The three S’s in event planning, or how to keep a client

Veteran special event planner Janee Pennington discusses essentials of customer service

Janee PenningtonA short time ago, I was attending an event--not as a planner, but as a conference attendee. As I walked up to the registration desk to pick up my badge, I was taken aback by the staff behind the table. No one was acknowledging me, or, for that matter, anyone in line.

Instead we spent a few minutes listening in on a review of the new Diane Keaton film: "Oh, come on, she’s in the same old role they always stick her in. It’s a formula Hollywood uses and I’m sick of it. She needs to work with other directors and get some more interesting parts. I can’t believe I spent $15 to watch the same old storyline…,” I heard one of the women behind the desk rambling on.

And I thought to myself, I can’t believe you’re oblivious to a group of us standing in front of you! As I stood there observing, I wanted to say something, but felt it wasn’t my place or, for that matter, my event. Instead I contemplated whether or not the company would hire this planner again next year.

We live in a society where we can have just about anything we want by the click of a button. Between Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram and so many others, we have created a void of human interaction. This is the temperament of the industry. And we see it every day.

Think about when you’re at an event, whether you are organizing it or not. Look around--most attendees are glancing down at their phones during breakouts, speeches or even at meals. However, what people still need and crave is contact and validation. Small gestures go a long way. Over the last few years, I have heard one story after the next about employees, hoteliers, vendors and airline staff not delivering what clients expect. We need to change our ways, getting creative for this new media generation.

When I operated my event company, the tagline under my company name read “Meetings and Events Beyond Expectation.” And this is what we excelled at doing. We thought ahead, overstaffed, planned for disasters, always made our clients the shining stars--and we did it all with the three S’s: service, service, service. This is something that everyone expects and deserves, along with a healthy heaping of respect.

Service never goes out of style. You won’t ever hear an attendee say, “I wish they wouldn’t give me such good service.” If a client had a last-minute event, we smiled and said, "We can do this for you." A hotelier walked a few guests; we would hold them accountable. A speaker didn’t show; a backup speaker was ready to go.

One year, we had a last-minute request for a large-scale event in Los Angeles. On top of a party for a thousand people, we were asked to also organize a conference for 400 people. With the short lead-time, we worked around the clock and were exhausted by the time we arrived in L.A. It was the middle of the night, with the meeting just a few hours away, when the computers decided not to talk with the printers. With a few hours to go, all of our materials and name badges were on the line. Two staff members stayed up all night figuring out how they could accomplish this feat after working a full day beforehand. Moments before the session began, we had a virtual assembly line prepared stapling, stuffing, organizing and setting documents perfectly at each place setting.

It would not have been accomplished without the dedicated work of a service-oriented team who also understood when and where technology was needed. And it all paid off. The client was thrilled, my staff was proud, and we kept working with this company until the day we closed our doors.

So if you want to keep your clients year after year, event after event, smile, put down the phone for a few minutes, say thank you, keep in mind the three S’s, and always go beyond their expectations. You won’t disappoint your client or the guests they are trying to impress, and most likely you will never lose the client.

Entrepreneur-turned-author Janee Pennington wrote her debut novel "Meeting Eve" based on her 20 years in the hospitality industry. Written to be a funny, fast-paced, absorbing read, "Meeting Eve" was designed to inspire women to chase their dreams and live passionately.

 

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