by Steve Adubato, PhD

Recently, I had to deliver a presentation before a trade association at a hotel/conference center. When it comes to corporate or trade events, logistics and effective communication are the keys to success. It is essential that the host organization and the venue are committed to creating a positive experience. However, on occasion, things just don’t work that well. Consider the following scenario:

As I arrived at the conference center for a combination speech and book signing, I had several boxes of books that had to be carried in. When I asked the hotel greeter if he could help me, his response was pretty clear; “Sorry, sir, that’s not my job. I only help the people who are staying at our hotel.” When I explained to him that I was the guest speaker, he just pointed to the front desk and said, “They can help you over there.”

At the front desk, a very pleasant young lady said she would call the bell captain. As I waited patiently, 10 minutes went by and no bell service. I would have been glad to carry the books myself, but there were simply too many of them. At 15 minutes (now I was running the risk of being late for my presentation) I said to the young lady; “Do you know when someone will be here to help carry the books?” She responded, “I’m not sure. I’ve called several times. Things are very busy today.”

That seemed odd, since competition is pretty fierce in the effort to bring meetings and events into hotels and conference centers. I thought they’d be more accommodating. Finally, I decided to take one box up myself, and came across an area that said Bell Service. There was a gentleman standing there named “Bob”, and when I told him about the wait, he very abruptly said; “I don’t think 15 minutes is so long to wait. We are really busy.” I could see a pattern here, but it only got worse when he said; “By the way, you were at the wrong desk. You should have come here in the first place.” I tried to explain to Bob that I was directed to the front desk, but obviously he felt that it wasn’t his problem.

Frustrated, I finally said; “I’m delivering a speech on customer service today and the experience I just had is a great example of how NOT to communicate with customers.” Bob made it clear that the problem was my impatience and offered no help with the books. Ultimately, I called the client who had hired me to speak and they gladly sent a few people down and we carried up the books.

After the speech, the client rep for the conference center told me there was “no excuse” for the way things were handled. He apologized greatly and asked me to point out “Bob”, at which point he said, “I’m not surprised. Bob’s got a bit of an attitude problem.”

So there it is. Bob’s “attitude problem” not only turned me and the client off, but I shared this experience with over 200 corporate executives at his conference center. That story is going to get repeated to others, and the brand of this particular venue is going to suffer.

The bottom line here is that those who represent your organization on the front lines must communicate in a positive “can do” fashion. They can’t blame customers or make excuses, even if they are “busy”. All this would be true in good economic times, but when times are this tough, it is true in spades. Yet, my gut tells me the Bob’s of the world aren’t going to understand this any time soon.