Month: June 2016

Secrets to Customer Service Success

table setting in hawaii

The event planning industry is home to some of the most customer service-focused professionals you will find. Between planners, the hotel staff, food and beverage crew, and various other vendors, everyone is determined to provide the highest level of customer service. But with many high pressure situations, tensions and burnout rates can run high and proper customer service at all times can sometimes fall by the wayside. Over the years, we’ve learned that having the best customer service and attendee interaction is the one thing that will truly set you apart from the rest. So we asked our full staff of on-site professionals how they stay focused on consistently providing top tier service below are some of their top answers.

“Put yourself in the customer’s shoes”

Maybe you have a million things you are keeping track of in your head and a million more to do when you get back to the office, but the attendee asking to change their room doesn’t know that. Never let yourself get frustrated by requests, changes, and one-off needs of your event or meeting attendees.

“Ask attendees questions during registration that help you personalize their experience”

Creating a memorable experience starts at the very beginning of the event process – asking questions like “do you have a birthday coming up?” or “do you have a favorite beverage or snack?” can make a world of difference on-site. Adding these small, personalized touches lets the attendee know that you are paying attention to them and that you care about their experience. 

“Walk through expectations with all partner staff before guests arrive. You are a team.”

Having a detailed, thorough meeting with all event partners before the event itself makes a world of difference in the experience of an attendee. When everyone on the team (not just the planning staff) knows the expectations, it is less likely that there will be customer service slip-ups or requests that slip through the cracks.

“Make friends with concierges and hotel/venue staff – they make magic happen”

When something comes up that you can’t fix or change yourself, your next line of defense is the staff of the venue or hotel. They want the guest to be happy as much as you do, and they’ll work to make it happen if you respect them and treat them like an equal member of your team.

“Anticipate needs”

The event planning industry is one in which there are constant  “what-if” scenarios that need to be considered. Get together with a team and think like an attendee, see if you can punch holes in the best laid plans – you’ll be that much more empowered to take action without having to scramble for ideas.

“Embrace the pressure”

Have you ever heard of “the zone” athletes get into when they are performing at their peak during competition? Find that zone during on-site experiences. Without getting too dramatic – this is what all the training is for. Use the pressure to focus and prioritize thinking, and you’ll find that you provide an even better experience for attendees.

“Ask direct questions to get quality feedback”

“How is your stay?” “Is there anything I can do to make your trip better?” Often, you won’t know the answers to these questions unless you ask directly. Frank, honest feedback right from the source at the right time (even if it isn’t great) is better than hearing frustrated complaints after the fact. Place the responsibility on yourself to find out how you can help create the best experience for each and every attendee.

“Never tell guests no”

Rather than “no, I can’t do that” always make sure to make every effort to make something happen. Appropriate responses can include “I’m so sorry, I’m not sure about that. I will check with someone immediately and get back to you as soon as I can. May I have your contact information?” or “I don’t know the answer to that right now, but I will find out right away.”

Building An Impactful Incentive Gifting Campaign

With incentive and vacation season in full swing, it’s important to note that, to many attendees, the gifts are just as important of an experience as the trip itself. Having an incentive gifting campaign that complements your brand and vision for the trip creates a lasting memory for all involved. Keep these tips in mind to make sure your gift experience exceeds expectations.

1: Know when to be on trend, and when to stay classic

What it comes down to is knowing your objectives and knowing the circumstances. A good strategy to keep your gifts fresh and relevant is to mix it up a little. A recent example of this was an incentive program where gifts were a centerpiece of the trip. In addition to the more traditional gifts like cufflinks and jewelry, attendees also received high-tech gadgets like the Amazon Echo (a trendy and useful favorite this year) and their choice of Bose products. Attendees also received pairs of some of this summer’s top shoes in understated, classic styles so they could be worn off the resort as well.

2: Packaging, presentation, post-trip fulfillment

You’ve may have heard the phrase “you eat with your eyes.” Apply that same principle to your gifting strategies. You can have the coolest product, but if the packaging and presentation leave something to be desired, you’ll leave a mediocre impression on the recipient. Since a large amount of the packaging work is often done on-site, it is prudent to do the legwork beforehand and document a detailed plan for the gift presentation. Do you have a room-drop gift with multiple pieces that need to be set up just-so? Do the welcome amenities need extra tissue paper in order to look nice in their tote? Do the gifts require personalized gift tags or amenity cards? Be sure to detail how everything should be set up in a document so that everyone is on the same page. But when the gifts have been given and the team is back on their way home, your job may not be done just yet. If attendees have made gift selections on-site, you’ll need to quickly place and fulfill their orders with your vendors. Don’t consider the project a wrap until each post-trip gift is ordered, packaged, shipped and received. Then, pat yourself on your back for a job well done.

3: Be an expert

There is a time to defer to an executive and a time to push for something different. Establish yourself as an expert and a valued partner in the incentive experience, not just someone who places orders. If you think things may be heading in the wrong direction with gift selections, don’t be afraid to gently say so and present the options you feel will work the best for the trip, theme, and budget.

Planning for the Whole Family

Family trip to a ranch

 

Some of the most fun, memorable events to attend and plan are those that include the whole family. Planning an incentive that includes children opens the door to a lot of unforgettable activities and great memories for the attendees and their families. However, there are two sides to every coin – coordinating a family trip regularly tests planning and logistics skills and usually comes with a bit of needed improv. But if you keep a few important tips in mind, everyone will go home happy at the end of the trip.

Plan for the family together and separately

Though the focus of the trip is often the family together, there may be times when separate events or dinners for the parents and for the kids are required or desired. While it is a family trip you can choose occasional activities that have the option to separate kids and parents into special events just for them. Perhaps one night is a romantic couple’s dinner, while the kids get to build their own dessert at an ice cream bar. Or you can go bigger with parents having a dinner & dance while the kids do a carnival night. When planning for simultaneous events on the trip, you’ll need to think through everything twice – transportation, food, communication, and anything else that arises, including child care while the parents are away.

Keep age in mind

When children attend a trip, they can be any age from 8 months to 18 years! It’s important to keep this in mind when planning activities. The key is to be flexible and keep options open – many older kids may simply feel like hanging out at the resort or lounging by the pool, while the littlest attendees will need structured activities and supervision. One area where this can cause some hiccups is gifts – when attendees vary widely in age, gifts can be a challenge. One of the easiest and most impressive ways to handle this is to put the selection in the hands of the attendees. Consider creating an online “marketplace” where attendees and their children can select from a variety of gifts before the event begins. Not only does this solve the variety of gifts based on age need but it also helps build excitement for the upcoming trip. Or you can bring the marketplace to the event. Presenting families with gift cards or tokens to be used in the marketplace is a great way to keep everyone happy.

Logistics, logistics, logistics.

When planning a logistically complicated event such as a family trip, it pays to sweat the small stuff. You will find yourself with a much more seamless experience if you have a robust registration platform and plan out your registration process to answer as many questions as possible well before the event. This is a great place to consider customizing extra elements of the trip. Especially when brand is concerned, each touchpoint is an opportunity to create an experience that leaves a positive impression. You can use gifts during the trip to enhance the sense of family, community, and brand loyalty amongst the attendees. For example, if you are planning a family trip at a rustic ranch (think “glamping”), matching Herschel backpacks for each family with tone-on-tone branded elements are a fun and subtle way for families to bond and for your client to add a special branded touch.

Shoe sizes, allergies, ages (and birthdays), and activity preferences are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a family trip. You will also want to make sure all attendee responses auto-flow into a data base of some sort for tracking, comparing, and compiling. When you’ve done all the work beforehand, you’ll feel confident at the event knowing you’ve done everything in your power to keep it as smooth, fun, and family-oriented as possible.

Planning A Non-Profit Event

non-profit event planning dinner

Planning an event for a non-profit is both a privilege – and a challenge. With tight budgets and big dreams, creating a spectacular event for a non-profit is often one of the most rewarding planning experiences. However, there are a few things you’ll need in your toolkit if you want to create the best non-profit event experience.

1: Budget, budget, budget

Non-profits often operate on shoestring budgets with the large focus on providing the service for which they exist. Keeping the event budget top of mind is a must in the non-profit realm. Pay close attention especially during the planning phase, and be sure to be transparent in terms of cost and expectations with all of the decision makers. Setting a hardline budget at the beginning of the process and sticking to it will create less of a headache for all involved. This is one reason why we create detailed, line item budgets and update them regularly so that everyone can track in real time. We also pay specific attention to tracking negotiated savings – this is all a part of the value and return of an event or meeting and belongs in an ROI summary at the end of the event.

2: Call in some favors

Many organizations have vendors they use time and time again. Over the years, you’ve probably developed a friendly professional relationship with your local providers and experts. For a non-profit event, it doesn’t hurt to call in a favor (if you feel it’s appropriate). Vendors are sometimes happy to do a little pro-bono work if it’s for a good cause. Source vendors regionally and all across the country that you use regularly, and have thus are able to leverage for discounts when budgets are tight. We invest in building true partnerships nationally and focus on relationships for many reasons but knowing who to call when things are tight is an added bonus.

3: Know the benefits

Outside of the primary benefit of a great cause, be sure to dig deep for all of the positives. Remember that donated time from a vendor can be a tax deduction if the non-profit is categorized as 501(c)(3). It is also good to note that time or talent given to a charitable cause can often be a great PR boon to a company. Or offering to help arrange photos of the work and create social media posts referencing vendors can be the tipping point in getting some donated help.

4: Get creative

For some, a tighter budget means less room to be creative, but for the savvy professional, it’s an opportunity to do more with less. With a smaller budget, you need to figure out how to wow people with small details and personal touches that leave an impression. For an annual charity gala we plan each year, our negotiated prices for food and beverage allowed for a sumptuous plated three-course dinner. And our negotiated price savings for A/V allowed us to secure a company that we knew would provide a high-quality experience for the charity and the guests. On a small budget, we succeed in making the event feel like a high-dollar production because of the value provided. For another local charity event, we recreated the luxurious feel of the red carpet with custom music selections that we mixed in-house, expertly-scripted delivery, and a truly live-produced experiential show complete with high-quality graphics and presentations. To save time and charity dollars, we invoked our own in-house experts and our knowledge of the client rather than adding an extra vendor into the mix. This created an even more personal and curated experience for both the client and the attendees at the event. 

5: Keep the goal in mind

At the end of the day, the event is about meeting objectives, whether it’s raising money or raising awareness. As with all events, sometimes things are not going to go according to plan. But when that happens, or when tough choices need to be made focus on the details that are important to the end goal. Make sure to keep the mission (or the brand, or the brand experience) top of mind, and the rest will follow.