What is it like to attend the Qualtrics X4 Summit? And is it worth it?
Have you ever heard of Burning Man? It's a festival known for being the most unconventional event in the US. Well, I've been there, and let me tell you, Qualtrics X4 is a lot like that.
It's a conference full of surprises, where you can expect the unexpected. For instance, where else would you find the Killers performing or Martha Stewart as a keynote speaker?
The conference is so large that it's impossible to experience everything it has to offer. With 10 breakout sessions happening simultaneously, you'll be torn between choosing at least three to attend.
One of the most remarkable things about X4 is the sheer number of attendees who share your interests. Even though this year's event had "only" 10,000 attendees, it was still filled with like-minded people. You'll likely know a few people who are also attending. However, it can be challenging to connect with them or make plans because so much is going on.
Just like at Burning Man, everyone will ask if it's your first time at X4. This year, I attended and can no longer be considered an “X4 newbie”!
If you are thinking of attending the next X4, let me summarize my experience for you.
Advertised vs. Delivered Experience at Qualtrics X4 - 4 out of 5
Qualtrics X4 was advertised as featuring celebrity speakers, professionals from leading brands, entertainment, and a deep-dive into product knowledge. Based on my experience, the event delivered on these promises.
However, while attendees did get what was advertised, they were also bombarded with constant messages about the company's new suite of products. One attendee shared his frustration with me:
“I get it, they have a new front-line experience product. First time they shared it, I was interested to learn about it. The second time, it was also ok to hear about it. But by the 10th time, I was annoyed that they are pushing this new product to me even though there are much more mature products in the market. I would have rather learned about how to get more out of their existing products.”
That said, on the first day of the summit, before the main part of the event started, there were expert-led sessions. One of the attendees I met said she came away with good tips to try out.
The Qualtrics keynotes at X4 Summit - 3 out of 5
Not an early riser, I arrived a little late for both Qualtrics' keynotes. But I saw tweets that the first day started with a dance performance by a Ukrainian dance group. As a Ukrainian, I found that to be a nice touch.
For me, the product launches themselves were interesting, even if it was hard to know what was marketing and what was real. Having spent over 20 years of my life studying how to extract meaning from text, my focus always felt niche.
At X4, Qualtrics CEO Zig Serafin took this technology mainstream! He presented XM Discover (former Clarabridge), a solution for understanding customer feedback at scale in front of an audience of 10K people. Since this is exactly what we do at Thematic, this validation was exciting! Here's a quick overview of Thematic vs. TextIQ vs. Discover/Clarabridge, if you are looking at text analytics in your role.
That said, the Qualtrics' keynotes were a constant stream of case studies and product launches, as well as occasional guilt trips “if you aren’t jumping on this, you will fail for sure!”
It was hard to escape these pitches, because the daily keynote is a three hour long marathon between breakfast and lunch. There are no other options, other than doing some work in the hallway or taking a rest in the hotel room. People wanted to hear from the celebrity speakers, but it wasn’t possible to know when they would be on. So most people attended the full keynote sessions.
Celebrity Speakers at X4 Summit - 4 out of 5
The celebrity speakers this year were Malala Yousafzai, Martha Stewart, and Chip and Joanna Gaines from HGTV’s Fixer Upper. Unfortunately Ryan Reynolds did not show up, because he caught Covid.
Like many, I wondered what these celebrities had to do with "experience management". I've learned that the connection is marginal. Qualtrics, like Thematic, make Voice of Customer software. Malala Yousafzai talked about how her father gave her a voice by letting her sit at the table from the age of eight. This has shaped her inspirational career.
But really, when it comes to celebrities, it’s about the attendee experience! Many companies went to the event as a team, and they now have shared memories: “Remember the time we saw Martha Stewart joke about how she loves the beats!”
Industry Keynotes at X4 Summit - 4.5 out of 5
The industry keynotes were by Cheryl Grise, Head of Americas Industry at EY, Johnny Taylor, CEO of SHRM, Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Airlines, CEO Kevin Warren, CMO of UPS, and Jill Krammer, CMO of Accenture.
The Delta Airline’s CEO presentation felt like an advert for Delta. But I liked all other keynotes that I saw.
Johnny Taylor stole the show. An amazing stage presence and delivery, plus interesting material. His talk was focused on employee expectations vs. reality, and how this has changed over the past few years.
Remember the Great Resignation? He shared an interesting fact: 80% of people who quit over the past 2 years regret it. Employee now are sticking with the company, but instead of “Quiet Quitting” we are now in the age of “Resent-eeism”: “I can’t afford to quit, but I’m pissed! You aren’t paying me enough and want me to come into the office!”
Despite what’s happening in the job market today, employee’s expectations are still high. According to Johnny, they are “way beyond reality”.
There was a similarly informative talk from Cheryl Grise on the needs of GenZ. All messages that highlight the importance of Qualtrics’ new front-line and employee experience management products.
Finally, there was one keynote that was a bit different. It was by a dance psychologist Peter Lovatt. He is an older gentleman who survived cancer and wrote the book “The dance cure”. With his amazing moves he got everyone dancing and grooving. Why is it important? He shared that studies show that “if we move together, we like each other more”. But ultimately, a bit of movement was critical to “survive” sitting down for 3h to watch all the keynotes.
The breakout sessions at X4 Summit - 4 out of 5
Overall all content I watched has been great. It’s only a shame that so many sessions were concurrent!
The breakout sessions were set up in a huge warehouse like area, with 3-4 sessions happening right next to each other. Each attendee wore headphones that were connected to their presenter’s mic. I haven’t seen this setup before!
I liked that I didn't have to struggle to hear what the speaker was saying. I found that the volume worked great, and could be adjusted. The headphones were comfortable.
Unfortunately, it felt like I couldn't jump from session to session easily. For starters, there was a big airport security-like queue to get into each session with people scanning you (annoying!). Also, headphones needed to be returned for cleaning, which created an extra step.
At the end of each sessions, attendees lined up to the microphone to ask questions, which connected to headphones. This worked really well. Often the Q&A session had more interesting insights than the session itself.
Here is a sample of sessions that I attended, so that you can get a feel for what it’s like attending Qualtrics X4 breakout sessions.
Amanda Peterson from Google Fiber talked about the importance of cultivating brand love. For researchers it’s all about asking the right kinds of questions to learn what drives the creation of value for the customers. Here’s why our usual approach doesn’t work:
She also spoke about empowering everyone in your company with customer data. Because then everyone will be part of your mission to make your brand lovable! “Everyone needs access to data all the time but they aren’t analysts, they want to mess around.”
“Is Trust important?” asked an attendee. Amanda shared that “trust” means different things to different generations and that brand love is foundational to build trust.
I also attended a panel on how to track customer experience and measure its impact on business outcomes. Lead by EY’s Vijay Nidumolu, this session included both CX and EX leaders from companies like RingCentral, Adobe, Nabors, and Prologis.
Akshay Srivastava from RingCentral talked about digital experience being table stakes. People expect it, so how can companies enable it. People don’t want to wait to speak to someone. Using virtual support agents means that they can get to answers faster.
When it comes to measuring digital experience, Akshay highlighted that customer attention is shorter than it has ever been. So surveys must become shorter by using more open-ended questions. Michele Muse from Nabors talked about listening to customers across all touch points in real time. Nathan Horner from Adobe said that instead of sending out a survey, they mine existing data.
When it comes to metrics, as usual there was a question about NPS. Use it or lose it? Depending on the environment, it’s a great starting point but other metrics such as customer effort and CSAT might be better.
Akshay highlighted that it’s less about an NPS score, but about the quality of open-ends. If you don’t get many responses and they are neutral, it indicates that you don’t have “customer love”. When customers are indifferent, you can get disrupted easily.
One great question came from a junior data analyst working with customer feedback. She shared that she feels like she is at the bottom of the totem pole. She is passionate about doing the right thing by the customer and has access to data. But she's not sure how to get this message to the top and get buy-in from all the stakeholders.
Michelle recommended the strategy of “planting seeds”. Instead of giving a big presentation, talk to many people over a period of time and share your message. Nathan recommended to find a critical person he called a “lead pin that will knock down all other pins”, and get them on your side. Akshay highlighted the importance of financial data. Figure out how much money the company can make, then go to the highest level person you can reach and tell them. The time of hierarchies is gone. “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”
There was also a great presentation by Raj Sivasubramanian from AirBnB on the power of stories. He talked about shifting his team from making data-heavy reports to sharing targeted insights. Instead of explaining 1% movements in scores, he recommended to prepare custom insights packages that are more valuable for stakeholders. He recommended to use video to capture customer feedback and shared tips on how to make sure people watch it. “Don’t shy away from being the Squeaky Wheel” he said. Here’s an example of the messaging he used to make his colleagues watch customer feedback.
Ultimately, he shared that some leaders are head driven and others are heart driven. A combo of data and stories will be always required to drive systemic change rather than individual actions.
The evening entertainment at Qualtrics X4 - 5 out of 5
I’ve been to many conferences and none had entertainment as good as this. In fact, I didn't realize that conferences are supposed to entertain. But it felt so natural that any other event without any will feel bare.
There were two big nights at the event. On the first night, most people had dinner elsewhere and then returned for the “5 for the Fight Night” event. I wasn't sure what to expect. But I found myself tear up when a group of people battling cancer and cancer survivors, including a little boy, filled the stage.
In-between the stories, we saw great dance performances from various groups. One British attendee pointed out that they shouldn't have used women dancing in sequinned underpants on the week of International Women’s day.
Some said that the evening was cheesy in that certain American way, which I agree it was. But I also loved to see Qualtrics founder Ryan Smith highlight the importance of cancer research. This horrible disease affects most of us. So using this event as an opportunity to raise funds for cancer research is a great idea.
On the second night, some dispersed for Happy Hour event like the one we hosted! Later everyone got together for a food truck party with Tony Hawk performing on a giant skate half-pipe. It was a great opportunity to chat with other attendees.
The Killers concert started as programmed at 9pm and finished promptly at 10pm.
It was a real concert with the visuals, the confetti, and the strobe lights! Many people didn’t know who the Killers were, but most have heard at least one or two songs on the radio. There were plenty of fans too who had a great dance.
I was told that both entertainment performances were much better if you got close to the stage. Next time I shall save some energy to do that!
The food, the drinks, the swag and the queues - 4 out of 5
The organization overall was great! This is a well run conference, apart from occasional queues that can be avoided with a bit of pre-planning.
There has always been plenty of food and drink. Breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner were provided. I was most impressed by the fact that there were almost no queues for food, and they never ran out.
That said, in particular entertainment is much better with a bit of social lubricant: a glass of wine or a beer. The drinks were sold on both nights, but the queues were very long. You would probably miss half of the Killers concert if you were unlucky and stood in the longest line of the event.
So next time, do attend a Happy Hour or grab a drink at a bar, before turning up for the party. Another strange thing was separate queues for spirits and wine / beer. On the Killers night, I ended up standing in the beer only queue, but at least the beer was on the house!
Speaking of queues, bring a light jacket! There was a coat check, but the line was super long!
Get swag on the second day or during the keynote. Standing for 30 min in line for a pair of socks and a pencil is a strange way of maximizing the value of a $1,799 event ticket. Even if they did have a cool design! I did like that the swag was kind of environmentally friendly, compared to other events. And my kids loved it.
The summary - So is Qualtrics X4 Summit worth it?
My answer is a resounding yes! Most of all, this is a fantastic event to connect with people from your industry. You won’t meet as many people who are into the same thing as you at another conference.
If you can, don’t come alone. Go with a buddy, or if you can, make it into a great team building event.
Finally, do stay a bit longer for a ski session or some other way to explore the beautiful surroundings. I wish I had!