A lot of cool gadgets will be announced this week at CES. But so far, the most astounding thing I've seen here has to do with the management of the conference itself. In many areas where the conference is being held there is no WiFi. I repeat: There is no WiFi in much of the Consumer Electronics Show. Sure, it's available in the press room, but not, as far as I can tell, anywhere else in the Sands Expo. (The show is held at the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands, and the LVCC does have pretty good WiFi coverage.) (UPDATE: I take it back. The LVCC has only spotty WiFi coverage.)
But here's the truly remarkable part. Before I figured out that the WiFi was virtually nonexistent at the Sands, I asked several staff members whether there would be wireless access at the show. They were all wearing these bright, welcoming "Ask me!" buttons. And yet, the first four people I talked to didn't even understand the question. "There are some kiosks right around the corner," one person offered. When I explained that I just wanted to be able to sit down and get online with my laptop, she added helpfully, "There are lots of chairs around."
Lesson number 1: We're living in a digital world. If you're hosting a conference, and you invite a bunch of journalists, make it easy for them to get online.
Lesson number 2: Train your staff! To me, it seems obvious that questions about wireless Internet access would be plentiful at the Consumer Electronics Show. Why didn't the staff know the answer?
And, perhaps more importantly, why didn't they try to find out? Why didn't they say, "Let me call and find out the answer for you"? Instead, I was met largely with blank stares. I literally talked to ten people before I figured out the answer. Some didn't understand what WiFi was; others didn't know whether it was available or not; others thought it was available when it clearly wasn't. Only Cindy in the press room (thanks Cindy!) actually made an effort to track down the answer for me, by picking up her phone and calling someone who knew something about it.
This is textbook bad customer service. Journalists don't have to pay to attend CES, so we're technically not "customers." But if they're providing me with such terrible service, I'm sure they're giving it to the paying attendees as well.