No one doubts that the hospitality, meetings & events industries faced meltdowns during the height of the COVID Pandemic, but what have business owners done to overcome the negative challenges and redirect their business to effect more positive outcomes? For many, that begins with Managing Client Expectations, the topic of the October 20th CommuniTEA hosted by Meeting Professionals International’s (MPI) Small Business Owners (SBO).
The hour-long discussion, a socially engaging casual Zoom chat, typically splits attendees into breakout rooms multiple times. Each breakout randomly divides participants, thus providing time for each to engage on the topic. Before the session is over, everyone reconvenes to share the comments voiced in their breakout room. The beauty of each monthly MPI SBO CommuniTEA topic is that no one person has all the answers, but with so many types of businesses represented, someone else may know a solution or resource. Another outcome from these sessions is that attendees have formed business relationships and the unique networking has prompted hiring one another for projects.
The first breakout topic on Managing Client Expectations was, “What would you like to have more time for?”
A sales trainer from New York said she wants more time for in-person engagements. She spent the downtime of the past few years taking webinars and courses and now wants to share that knowledge.
A pre-COVID corporate planner discovered leisure time and now that she’s busy again, wants to preserve better balance. She said working remote enabled her to participate in more virtual programs, so she felt she had surprisingly networked more efficiently.
An Atlanta, GA man moved to the Orlando, FL area just as business slowed wants the time to establish new business connections for TV game shows he designs for events.
Managing Client Expectations brought a broad range of comments.
One Portugal-based planner said what used to take an eight-hour day to obtain quotes and answers from suppliers can now take up to three days. She said vendor staffs are smaller and with the business boom overwhelming smaller staffs on top of supply chain shortages, vendors are having difficulty getting back with quotes. Her analysis leads to a ripple effect. A company can’t promise to achieve its commitments if the people they rely on to make that possible aren’t able to fulfill their end. And unfortunately, not everyone advises there is a delay, so everyone involved sits in limbo wondering and waiting.
“You may need to educate clients,” said one. “You can’t control what others are doing, but you can control how you handle it.”
A Canadian social media expert added that clients don’t always know what they don’t know. “You have to make your booking windows crystal clear on your website, social media, and direct communications.”
Communication tuned out to be a common thread throughout the conversation. One of the breakout groups emphasized the importance of educating clients on last minute changes, particularly to give longer notice if numbers are more than expected. For example: let the client know at time of booking that they can’t let a venue know the day before the event that numbers rose more than a 100. Why? Because the venue can’t accommodate those numbers last minute. There isn’t time to hire extra staff or to rely on needed additional supplies. Therefore, it is essential to educate the client about this and to be prepared to provide final numbers at least a week out. Last minute changes have become harder to accommodate post-COVID.
With smaller staff, some workers may find themselves struggling to fulfill tasks for which they are not trained, or those duties were not spelled out in assignments. This brings the question back to contracts. Contracts must be clear. Tasks must be explicit. If you have a concern about a contract, have an appropriate attorney read it first.
One man who owns a travel staffing business has observed that sales staff are being tasked with operational work. It isn’t what they were hired to do. Neither may those tasks be as lucrative. He said his soapbox right now is training. He explained that technology has allowed us to do more work ourselves and not to rely on people who used to be hired to assist. He said, “Meeting planners should practice what they preach. Bring people in to teach, whether interns or people who are older and want to learn, how to do the work so there is a stronger force to get the job done.”
That sentiment aligns with others in the group. Once confined to home offices, we were on our own, indicated several on the session. “The office synergy was missing. We need all the people in the same room. We need approvals from people you can’t always reach immediately by email or phone.”
A home-based businessperson who is both an entertainer and a journalist was accustomed to working on her own even pre-COVID. She noted that many more events now are last-minute, with budgets a fraction of what had been the norm before the pandemic. “Clients are expecting to pay less but receive more benefit.” Even though she sees it as a general expectation and not directed at her alone, she feels it is somewhat insulting as an experienced professional to be expected to do more work for less revenue.
An Austin, TX-based planner with Helms Briscoe said she wants time to be in-person with others who experience what she does with clients and vendors. “I set expectations with my clients and delay sourcing now until they are definite about what they want, and when they want it. I must manage availability before promising I can deliver. If the vendor doesn’t respond in timely manner, then we can’t meet the client expectations we’ve promised,” something she finds quite frustrating.
In response, the New York sales trainer said to “put yourself in the mindset of the supplier. What is happening in their world that would render them slower than usual to respond to your requests?” The same would be applicable to a client, she noted. What is happening that they seem unable to make a firm decision?
Come off the Page. That’s a trending philosophy that means instead of emailing–because we all get too many of those to read, pick up the phone. Saves time and helps to reconnect you directly to the client. Further, read up on venue and service reviews. Make sure you really understand the client and their needs.
Should you “just say no”? If so, how?
“How do I say ‘no’ to accepting more business because I am concerned my excellent delivery reputation would suffer; yet I know I must say no,” asked one woman.
There were several solutions to that question. Refer the client to someone else if you know of another reliable vendor, suggested one person. Another said to say, “I don’t have capacity right now, but I can connect you with X…”
Another suggested that “Saying ‘no’ keeps you from being resentful. If one resents taking on the work, knowing you should have declined, there is a danger of performing less than your best.
A San Francisco planner posited that instead of saying ‘no’, she has said, “I don’t have bandwidth right now but could be available on X”. Sometimes the client is willing to adjust to my schedule. Otherwise, I refer them to others.”
Several participants on the CommuniTEA call talked about Scope Creep, which is when a project’s requirements increase over a project’s lifecycle. The aim was for one deliverable and before you know it, the client is now expecting far more deliverables. This causes confusion and delays. There may also be pushbacks for increasing the outcomes without re-evaluating your income!
One person recommended LoriAnn Harnish in Phoenix, AZ as a presenter on this topic.
SBO is creating a directory for members of this community. The goal is more direct connection and ease in locating services and products from other small business owners within the MPI family. Details are coming soon.
The Holidays are fast approaching. We like to end the year with fun and friendship. The next CommuniTEA will be December 15. Details are still being wrapped but there will be gifts of joy and laughter. Register at: https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYtc-6rqjMqEtGxk9UchAmsKmjbC1I81EVF/success?user_id=0dOEm4VLQsi7b1UyUCulsw&timezone_id=America%2FNew_York
Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries. She is an active member of International Live Events Association and Meeting Professionals International and is now serving on the 2022-2023 MPI Global Advisory Board for Small Business Owners. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. Karen@KarenKuzsel.com; www.KarenKuzsel.com; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady. Food photos for this series by Karen Kuzsel.