Here at Hire Space, we're in the unique and rather brilliant position of working with a huge network of wonderful venue managers.
To that end, and to coincide with the time of the year when we're all having a bit of a Spring clean of our processes, I thought it'd be useful to share with you some of the best practise we've encountered. Please also get in touch if you've got any other ideas - I'd love to hear them!
By Ellie Purkhardt, Head Of Customer Experience
In today's digital marketplace, customers expect responses quick. No, responses that are quicker than quick. Lightning might be more accurate! A recent survey found that 32% of customers expect a response within 30 minutes via any channel, and that some even expect a response within 10 minutes.
Thankfully, with so many channels available (phone/ email/ text/ Twitter/ Facebook and so forth), venue managers now have a multitude of tools for communication available to them - and the most effective venue managers use them all.
Closely connected is the importance of being organised. Most often, this has to do with having a diary that is both accessible, and bang up-to-date.
It is extremely frustrating for a customer to be told that a venue is available, only to subsequently discover that it is not. Conversely, customers are really impressed by venue managers who have remote and instant access to their calendars, and can hence confirm availability quickly and (crucially) accurately. One of our venues, which is staffed by a team of volunteers, has their diary set up as a shared Google calendar. All of the volunteers can access that calendar from their smartphones, and all are very good at updating the calendar with new bookings, enquiries and holds.
As we know at Hire Space, sometimes customers have specific (eccentric?) requests.
Whether dealing with a bride who is determined that her Granny will do the catering for her wedding (brave Granny!) or a party organiser who wants at least 3 days' access to dress the venue, it's important to be as flexible as possible - and to recognise that, to some customers, these things are all-important.
That said, it's also important to set clear expectations. If a venue is not able to accommodate a customer's request, the thing that matters most is for them to explain why. If a venue can help, it's still useful to draw clear boundaries, so that nobody is disappointed.
All venues have different pros and different cons - and thank goodness for that fact! Customers come in all shapes and sizes, events in all colours of the rainbow and, by the same logic, no venue is going to work every time.
The most important thing is to be transparent. If you're a fabulous community venue offering a huge amount of space and unbelievable hire fees, but a mile's walk from the nearest tube station, it's better to mention that early on and to suggest possible solutions. So too, if you're a stunning warehouse which, although a fabulous venue for a conference, would need to hire in a lot of equipment to make it happen - share that information with the customer from the start, and involve them in the process.
To me, a site viewing is a bit like a blind date. First impressions count, big time.
In our experience, the venue managers that create the best first impressions are those that are communicative, organised - and unfailingly on time. The morning of a viewing, it can be a good idea to drop the customer an email or text confirming the time of the viewing and sharing any other important information (especially when it comes to directions to your venue)! The same applies to the run-up to a big event - and, of course, in both cases, it's crucial to make sure that you are bang on time for any agreed meeting!
Having just started planning my own wedding, I now have a much healthier insight into the mind of the average customer. Whilst the exact orientation of the cutlery on the table or the precise shade of the roses might seem utterly baffling in its irrelevance to you - it might just be mission critical to the customer that you're dealing with.
Our best venue managers are therefore unfailingly patient, gentle and supportive. If a customer is needy, anxious or seemingly obsessed by tiny details, it's crucial to take their concerns seriously, and to do all you can to help. You never know, one day (like me) you might find yourself on the other side of the coin - and karma dictates that what goes around comes around!
The venue managers that have truly knocked our socks off are those who are dedicated to going above and beyond what a customer expects.
This tenet has had a range of practical manifestations. One that springs to mind was a hotel which, when asked whether a dog would be allowed to attend a meeting not only said 'yes' but provided a dog bed, complete with four-posts and Bonio!
The principal is simple - if you can 'wow' a customer, go for it - you can be sure that their friends will hear the reports.
Please feel free to share any other ideas or experiences - we'd love to hear from you!