By Jordan Benson
When planning a corporate event, image is key. But what happens when your AV staff don’t live up to basic service standards?
Audio visual support was once a skill set for a very specialized event management discipline where value was placed on technical knowledge. Now, AV support is necessary across the event board — demos at convention centres, presentations at corporate meetings in hotel conference rooms, video connections for weddings where relatives cannot attend, and even memorial carousels at funerals.
Technical knowledge is still valued above all other facets of AV delivery. A technical failure is not acceptable under any circumstance, and AV providers have tacit guarantees, if not formal service level agreements (SLA), that ensure a technically flawless performance. But what about the service provided by the AV staff? Why is service not addressed in these agreements, and what program can be initiated by industry leaders to raise the bar?
Expect a professional attitude
When AV providers sell their services, there is an expected level of professionalism. After all, we are sales professionals. Conversely, AV technicians are used to being invisible, and made to feel that it is their technical skills they are hired for, not their interaction with the client. But as AV support becomes relevant in new contexts, so do the technicians. While we used to be able to provide technical staff that looked like roadies for a Neil Young tour, torn jeans and checked shirts do not cut muster at button-down corporate meetings and chic launch parties.
Once we have closed the deal, the level of professionalism exhibited by the AV sales person should extend to onsite support staff. In dress, behaviour, and communication with clients, onsite staff have to demonstrate an understanding that they are representing several institutions at an event. Obviously, they are representing the contracted AV company. But, they also reflect the event planner that has invited people to spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars to attend the event. They also mirror the brand of the venue, which often has its own brand standards to uphold.
Since every event requires a five-star experience, and on-the-ground AV staff are responsible for that as much as uniformed venue staff, I propose an evolved version of the service level agreement (SLA) that addresses the service provided by AV staff as well as the performance of the technology. This SLA will provide clear standards that AV staff must meet as an obligation. Implementing this evolved SLA in every relationship with AV companies will raise the service level expectation across the industry to a grade that reflects how corporate meetings and events should be conducted.
A clear guide from which we can take direction is the Global Star Rating Program by Forbes Travel Guide, which offers specific guidelines for creating a five-star experience in hotels and other hospitality environments. Venues in hotels are often charged for services based on their Forbes or Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) rating. Some Forbes standards do not apply to AV staff, but many can be adapted for our industry. I call upon AV service providers to use the Forbes Global Star Rating Program as an example and create their own guide for service standards, formalized in SLAs, that provide the five-star experience that venues, attendees and clients deserve.
Here are three key areas to address with an AV team:
I was long told that I should dress to the standards of the client; if I expected business casual, I should dress business casual. I believe that AV providers should dress to a standard that goes beyond that bar. Yes, you are fishing cable and getting your hands dirty with networking gear. But we sold this deal in a suit and tie, and that is how the service should be delivered, whether you are a salesperson or a tech. An easy rule of thumb: be better dressed than the best-dressed guest.
We are not proposing a George Steinbrenner-era no-facial-hair edict. But beards and moustaches should be well-groomed, and hair shorn appropriately. It’s not rocket science. Long hair can be appropriate; shaggy hair is not. Look to the grooming standards of the venue’s staff for a guideline, then exceed it.
A quick point about both of the above: Obviously, dress and grooming standards differ from male to female staff members. What is appropriate for male techs is not necessarily appropriate for female techs. Again, look to the standards of the venue for a guideline, and you should be able to create an appropriate benchmark for both men and women.
Respect the client, respect the venue brand, respect the attendees. This is where we in the AV industry stand to learn the most from the hospitality industry we serve, and where Forbes’s five-star guidelines are most useful. Greet the venue manager, customer or attendees politely, rather than implying that you have been inconvenienced by the interaction. Speak clearly and courteously, even if the interaction is becoming confrontational. And never – ever – ask the client to extend himself or herself to solve a problem. The six most important words in the hospitality industry are the six most important words for onsite AV support staff: Please allow me to assist you.
Those are the standards to which we at EPiQVision train and hold accountable our staff, and I believe they should be the standards that meeting planners, venues, and guests should expect from an AV service provider. Every meeting should be a five-star experience, and AV staff play an underestimated role in providing that experience.
Transparent provision of technology should be a given. But the service, conduct, dress and deportment of support staff should be held to the same standard of excellence. The Global Star Rating Program by Forbes Travel Guide is a valuable reference for measuring your company’s – and your service provider’s – performance. If you are a meeting planner or a venue supplier, accept nothing but the best. If you are a service provider, supply nothing but the best.
About the author
Event production specialist and business owner Jordan Benson is reshaping the way Torontonians experience events by raising the bar on event production and client service. His background in innovative event production has garnered Jordan a prestigious portfolio of Fortune 500 clients. His company, EPiQVision Inc., offers complete audio-visual event production services and is the exclusive A/V provider for notable Toronto venues and hotels. Using over 15 years of experience, EPiQVision seamlessly brings events to life with the latest technologies, and services clients with unparalleled professionalism. For a personalized production consultation, contact EPiQVision at 416.637.5595 or firstname.lastname@example.org.