What’s More Important: A Happy Client Or A Successful Event?
No, that’s not a trick question, because they are most definitely not the same thing. Generally, a successful event will result in a happy client, but not always. And understanding the difference is critical to career success for planners.
Junior level planners tend to focus on what it takes to make a successful event, which involves nailing the logistics: the site selection, floor plan, timeline, menu, production schedule, etc. And for sure, if you botch those, you’re in trouble. But even if you get all of the logistics right, your client might still be unhappy.
Why? Honestly, who the heck knows what goes on in your client’s head that would make him or her be disappointed in the event. You might have executed the details perfectly, but the right media didn’t show up. Or maybe the top sales prospects didn’t seem to enjoy it enough. Or perhaps the fundraising goals weren’t met. It could be anything.
Why It Matters
And the only way to know is to ask. You have to ask the client what success look like, what will make the event a home run in their eyes, which VIPs need to be blown away, etc. Ask them, and they’ll tell you. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what YOU think of the event. The only person whose opinion matters is the client’s. And employers look for candidates who get it.
“If people have hotel/motel, or restaurant experience (or other customer-facing experience), that immediately elevates them to the front of the interview process,” said Haley Carlson, national director of events & sponsorships for Tribune Publishing, because those people understand the importance of satisfying a customer in a pressure situation.
Events are live, fluid entities with no pause button or opportunity for do overs. And with so many vendors, details and moving parts, it’s extremely likely that some things will not go as planned. If the client feels you ‘get them’ and understand what their ultimate goals and fears are, you can survive the unforeseen execution glitches that may arise.
Understanding the importance of reading, reacting to, and satisfying a client is a critical skill set for all planners, and is often one frequently overlooked by younger planners who focus on the logistics at the expense of the client. I know it’s not something I got right away when I started my career, but mastering it was essential to my success.
Best Practices for Cultivating A Client-Centered Perspective
So how do you instill this client-focused mentality on your students? It’s not an easy mindset to grasp at a young age, but it can be taught. Here are some suggestions.
- If you’re having your students plan a real or simulated event, don’t just give them the event details. Have them meet a real client, ideally someone who exhibits a personality that’s not so easy to read or work with.
- Encourage your students to get experience at front-of-house jobs where they’ll be dealing with customers. This can include the front desk of a hotel, being a waiter or bartender in a restaurant, a banquet server, or any retail position where making customers happy is part of the job. If they can’t hack that, events are not the best place for them.
- Practice role playing exercises in class where one person plays a mock client (give them a client/event profile to work off of) and someone else plays the planner. Have them practice a client discovery session, simulating that first meeting where the planner tries to find out as much as possible about the client, their organization, guest profile, objectives, etc.
Teaching students how to design, plan and produce successful events will help them get their first jobs. Teaching them how to understand what it takes to make their clients happy will help them succeed in their careers long term.
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