In the age of digital and fast-paced communications, it is the personal touch that drives successful service delivery in the events industry, concluded a round table discussion held at the Victory Services Club (VSC) last week. The round table welcomed industry professionals, including in-house organisers, industry associations and venues, to debate the topic of service as part of the VSC campaign, celebrating 110 years of timeless service and exploring the future of events.

The debate explored the challenges faced by venues and event organisers in creating consistency of service delivery and in listening to the customer. Key challenges highlighted included: recruiting for attitude over aptitude; maintaining consistent standards while enabling the human touch; instilling service standards and values into temporary or agency staff; and adapting to changing attitudes towards service, both from staff and customers, in the millennial generation.

Responding to the challenge of maintaining consistency of standards, Heather Lishman, FIH, Hospitality Assured Director and Association Director of ABPCO (the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers), said: “Standard Operating Procedures are an important way to set consistent standards and ensure staff are delivering consistent service to customers. They give a guideline but we still need to add a personal touch.”

Veronica Matheson, Corporate Communications Advisor at CityWest Homes, added: “Service begins from the first interaction, whether it’s marketing, a phone call or by word of mouth.”

In terms of online reviews and social media, Mark Field, Operations Director at the VSC, commented: “We need to embrace it. It’s not a question of friend or foe, we need to engage and respond to customer feedback.”

The discussion also touched upon the challenge of employing within the hospitality sector, with many agreeing that the industry should recruit for attitude over aptitude to ensure staff retention. Mark Field added when talking about recruitment: “We want to see that light in their eyes at the interview stage and can then teach them the rest.”

It was suggested that the industry needs to find a way to improve its career development as Institute of Hospitality CEO Peter Ducker stated: “Globally it’s acceptable to pursue hospitality as a career, but not so much in the UK. The industry needs to get behind this idea.”

Alex Maitland, Operations Director at the Lansdowne Club, added: “Venues need to look after their temporary staff as we are competing to attract the best people. You want loyalty to create a great service.”

In terms of instilling service standards and values into staff, the round table discussion concluded that accreditations are a valuable tool to help raise the bar. Rosa Davies, Events Manager at the VSC, commented: “Accreditations have improved the level of service and are reassurance of the service quality you will receive at a venue.”

The session finished with a debate focusing on the future of service within the industry, with all participants agreeing that the personal touch plays a significant role, regardless of the evolution of technology.  Heather Lishman went on to say: “Human interaction is still important, and encourages engagement levels. We are human and get more out of a physical presence.”

This led to the suggestion that, though the core values of service should remain the same, delegates’ expectations will continue to rise to fit their fast-paced way of life with Claire Pearce, Board member of Venues of Excellence and General Manager of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Moor Hall, adding: “The speed of response by consumer service providers has increased dramatically to fit our fast pace of life. We can now order online in the morning and expect a delivery at our door that evening. This speed is becoming expected in service levels that are offered in all other areas, for example conference agents when offering a piece of business would, in previous times, expect a response in 24 or even 48 hours, now the expectation is just two hours.”

Air Commodore Nigel Beet CBE, CEO of the VSC, commented: “At the VSC our three core values are Value, Service and Courtesy, so it seemed fitting to invite influential industry professionals to our venue to discuss the topic of service in detail. The discussion brought to the surface a variety of key points that really paint a full picture of service in the hospitality industry, highlighting changes that need to be made and areas that need to be celebrated.

“We have launched our VSC110 campaign to not only celebrate our venue, but to also draw attention to the topic of service, so we are thrilled to have been able to host such an exciting and interesting event. All our guests had so much to say and the discussion could have continued all afternoon. I feel that this is just the beginning of an important debate, which we are pleased to be driving in the industry.”

Following the success of the round table discussion, the VSC will be launching a survey looking at service in the events industry as part of its ongoing VSC110 campaign.