Sunday, October 2, 2011

Who Is the Client?

I get that hotels and other providers are as financially challenged as the rest of us, given the lagging economy. I get that customer service training budgets have evaporated. I get that younger and inexperienced people are replacing seasoned sales personnel. What I don't get is why in this process, there is a failure to understand that the results of these actions impacts how the BRAND is received by those who would contract with these properties.

Now, I know I'm not the only one experiencing this phenomena because I've spoken with others who are undergoing the same thing. I've asked fellow professionals to share their stories with me and they have. They are not pretty. And, I am sure, that this lack of customer service extends far beyond the meetings industry. A column in my Sunday paper by Christopher Elliott is just one example: Customer buys two airline tickets. Customer's spouse passes away unexpectedly. Customer requests refund from online ticket agency. Online ticket agency passes the buck to international airlines. Airline refuses to refund ticket, while admitting they will sell the seat to someone else. Enter Elliott, who chides the online ticket agency for not stepping up and the airline for stupidity. Customer gets refund from airline. Customer now dislikes airline for making her jump through hoops. Who Is The Client?

Fast forward to recent experiences I have had dealing with hotels and meetings booked at their properties.

Sales Managers are increasingly younger and poorly trained to do their jobs. Example: At one 5-star hotel, my sales manager does not pick up a phone and call me when there is something to discuss about an upcoming event. She emails me and tells me to call her. Who Is The Client?

I recently stayed in three different properties on three consecutive days, with three different events. First stop, San Francisco, where the essence of customer service was evident from the moment I stepped out of my car until I retrieved it the next day. The staff at this property was well-trained and could well serve as a model for other brands.

Leaving San Francisco, I headed to the South Bay for a one-day meeting. The only guest room was mine; everyone else was local. In organizing this event, I had asked the sales manager for a rate. She quoted the rate and indicated she would book the room. I arrive on property and -- no room. The sales manager is called to the front desk. She denies any knowledge and states she would NEVER forget to book a client room. She then says the hotel is oversold and they have no rooms. I insist she give me a room and she finally does. Sleeping room is seriously in need of refurbishing. Room service is abysmal--food arrives lukewarm at best. No room amenity; not even a note apologizing for the reservation snafu. I am onsite at 6:30 AM the next morning, only to find that the room is not set up properly, despite having an agreed-upon diagram for the room set. Rest of the experience here is equally disappointing. Who Is The Client?

Finished this meeting and head over to the East Bay for a similar meeting the following day. Arrive on property and get to my sleeping room. Again, not even a hint of welcome from my sales contact. I don't really care about an amenity but a welcome note would be nice. Arrive at the meeting space at 6:30 AM and (sigh) the room is not set correctly despite the diagram showing where everything is to be placed.

I finally get the room set correctly and set up for my morning guests. It is a fee-based workshop, followed by a free table top trade show. Two people arrive and attempt to enter the room. I stop them and politely ask if they are registered for the event. They say 'we need to look at the room - Catering SENT us down here.' I tell them that there is a workshop in progress and they cannot enter the room. They get nasty but leave when it becomes apparent they aren't getting into the room.

Two hours later, yet another group comes down (this time with hotel sales kit in hand) - same story. Catering has SENT them down to look at the ballroom. I direct them back to catering and tell them there is an event in progress and it cannot be disrupted. They head back to the elevators, presumably back to Catering.

Some six hours after I began my day (and after the group's luncheon), my hotel contact finally shows up and asks how everything is going. Seriously? Where was he at 7 AM or 8 AM? I address the issues with Catering trying to disrupt my meetings. He acts surprised. When I tell him if Catering does it one more time, I will ask for a waiver of meeting space rental. He scurries away, never to be seen again. Who is the client?

Two days later, I get an email from this sales person. He sends me the banquet checks and tells me to review them carefully because I will be charged for the amounts shown. Did he not take a moment to look at the banquet checks and see that I had reviewed and signed them while oniste? At least the banquet captain knew how to handle a meeting.

Will I write to each of these propertys and express concerns at the lack of service? Certainly. I will also note that the currently low level of service and attention to detail evidences a complete lack of training of their employees. It is becoming more and more frequent and affects my decision on whether I will consider certains brands in the future. If they can't or won't train their front desk, sales, catering, and other staff, why would I want to book meetings there and subject my attendees to negative experiences.

After all, Who Is The Client? I thought it was me and ultimately my clients.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Post-Event Reports

I was invited by Christine "Shimo" Shimasaki, CDME, CMP to guest blog for the DMAI's official Blog. As the incoming chair of the CIC's APEX Standards Review Council, I wrote the following on the importance of properly completing a Post-Event Report (PER).

APEX SRC's outgoing chair, Doug McPhee, also blogged on the PER. Comments are always welcome.