light on substance. Below, I’ll share a few personal highlights, but I only got to see a few, and I’m sure I missed out on some really great sessions.

Chrissy Hura from Scientific Games did a great job explaining how her team links issues in digital experience to ROI. For example, if 22% of account registrations have difficulty completing, it’s relatively easy to calculate missed revenue ($125,000 per day) and customer service costs to support these issues ($100,000 per month).

Katelyn MacKenzie and Chris Watkins from Global Payments talked about getting executive buy-in with insights and analytics. There was too much focus on fluctuation in NPS driven by low volumes. By using a 3-month rolling graph, they reduced volatility in metrics. They switched the focus to text analytics to help them identify what’s driving them.  

Rosanna Stephens and Alison Lutjemeier gave an excellent presentation on how to act on product feedback at Adobe. A centralized approach that creates alignment across teams is critical here. Given that Adobe combines a variety of both B2C and B2B brands, their team had to design a complex solution that uses AI/ML, drives discovery and action, improves products and processes while closing the feedback loop with customers. The focus on alignment of stakeholder and shared use reminded me of the story we published about how LinkedIn approaches these goals using Thematic.

Anne Louise Mason from Capital One drew the parallel between finding Wally (or Waldo) and text analytics. You are trying to find aspects of customer experiences that are similar. Because then you can quantify how common they are, their impact on CX metrics and start prioritizing actions. They found it useful to utilize multiple taxonomies to put different lenses on feedback. But they need to be managed centrally.

Finally, a big draw was a keynote by Fred Reichelt from Bain who started his talk with a funny joke:

— Where are mediocre things made?
— At a satis-factory!

He shared his rationale behind inventing NPS: Satisfaction is not enough! It’s not inspiring and company performance does not correlate with the American Customer Satisfaction Index. For NPS, Bain did countless studies that prove that it’s linked to financial performance. That said, he thinks that inventing NPS is the biggest mistake he ever made. It makes people obsessed about the scores rather than what’s driving them, and NPS surveys are often misused to the detriment of both customers and the accuracy of the approach.

The solution? Earned Growth. A new metric Reichelt put forward in his new book that’s more powerful than both NPS and simple accounting metrics. If you want to learn more about the metric and its pros and cons, Forrester summarized Earned Growth really well in their post.

Women Empowerment

Today, big brands like to align themselves with core global issues. While for Qualtrics it was fighting cancer, for Medallia it was the empowerment of women. It started in the CEO’s keynote, who mentioned his daughters and the challenges they face growing up. Kristin Bell talked about the importance of believing in yourself.

Lunch at the Women's Leadership Lancheon 

On the last day of the conference, Medallia hosted a Women’s Leadership Luncheon. After a nice 3-course meal we got to hear from two impressive speakers: Pipe Hare and Sarah Hauser.

Pip Hare is the eighth woman in the world to ever finish a round the world yacht race, and the only female CEO of an international yacht race team. She shared that what she loves about sailing is that the ocean doesn’t care whether she is a man or a woman. Only when she comes on land she is reminded of the differences and the inequalities.

Sarah Hauser is an award winning windsurfer and Guinness World Record holder for Largest Wave Windsurfed. She shared her approach to overcoming challenges she faces in training. If you are stuck at a plateau, write a list of reasons why you do what you do. This will help you challenge yourself and manage even the toughest days.

A great opportunity to connect with like-minded people. I only wish it was better advertised as there were many empty seats.

The Wrap

My absolute favorite part of Medallia Experience was that it wasn’t huge, so you kept running into the same people, which really helped to build meaningful connections with others in the industry. It also didn’t feel salesy, while offering plenty of opportunities to learn about the product to those who attended.

Lastly, I’d like to say that I’m grateful for the opportunity to attend. Thematic integrates with both Qualtrics and Medallia to help companies that aren’t happy with the out-of-the-box solutions to analysis of unstructured feedback. For example, if someone uses Medallia but isn’t happy with their Text Analytics, but they don’t want to switch to Qualtrics, they buy Thematic to get more granular and specific insights. In any case, both at Qualtrics X4 and at Medallia I felt welcome.

If you get a chance to attend the Medallia conference next year, definitely do it! It’s a great place to learn and connect with likeminded people.

... Bonus photo: The Sphere, which I hope to visit on my next trip to Las Vegas!

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