Whether an attendee, vendor or planner, all sides appreciate unforgettable serviceApril 1, 2019

Lasting Impressions By
April 1, 2019

Whether an attendee, vendor or planner, all sides appreciate unforgettable service

Lasting Impressions

CIT-2019-03Mar-Memorable_Meetings-860x418Puppies are a sure-fire way to help attendees remember an event.

Everyone involved in planning and attending a meeting benefits from memorable service that wows attendees.

Attendees benefit because they leave the meeting with memorable stories to share with friends in person and via social media. Vendors and suppliers benefit because they gain more business from planners and a reputation for delivering excellence. Planners benefit because the repeated stories about unforgettable service boost their professional “brand.”

Indeed, providing memorable service for attendees is the lifeblood of the planning business.

Good Service Creates Trust

According to Heidi Foels, producer for metroConnections, a Bloomington, MN-based conferences and event services company, “Memorable services are vital when working in a fast-paced industry such as ours. We are often planning six or seven programs at once, which can take valuable time if we’re researching new vendors every time.”

Foels notes that, most often, planners reach out to suppliers and vendors they can trust to provide outstanding service.

“We want the ones we can trust will do the job to our standards; the ones that we consider true partners,” says Foels.

“Memorable services result from partnerships, which makes planning fun and less stressful,” she adds. “Attendees benefit from these partnerships solely in the fact that we look like one well-oiled machine.”

Trusted suppliers enable planners to spend more time on providing memorable service.

“Planners can tackle additional items on our to-do lists when we can trust a vendor to get the job done in the terms specified and with impeccable service,” Foels said. “I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to babysit or micromanage a vendor to ensure expectations are met.”

According to Cindy Y. Lo, DMCP, president and event strategist of Austin, TX-based Red Velvet Events, “Providing memorable service is incredibly important because attendees have lots of options, so it’s important to sell the meeting or conference as a differentiator and continue to inspire and wow them. In return, I would also expect that attendees can help communicate via word of mouth what you’ve done and build a positive cycle.”

A seller’s market for hotels, more service charges by the properties and tight planning budgets have all increased pressure on planners to provide memorable services for attendees.

“One of the biggest challenges is clients’ budgets,” says Donna McGovern consultant at New York City-based, Events & Lifestyle Management. “The budgets don’t always support hotels that can provide the best service.”

Lo says issues related to meeting budgets and exceptional service will persist.

“This will never go away in my humble opinion,” says Lo. “Everything has gone up in price just because of inflation. And the more unique an experience is, generally the more dollars it requires.”

Lo challenges her team to not take “No” for the first answer when trying to negotiate top service on a tight budget.

“If the concept is strong, we need to do our best to secure those types of experiences that appeal to the audience and to execute it to the ‘Nth’ degree,” says Lo.

In addition, social media raises expectations for customer service because planners can compare offerings by hotels, vendors and suppliers faster and more thoroughly.

Emergencies Handled

Meanwhile, planners are rethinking how they view service, according to Convene’s 2017 Global Meetings Research Report.

“As working styles evolve, planners are thinking about their needs in terms of service rather than space,” Lo says.

Planners expect excellent service from properties ranging from small independent hotels to swanky resorts. And properties say they are doing more than ever to provide service that wows planners and stands out from competitors.

However, the quality of hotel services can vary, even among five-star properties. It’s possible to book the same five-star brand in two different cities and experience important differences in service.

Variation in service makes it easier for truly exceptional service to stand out.

Kate Stockton, CMP, president of Philadelphia, PA-based Stockton & Partners Meetings and Events, offers an example of a supplier who became a long-term partner after coming through in an emergency.

Here’s what happened:

A company’s annual award dinner featured a national touring band and a problem surfaced before show time.

“After running through the list of audio equipment with the house AV, we realized at set-up that we didn’t have the correct microphones. The house AV could not find the right microphones.”

Stockton called a local AV vendor with whom she was familiar.

“He dropped everything, put the correct microphones in his car and drove them over before the band got to rehearsal,” says Stockton. “Since then, this company has become our go-to for production.”

Stockton cites another incidence involving last-minute help from a vendor that resulted in a long-term relationship.

“Our meeting client decided to add a vendor exhibit just two weeks before the event,” says Stockton. “We were using an historic hotel with no exhibit area, limited large space and no loading dock. Since we had no more space at the hotel and other local venues were booked, we moved forward with a large tent.”

The hotel worked with local authorities to get an expedited permit for the large tent and a storage and moving system to handle materials shipped at the last minute.

According to Stockton, “The hotel added staff to manage the receipt and re-shipping of hundreds of palettes of materials. Their willingness to work outside of the box to make the exhibit area come to life secured our appreciation as well as our client’s business for the next two years.”

Sometimes memorable service results from teamwork during a sudden on-site emergency. That’s what happened during a corporate evening at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, says Amberlee Huggins, president of Falls Church, VA-based CSI DMC.

The only two elevators in the building stopped working just before dinner was served.

“We had 400 people to feed a three-course meal to before the entertainment performed,” says Huggins. The primary kitchen at the Library of Congress is in the basement and the event was on the top floor.”

Everyone pitched in to get dinner to attendees on time, including the catering company, florist, DMC, lighting vendor, waiters and two mime entertainers. “We acted as a ‘chain gang’ along the stairs, working together to get meals from the basement to the top floor so waiters could serve guests as expected.”

The ad hoc team performed seamlessly. “Attendees never knew what happened,” says Huggins. “The service was phenomenal, and our client was delighted.”

Relationships Matter

Foels cites an example of memorable service that resulted from what she describes as a “perfect” relationship with a vendor.

“One of the best service experiences I had this year was working on a program with one of our partners,” says Foels. “Our team quickly realized this partnership was ideal for the opportunity to partner.”

“We got a request for a large production and exhibit area for 1,000 attendees in a shared space,” Foels continues. “Our partner was known for its exhibit build-outs while we provide production expertise.”

Foels and her team created a special environment for the exhibit area.

“We needed to ensure that our spaces complemented one another in branding, design, look and feel,” says Foels. “Weekly meetings with our vendor aligned visions, and a shared workspace all played major factors in achieving success. There was a ton of collaboration and trust that went into this project.”

Having a dedicated vendor as a partner made the event memorable.

“Attendees on-site referred to us as one team; one company,” says Foels. “This is the ultimate goal with any partnership.”

Planners agree that memorable service need not be expensive, over-the-top efforts. Small things that take little time and effort can leave a lasting impression.

According to Huggins, “Sometimes it’s as simple as adding a concierge level of care at an activities desk or walking attendees to their designated area. Regardless of the added touch, memorable services should be designed so that people talk about them.”

McGovern offers this example: “I was doing a site inspection for a client meeting in Amsterdam and stayed at five different luxury hotels,’’ says McGovern. “I had filled out a ‘Getting To Know You’ form for the company helping me source the meeting.”

The form was sent to all five hotels. One of the form’s questions was “Do you like coffee or tea?” McGovern’s reply was “Both, but I’m secretly addicted to blueberry coffee.”

The five hotels included the five-star Conservatorium Hotel, which read the information on the form and incorporated it into McGovern’s stay.

“For example, I had gone to the spa and when I returned to my room, a blueberry coffee protein shake was waiting for me in my room with a note,” says McGovern. “This small gesture and attention to detail made me feel special and at home while traveling for business.”

“It is the little things that make a big difference,” McGovern adds. “The Conservatorium was so attentive that it became the only choice.”

Lo offers other examples of small but memorable gestures she offers planners.

“If we know the planner recently had a child, we’ll actually make sure to give them something useful during their site visit that they can bring back home for their child,” says Lo.

Another exceptional gesture involves chocolate. “If we know they love chocolate, we’ll make sure that all of the places we will be doing business with are made aware in case they want to customize their welcome gift,” says Lo. “The more you can build on that authentic relationship, the better communication there is, and everyone is more eager to work together regarding service.”

Other examples include an instance where a hotel staffer volunteers to drive to a restaurant to retrieve a purse a woman left behind, and an attendee calls about a problem with the hot water or television just before leaving the guest room. When the attendee returns, the problem is fixed and there is a hand-written note from the hotel staffer apologizing for the inconvenience.

Great Service, Great Event

One of the biggest benefits of providing memorable service is its impact on helping planners achieve meeting goals, including content retention.

According to Huggins, “Memorable services, coupled with great content, are the cornerstone of great meetings. The content of the program may be excellent, however if attendees have bad service experiences, it can distract them from engaging fully in the meeting content.”

Huggins adds that the goals of many meetings today include providing a sense of engagement beyond content retention, and memorable service can help provide that.

“Everyone wants to feel looked after and great services create the bridge between an ordinary happening and an exceptional experience,” says Huggins.

All planners have experienced memorable service at properties and think it should be the rule not the exception. To improve the chances of obtaining exceptional service, planners should screen properties and other suppliers to ensure they do the following:

  • Anticipate the needs of attendees and planners rather than having to be asked.
  • Cater to the uniqueness of meetings and don’t provide off-the-shelf, cookie-cutter service planners can get anywhere. According to Lo, “Anytime our team customizes an experience or welcome amenity to the individual versus a generic experience or gift, we get way more positive feedback and often times a lifelong client because of our thoughtfulness.”
  • Provide top-shelf service in every area, including fast and quality RFP responses, responsiveness to on-site needs, food and beverage, communication, site visits, and providing enough support staff. (About 17 percent of planners think venues usually don’t provide enough support staff for events, according to the 2017 Convene report.)
  • Offer efficient, attentive, timely, friendly and patient service.
  • Ask for references when screening properties on how they have handled requests for tailored, over-the-top service for comparable meetings.

Establishing a good relationship with hotels goes a long way toward getting service with that extra touch.

According to Huggins, “As a DMC professional that works closely with hoteliers it’s important to connect and ask about the challenges hotels have during peak periods so that you can better plan and prepare together. I have seen hotels across the USA in both seller’s and buyer’s’markets, and no matter how busy hoteliers are, they are hospitality professionals.”

“Yet they are also human — and we all like to work with and for people we like, so be reasonable, flexible and look for ways to work together in a collaborative way towards a successful outcome,” Huggins says. “They talk about you, just as you talk about them, and that news travels like wildfire in the hospitality industry.”

Obtaining top-notch service from hotels and other suppliers requires planners to screen for practices that lead to delivering excellence.

Lo says planners should seek suppliers who show dedication to providing value and help planners achieve meeting goals.

“They listen to what the client really wants to achieve both from a business goal and design perspective,” says Lo. “The larger the program, the more important it is to really hear out what the client’s end goals are because if it’s possible to make a planner look like a rock star, they will want you to return for repeat business.”

Lo adds that planners are often frustrated because they say many suppliers don’t listen to their requests and push their own unattractive ideas.

“I always remind our team that we are only as good as our last event,” says Lo.

Communication Is Key

In addition, Lo reminds her team that memorable service can’t happen without good communication between planners and their partners.

“Always over-communicate,” says Lo. “I always try to coach our team that usually when something goes wrong, it’s because we made an assumption versus over-communicating and clarifying anything that might lead to confusion. This may mean additional phone calls and emails, but when both parties are on the same page, service and other things always go much smoother.”

Attendees can receive competent, average service, have a good time and think a meeting is successful. But truly memorable service adds an indelible memory that can make attendees smile every time they think about a meeting experience and relate it to others.

As Huggins puts it, “Service often drives the sense of connection to the experience. Memorable services provide the framework for how people engage mentally and emotionally to the event/meeting before it even starts.”C&IT

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