Keep your tent rental clients satisfied—and returning—with these six tips for five-star customer service.
by Sarah Crews
Your company and your employees are the backbone of events from high-end weddings and corporate galas to backyard parties and festivals. And your image is on the line each time, from booking to takedown. Here are six strategies from some of the best in the tent rental business for providing customer service that keeps clients happy and returning for more.
1. Train every employee to think in terms of customer service. Planners and salespeople are on the front lines of customer service. But what about the crew chief? Installers? Drivers? Warehouse workers?
David Spata, owner of Big Tent Events Inc., Carol Stream, Ill., says that every employee needs to know a company’s mission statement and be incentivized to execute it. “Sometimes it takes a sit-down conversation with departments to see how their role and activities impact customer service,” Spata says. “The event industry is known for being a highly emotional environment because of the high stress customers are under and their concern for how they will be perceived if everything doesn’t look beautiful. Employees need to be trained on what to say as much as things not to say.”
Employees will treat customers well if they are treated well, says Liz Davis, vice president of operations at PTG Event Services, Bethpage, N.Y. Davis has found that employee manuals that outline steps and processes have given employees at her company the tools to provide excellent customer service. “This was initially built as an operational training guide, but was so helpful we implemented it in sales and customer service,” she says. “The document has template emails for common scenarios, product information and customization options. . . . The staff assisted with writing, and we add and edit [the manuals] regularly as we encounter new scenarios and challenges.”
2. Consider first impressions. At Pelican Tents & Events, Shreveport, La., owner Moss Duvall puts an emphasis on employee appearance, especially for those who go on-site to clients’ homes and businesses. “All of our guys wear uniforms with their names and our logo on the front of their shirts,” Duvall says. “They have a set for each day of the week, so they are clean and wrinkle free. We have a company that does all the washing, ironing and fixing of all the snags in their uniforms. No smoking or cell phones are allowed at any time. We want our employees to make the customer feel as comfortable as possible with all that goes into the production. We are invading their space, and we want them to feel relaxed with all the chaos that is going on.”
3. Identify the tools that will help you provide top-notch customer service. Orlando Wedding & Party Rentals, Lake Mary, Fla., uses a customer relationship management (CRM) system to keep up with leads and opportunities for bookings. “We use Insightly [a CRM platform], which allows you to set reminders, track revenue and not forget about your upcoming events and calls,” says Brittney Bouche, Orlando Wedding & Party Rentals business development manager. “It’s great for history records if you keep up with it and go back to get reviews from past clients. We also like to send [clients] personal emails to ask how the event went, and if they respond positively, we ask for a review.”
4. Learn to say, “Let’s see.” To get ahead in the market, new event rental companies hungry for business tend to fall into the trap of saying yes to anyone who calls, Davis says. Can you deliver that today? Yes. Can we rent more inventory than you have? You bet. Can you change the equipment you just delivered? Sure thing. Can you move my yard furniture? No problem. Can you make it? Sounds good. This was the scenario in PTG’s early days.
“This habit helped us form key client relationships that helped the business grow and thrive,” she says. “This habit put inventory on our shelves and paid the bills. This habit also formed unsustainable expectations from our clients and exhausted our staff.
“Enter phase two, resentment,” she continues. “After some time, management, staff and the vendors we rely on are getting tired. The excitement of being a hero is fading and the loss of time with our families is setting in. This resentment is manifested in less-than-stellar customer-facing communication. The irony in this phase is that the initial effort to offer exceptional customer service results in just the opposite.”
This stage is a fork in the road for many companies—a moment when they step back and assess what really builds a customer experience. Some companies hold their breath and keep “yes-ing,” while others create a “no” culture, where if a job doesn’t fit into their specific scope, it’s an automatic no, she says. “This works for some, specifically those that have a solid book of business and growth is not a priority.”
PTG found a compromise between those two extremes, one that is neither groundbreaking nor difficult, Davis says. “‘Let’s see’ is how we approach it. This is for a few reasons, which I expand on for employees. Speaking definitively traps us. If we agree without asking all the questions and confirming that the ask is feasible, we are obligated to make it happen, often at our own expense. If we disagree without exploring it, the customer will likely shop elsewhere next time.”
Davis takes the same “Let’s see” approach with employees, which helps to foster a workplace culture of empathy and conversation. “If a customer service person or delivery person knows that they have a platform to offer suggestions and they are considered, I’ve found that their confidence in problem-solving skills improves, which improves the customer experience,” she says.
5. To nurture long-term relationships, go above and beyond. When customers experience excellent service, they are much more likely to do business with that salesperson again and refer new potential clients to the company. Relationships are everything in the tent rental and event industry. Top salespeople separate themselves from ordinary sales staff by taking extra steps, such as post-delivery check-ins with the client. They recognize that excellent customer service gives them a competitive edge.
And when it comes to providing top-notch customer service, “above and beyond” can encompass key employees beyond salespeople. “For long-term customers, we try to send the same crew leader so our crew leader and the client get to know each other and [the crew leader learns] how the customer likes things done,” Duvall says. “It really speeds up the install time, which saves money and makes the install as easy as possible for the customer.”
6. Recognize and celebrate great customer service. Employee recognition doesn’t have to be a huge production, but it does have to be frequent, says Melani Kodikian, president of A to Z Party Rental, Montgomeryville, Pa. “We use a couple of easy techniques. . . . One is our staff recognition line item at department meetings. At some meetings a manager will have a specific recognition item, or sometimes we’ll just do a round-robin where team members point out a positive interaction they saw that week. Another thing we do is post any notes from customers on our message board—you’d be surprised at how many customers will send in hand-written thank-you notes when they are happy with the service they’ve received. We also encourage staff to write their own congratulations.” The company also celebrates birthdays and work anniversaries and hosts an annual picnic and a holiday party. An annual team building event was held this year at a local escape room. “As our staff’s family grows, we recognize new additions with an ‘A to Z Party Animal’ onesie,” she says.
At Big Tent Events, employees are rewarded with gift cards to local businesses if their names are mentioned in a positive online review. “Online reviews will help you win business or lose business,” Spata says. “Having your employees focused on giving good customer service to get an online review is priceless.”
Sarah Crews is director of sales and marketing for Miami, Fla.-based Economy Tent International (ETI).
SIDEBAR: Go paperless
Going paperless does more than save trees. A to Z Party Rental, Montgomeryville, Pa., is going paperless in-house and on the road, finding it offers numerous customer service benefits. “Our drivers use mobile tablets to get electronic signatures for delivery and photos of deliveries (giving clients peace of mind), and all copies get emailed to the clients,” says A to Z president Melani Kodikian. “Clients sign reservations and make payments via email, and walk-in customers sign their contracts on a tablet we keep in-house. Our customers really like this because they don’t have to keep a lot of paper, and yet they never lose the information. We also keep tabs on customer service by requesting a social media review by email with every closed contract. While we love any positive reviews we get, the more important aspect in terms of customer service is to address and resolve every negative situation or complaint directly with the customer.”