In pursuit of excellent customer experience through technology, size does matter… says Richard Smith Head of Sales and Marketing at Yarnfield Park.

The way that organisations book, plan and deliver their training and conference events has seen major changes over the last 5 years. Whilst a lot of these changes are clearly a direct result of the economic challenges that everyone has faced, there have been significant changes in how organisers want to deliver events and in how delegates want to participate in events.

And as event bookers, for budgetary or political reasons, have had to change the profile of venue they use, so they have increased their focus on the quality of the facilities they are using and the quality of service they receive. Self evidently if an organiser has had to lower their expectation of which venues they can use, or cut their spend at an existing venue; their concern about the quality of the service they receive will increase.

In addition, when you consider the pressure that an organiser is under to get the venue right it’s no surprise that the focus on experience should be a number one priority for venues. After all the organiser has a number of audiences to appeal to, be it their boss, their speakers, their delegates and/or their sponsors. If an organiser gets the choice of venue wrong and as a result fails to achieve the aims of the event then some or all of those interested parties will be very unhappy. As a result venues need to ensure that they are working closely to ensure their product is aligned to the changing needs of their clients.

And one of the areas that has become more crucial and which venues have struggled to keep pace with is that of Internet bandwidth and Wi-Fi connectivity. Pick up any piece of industry research and the biggest gripe that event organisers have is about the variable quality in internet provision across venues and the lack of transparency from venues about what their system can or cannot do.

But why is Internet and Wi-Fi connectivity so important? On the one hand it’s the simple reason that people want and need to stay connected when away from their offices and their families. If you are staying at a venue for 4 or 5 days your expectation is that access to social media, email and internet is a given. However for events it goes far beyond this.

More and more events access learning material or conference data via online portals. Streaming keynote speeches, connecting into a company’s system or delegates downloading and uploading data are the norm particularly for training and development based events. And in addition each delegate will have 2 or 3 pieces of hardware that they will want to connect to the internet, be it their laptop, tablet and/or mobile device.

However it is an investment ‘big ticket’ with any half reliable and future-proofed solution likely to cost in the ten’s, or more likely the hundred’s, of thousands of pounds to install. But can a venue realistically afford not to do it?

At Yarnfield Park we recently rolled out a new Internet and Wi-Fi solution. This was particularly important for us as the vast majority of our events are learning based residential events. The process from initial scoping to installation required a considerable level of research, input from a wide range of people and a business case that gave confidence to the owners that a return would be seen. In the end it was a pretty simple decision to make. To not invest the £0.25m in a new solution would not only stop the venue growing its business, it would also lead to the loss of some of its core clients.
What pushed us to make this decision?

In September 2012 I had to have a particularly uncomfortable conversation with a client who was bringing a major event to the venue. The previous year they had held an event with us and our Internet had failed to live with the demands of the event and whilst everything else was great they made it clear that they would not return if we didn’t make some improvements to our Internet capacity. So we did ‘improve’ the system and in September 2012 they returned. The Internet again failed to cope even though we felt that we had made some important changes. An interesting challenge was that the client wasn’t even sure what bandwidth they needed in the first place. So even though they had been fully briefed on the upgrades and were happy with them, we all ultimately went into the event with fingers crossed in hope rather than expectation. As a result we had the second failure.

After this chastening experience we needed to deal with this properly. Cue the major investment and as result we can now offer one of the fastest dedicated Internet solutions available at any conference or training venue in the UK, with a dedicated 300Mbps superfast connection across all our meeting, accommodation and public spaces. This free service allows delegates to easily access online learning resources, stream videos, live link and share information easily and effectively.

And the results for us have been clear. Clients love the new system and the delegate experience is great. So the questions for venues in the UK are clear. Are you prepared to be up front with customers about your Internet capacity? And are you prepared to make it free?

Access to the Internet and social media has become an essential part of daily life for most people. Whether it’s access for business or personal reasons, venues need to understand that the failure to provide an excellent, and future-proofed, service has become and will increasingly become one of the biggest barriers to a positive customer experience.

Richard Smith is the Head of Sales and Marketing for Yarnfield Park, one of the country’s largest dedicated training and conference centers, with a convenient central location that’s easily accessible from all over the UK. The venue offers 25 event spaces, including the Knighton Suite with a capacity for 450 delegates at any one time, 338 bedrooms and one of the fastest Internet capacities of any venue outside London. Prior to joining Yarnfield Park three years ago Richard spent 9 years at The ICC in Birmingham in a variety of roles including Head of Conference Sales and Senior Account Director.

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