Marketing and Guest Services: A Delicate Relationship

Last May I transitioned from Guest Services to the newly created position of Director of Programming and Marketing at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center.  I have learned so much already!  As I began my new assignment, I was encouraged to make a complete break from guest services, to free my time and energy to focus on success in my new position.   As I have become more immersed in marketing, it has occurred to me that my experience and understanding of guest services is invaluable in my new position.    Guest services and marketing must go hand in hand.  And it is by combining these two disciplines that we in conference center leadership can provide the best possible experience for our guests.

Consider the relationship between expectations and reality.  Have you ever had the experience of getting really excited about a particular event, be it a vacation, a tour of a historic district or even something as simple as a movie?  The advertisement seems really promising, the pictures look amazing and the price is surprisingly affordable.  So you go with great anticipation of a wonderful time, and not long after arriving discover that the actual experience is not at all what you had expected.  You may become disillusioned and although you try to “make the best of a bad situation” and enjoy your time, you know for sure that you will not be doing this particular thing again.   As conference center professionals, we do not want our guests to describe their time at our facilities as that type of experience. 

The definition of marketing as given by the Business Dictionary is “the management process through which goods and services move from concept to the customer.”[1] Another way to look at it is that marketing creates expectations.   The term guest services has been defined by the same source as “all interactions between a customer and a product provider at the time of sale, and thereafter. Customer service adds value to a product and builds enduring relationship.”[2]  In other words, customer service defines the reality.  Even from simply looking at these definitions, one can see that these two ‘offices’ in the world of conferencing go together perfectly.  They depend on each other to such an extent that one cannot really succeed without the other.

The relationship between guest services and marketing is evident.  One without the other may result in wasted effort.  If a conference center offers excellent guest service, but no one hears about that center, it is to no avail.  Some repeat guests may continue to be faithful customers, but the center will not enjoy growth because no new business is won.  On the other hand, if a center really targets their desired audience with astounding marketing messages but is then unable to fulfill their promises once the guests have arrived, the center is in trouble.  A center needs to have a product worth marketing, and this requires the commitment and effort of the entire staff.  Marketing is the job of every single staff member.   It is therefore the responsibility of center leadership to communicate to the staff the importance of quality guest services for, without that staff wide commitment, the success of even the most effective marketing efforts may be diluted.

What steps can a center take to ensure the success of their marketing efforts?   First, all members of the Center’s staff must know that every contact with a guest is marketing – before during and after their stay.  Is it easy for someone to book a retreat at your facility?  Many people who call to book facilities for the first time may never have planned a retreat.  How do we help facilitate this process for them?  Once we have their commitment and deposits, do we continue to be as helpful as we sought to be when they were still considering our facility?  Do we have too much “fine print” in our reservation systems?  Are we explaining things thoroughly so that our guests are not surprised by additional charges, for example?  Do people feel like their interactions with us make their lives richer or more stressful?  A transparent and friendly booking process sets a group up for a positive experience on site.

Not only is marketing accomplished by reaching out to new customers and potential groups with information about our centers, but it is also serving the guests once they come to our property.  Thus marketing is completely reliant on the services guests receive on site, and the responsibility of such service really falls on the entire staff, not just those with the official title.  To go a step further, every staff member serves as a marketer for the conference center.   This includes the Director, the office staff, the housekeeping staff, the food services staff, and the volunteers – everyone on site.  In fact, there are a few basic questions that every staff member of a center should be able to answer, such as “Who owns this place,” “How long has it been here,” “Can I bring my family here,” and “What is the latest project of this center?”  Our staff members must feel empowered to serve as marketers for our center, not because they have to or are being given another job duty, but rather because they want to!  We as leaders must pour into them a love for our facility and its mission.  If it is true that 80% of a center’s future profits will come from 20% of its existing customers, than it is vital that the entire staff pull together and go above and beyond in their efforts to serve its guests.  This doesn’t necessarily require financial commitment, but it does require sincere heart commitment.  The staff of a conference center needs to put themselves in the place of its guests and ask the question, “How can we ‘wow’ our guests?”  Little things like having homemade cookies available at check-in, acknowledging a group member’s birthday with a cupcake and card from the staff, or a handwritten thank you note sent to the leader right after the event go a long way in efforts to make guests feel special and appreciated.

When we as conference center professionals go the extra mile in serving our guests, we create an experience that our guests will remember and share with others.  Without a doubt, one of the best advertisements is word of mouth.  We are seeking to give our guests an incredible experience that will cause them to go home and tell their friends, family, and co-workers about us.  People will pay for what they perceive to be valuable; therefore, they must look at their time at our center as well worth the money.  Rather than simply reducing prices, we need to focus on ways to enhance the value of the guest experience.  For example, when a family chooses to vacation at a resort, such as Disney, they will doubtlessly spend quite a bit of money.  Yet after they go and experience all that Disney has to offer, they will probably never once ask the question, “Was it worth it?” This is because Disney not only excels at marketing its products; it also excels at exceeding guests’ expectations when they visit a Disney property.  Guests perceive the value received for the expense required to enjoy such an experience with their family.  Our conference centers must aim to provide such valuable experiences for our guests!

So, what benefit can those of us in conferencing derive from understanding the relationship between guest services and marketing?  The benefit can be summed up quite simply: successful customer experiences which result in a desire to return to our centers.  A failure to understand the vital relationship between these two areas could easily bring detrimental effects to conference centers.  I fear that, so often, we as conference center leaders get so tied up in the overwhelming work lists that await us on a daily basis and forget to consider the vitality of this relationship.  There are so many things to do – calls to make, posts to load to social media, emails to be answered, staff challenges to be dealt with, and so many other items, all of which are important.  So, as leaders, we assume we have done our job sufficiently if we allow this particular person to handle guest services and that other person to handle the marketing.  Yet we do not bring these two areas together and really lead our entire staff to focus on the intricate relationship between the two, and a failure to do this could result in poor experiences for our guests, which will prove to be extremely dangerous to the overall success of our centers.  Once again, we as leaders need to slow down long enough to train our staff so that they too can see the beauty of this relationship.

In my new role as Director of Programming and Marketing, I have truly sought to make a break from the daily tasks of guest services, such as rooming sheets, meal counts and bills.  But there are other aspects of guest services that seem to almost define marketing.  Without a doubt, a major focus of conference center marketing includes reaching out and attracting new groups to the center with conventional marketing tactics such as phone calls, letters, emails, the use of social media, and website development.   Successful marketing requires an intentional focus on these areas.  However, it is also a crucial to maintain positive relationships with guests on site.  Since moving into this position I have already seen the importance of personally focusing on a group when they come to Lake Yale for their event – welcoming them, encouraging them to connect with us on social media and even asking for their permission to use pictures from their event on our social media sites.  My goal is to reassure them that we value their business and want to meet their particular needs, which will allow us to develop a relationship with them that will last into the future.   While these are things that I attempted to do while in guest services, my new position gives me more time to focus on these aspects that are so crucial to conferencing. 

Once again, I am new at this position and have much to learn.  However, I am already amazed by how much my former experience has helped me to identify some crucial components of marketing.  Thanks to my time as the Director of Guest Services, I am able to understand valuable nuggets of marketing that I would not have understood otherwise.  While a complete break from the everyday tasks of my former job in guest services is vital in order for me to succeed in my new position, successful marketing depends on having an eye on the purpose of guest services, namely, to serve guests and to serve them well.  The relationship of marketing and guest services is indeed a very delicate one that must be maintained very carefully!

[1] “Marketing.”  Business Dictionary, 2015.  24 August 2015.

[2] “Customer service.”  Business Dictionary, 2015.  24 August 2015.

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