Customer Service – how to make it a two-way street

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As we work with a greater portfolio of venues and hotels, the more we are surprised by what is considered as good customer service. For me, customer service and delivery are at the heart of everything I do. I have never said no, I am always happy to help and believe that delivering good, old fashioned customer service is essential in helping to grow and maintain a strong client base.

I say, ‘old fashioned’ as I feel that ‘modern’ customer service is very different. Good, old fashioned customer service is about respect, giving time and offering solutions that not only meet but exceed expectation. If you are in a customer facing role, you need to be ready for anything with a smile on your face and a readiness to help. Modern customer service leaves me exasperated these days, especially from certain venues and hotels.

For example, a month ago I sent an enquiry to a hotel in the Midlands. Yesterday, I received an acknowledgment of the email. This was after chasing for a response several times. Last week I called a large Birmingham venue about a terrific event enquiry. Here I am a week later, still waiting…needless to say, we have gone elsewhere.

When we receive a new enquiry from a potential client, we respond within minutes, not only thanking them for their interest but, identifying possible solutions. I wonder why hotels and venues can’t receive event enquiries with the same enthusiasm.

Whole teams are in place to bring business in yet, when it does come in, the brief is more often than not treated with lack lustre where I feel the need to apologise for disturbing their very busy day. When you do get a response, it amazes me how little information comes back and how the brief has clearly not been read.

Then there is the issue of payment. A venue or hotel will be incredibly quick to chase for payment of an invoice. Quite rightly so, everyone deserves to be paid on time. But, this is a two-way street. Venues and hotels are often very slack in paying commission invoices. Commission is often the life blood of an agency and helps us keep costs down. This, in turn helps the client afford a specific venue or hotel. Please don’t chase me for payment when my commission invoice is two months overdue. The arrogance of this actually makes me boil over.

This is not to say all venues and hotels are tarnished with the same brush. They aren’t. There are some wonderful examples of customer service in our industry and I will be fiercely loyal as if their service delights me, it will delight the client and delegates too.

But come on event industry, it’s time to pull your finger out and not hide behind your one-way mirror. Customer service works both ways!

7 top tips to work collaboratively with hotels and venues

Here are my tips to get venues and hotels work collaboratively with you:

  1. Provide a simple bullet point brief with clear points that can be answered by the venue or hotel. They have lots of enquires coming in, so let’s make it easy!
  2. State whether you need rates with VAT, commission, breakfast etc.
  3. If you have a budget, give it. This gives the venue or hotel an opportunity to look at rates and try and come in at or less than what’s available to spend. Not giving a budget is not a good negotiation tool and it does not inflate pricing.
  4. Be honest, clear and set expectations on deadline dates.
  5. Chase once and if you’re feeling particularly generous chase twice. After that, walk away if you can. If they are slow now, can you imagine the response time once contracted?
  6. If a venue or hotel doesn’t deliver what has been asked in the brief, again consider walking away. It shows a lack of attention to detail and also shows they don’t particularly care. If you can’t walk away, then push back and set very clear expectation. Don’t be afraid to escalate.
  7. Set a timeline for commission payments and don’t be afraid to withhold payment until commission invoices are paid. After all, it’s a two-way street.