Even before I got to Chaminade Resort & Spa in Santa Cruz California last weekend for W2W 2011, I was aware it was a special place. The invitation to this open space conference for event industry women was filled with references to the beauty, the relaxing ambience and the willingness of the staff to go the extra mile for the group. W2W has taken place at Chaminade every year since the inception of the conference in 2004.
Chaminade is a conference center that offers complete meeting packages. As Joan Eisenstodt (who founded W2W along with Vanessa Vlay) noted in my pre-conference post about W2W, "The staff knows us and is always happy to see us... Those of us who have been steadily involved know that place and comfort have as much to do with outcomes as do content and delivery."
In fact, the group is so enamoured of Chaminade, that the one session that was prescheduled at this open space conference was a discussion with Chaminade staffers.
These people try hard to get you, the event planner
But before I get to what I learned at that discussion, I'd like you to envision a very different kind of experience working with an event venue. An experience in which your contacts there REALLY listen to you. Not just to what you say you want and need for your event, but to what you don't say. Are you creative? A risk taker? Or are you more conservative? These people try hard to get you, the event planner, so that they will be able to collaborate best with you and even anticipate the kind of event you are looking to create.
Take, for example, the year that W2W participants were discussing, (on their online discussion group, prior to the event) how they all have to wear many different hats. Somehow Chaminade Senior Audio Visual Technician Mike Gonzalez got wind of the discussion and took it upon himself to dress the W2W conference room with various hats hanging from the ceiling. The W2W particpants were charmed.
Or the year that Mike created the "Potato Chip" award for the group. Again, his own idea, to add to an activity/discussion that W2W participants had been involved in.
Or this year when Joan asked for Chaminade's assistance in explaining a particular kind of ice-cream float style beverage (Vernor's Cream Ale) she's a fan of. Right in the middle of one of our sessions, hotel staff members rolled in a cart complete with ice cream, soda, chocolate syrup, glasses, straws & spoons that Joan used to create the concoctions herself as we continued on with the session.
More like collaborators than service providers
Needless to say, after all of this I was eager to hear what practices, thoughts & philosophies about customer service the Chaminade staff shared. So when Sherrie Huneke, Director of Sales; Jennifer Cope Drummond, Senior Conference Planning Manager; Sean Woodruff, Food & Beverage Manager and Beverlie Terra, Executive Chef, all sat down to visit with us, they had my complete attention.
They laughed and enjoyed the company of the W2W participants. They were at ease and really did carry themselves more like collaborators than simply as service providers. As they shared stories and answered questions, I was struck by how they all seemed to love their jobs. It was noted that the turnover rate at Chaminade is remarkably low, which didn't seem surprising.
Obviously, these were people who have fun, take pride in what they do and are very detail oriented. But what impressed me most was that they all seemed to be EXPERT listeners, able to notice even non-verbal communication and use the information to assist clients in creating the ideal experience for attendees.
Listening is probably the most underrated skill that humans learn. It requires the ability to stay present, to read body language and vocal tone, and to hear subtext (the things that people say underneath their words.)
Conversations between event suppliers & planners are really where the magic is made. And when a supplier really hears what you're saying and jumps to make your ideas a reality, sometimes even before you've articulated them, well, you've found a very special supplier indeed.
I guess that's why W2W particpants won't even discuss going somewhere else. Not at this point, anyway.
Have you ever come across a supplier who listened so well they could successfully anticipate your wants and needs? How do you collaborate with clients to create their ideal event? Do you know someone who is an expert listener?