The misalignment of expectations

Today’s groups want more. More experience, more mindfulness and frankly, more “pizzazz.” As meeting planners contend with requests for unique wellness activities, memorable experiences, dramatic venues, or sustainable options, costs continue to skyrocket. F&B pricing and A/V fees are on the rise, not to mention record-level ADR, making it difficult for meeting planners to align expectations with budget constraints.

There was a time when hospitality wasn’t just about meeting expectations. Have we gotten to the point that it’s too difficult to create the wow factor?

Successful sales teams know that setting expectations is one of the key criteria for exceptional meeting planning. But setting and then meeting those expectations can be a slippery slope today. Those properties that host meetings, events, or conventions are tasked with meeting group expectations and, more importantly, ensuring their guests’ experience is exceptional.

Meeting planners and event attendees may have certain expectations based on past experiences with your hotel, promotional materials your team has sent, online reviews, or recommendations from the salesperson. As with any partnership, a lack of clear communication can have unwanted consequences. Failure to clearly convey requirements or preferences can lead to disappointments.

But times have changed. Staff turnover is still a concern, and many meeting planners haven’t returned to their previous roles. Has the industry shifted from meeting planners to people who plan meetings? These are two very different types of customers that the industry is serving and may mean your sales staff may be working with inexperienced meeting planners, and these two types of personas require different sales and operations skill sets.

Alternatively, while meeting planners agree that hotel staff turnover has left them dealing with more inexperienced sales personnel. Hotel sales personnel still continue to have blurred roles—performing a lot of operational tasks and more event design roles for less experienced planners, making their jobs more complex.

Avoid Mismatched Perceptions and Hidden Costs

Food and beverage costs are a moving target when booking an event, especially when booking them a year or two out. Our industry has been dealing with shipping and distribution challenges since group business returned, and the harsh reality is that hotel operators must pass along those rising costs to the customer. Below is a list of suggestions to help sales professionals better initiate reasonable expectations and level-set the playing field when challenges arise.

Don’t try fitting a square peg into a round hole. Ensure the event you are bidding on is a fit for your hotel. Meeting planners are sending RFPs to upwards of 5-10 properties at a time. Your sales leaders should determine which RFP the sales team responds to, and it is important to remember that not every RFP is a fit for every hotel.Every group will have its own expectations regarding the services, facilities, and overall event experience. For instance, some guests may have varying expectations based on past experiences, cultural background needs, or individual preferences. Is your hotel up to the task of meeting those requirements? If not, move along.

Look beyond the RFP and rebuild past relationships. While the RFP is still a key driver for event business, there is more to sales than filling in forms. Developing ongoing and meaningful relationships with decision-makers will ensure repeat business. The RFP should be viewed as an opportunity to open up a dialogue with a meeting planner. Perhaps you lose the first one, but how you respond (including declining the opportunity to bid) can lead to better qualified RFPs in the future and even the potential high profit direct business.We have already determined that there are many new players in the field. Whether it is new sales team members on the property or new meeting planners, establishing or re-building those connections is critical. As with most of us, relationships were strained during the pandemic. It was a time when we were working under a fog, not sure when our world would turn back on. However, those times have passed us. It is time to build new relationships and re-establish old ones. 

Be honest and deliver solutions that fit. Ensuring a successful event requires honesty and finesse. Unexpected or undisclosed costs can be a major source of frustration, so to avoid this misstep, incorporate a path for clear communication. This will come in handy for those instances where your team needs to scramble to accommodate any changes.Remember, perception is reality in most cases. Even if your team did all the right things, the perception that your staff isn’t up to the task or cannot deliver on contractual promises will overshadow the overall event experience.

Consider local or alternative solutions to reduce costs. When there is a drastic change in costs or something that you cannot deliver on, sales professionals need to come to the table with solutions. If your A/V costs have soared, offer other cost-effective solutions or negotiate with third-party A/V sources. Don’t penalize the client if they want to use outside sources. Or, if a requested food item is too expensive to obtain by your hotel, offer alternative solutions, such as leveraging local food sources or suggesting a food truck to liven things up.

Don’t let new technology be your downfall. If you have implemented new technology such as remote check-in, kiosks, keyless entry or an app designed to streamline the customer experience, it is vital that on-property staff have been trained to help the guest navigate technology.It is vital that your staff be more familiar with property technology than the customer. There is nothing worse than asking for help with a new technology only to find on-property staff have no idea how to navigate it.

Aligning on All Fronts

When it comes down to it, planners understand that event design is more than a room with a view. However, it is essential for both meeting planners and hotels to establish clear lines of communication, set realistic expectations, and ensure that all details are documented and agreed upon in the planning stages. At the end of the day, it’s important to realize that you and the meeting planner are on the same side—creating memorable experiences for the attendees. If the attendees are satisfied and expectations are met, you are setting yourself up for repeat business and potential referrals.

Regular check-ins and collaboration can also help prevent misunderstandings and improve the overall event experience. Include all key stakeholders in communications about any changes as far in advance as possible. Inconsistencies in service quality across different touchpoints of the guest experience, such as check-in, room cleanliness, event setup or customer service, can lead to disappointment and can skew the guests’ perspective.

As we venture forth, it is necessary for hospitality businesses to focus on effective communication by setting expectations and consistently delivering on promises. Regularly gathering guest and customer feedback, asking the right questions, and using it to improve services can be the difference between meeting and exceeding expectations.