Boston Park Plaza uses pre-event surveys to enhance meetings

BOSTON—Let’s face it. Most of us skip the “answer survey” selection on a phone call or even on a website. However, the truth is that surveys aren’t pointless—they’re vital. They’re especially vital in the hospitality industry and in hotels that conduct large meetings and events year-round, sometimes multiple times in a day.

And, of course, meetings are essential to hotel owners and operators, forming a critical chunk of their business. MEETINGScope, a survey feedback solution from UniFocus, is being utilized by hotels worldwide to collect feedback and better manage relationships with meeting planners.

MeetingScope enables hotels to enhance their ability to help meeting planners.

How does it work? Data is first captured through a pre-event survey with the meeting planners, which allows the hotel to better meet the planners’ needs once on-site arrival occurs. The survey pertains to anything associated with the experience—for instance, “Hot Buttons” serves as a buzzword for anything the planner is having issues with or wants to ensure happen on-site. Because of the pre-event survey, the hotel has this information prior to the meeting. In turn, the right people are better equipped to ensure the meeting goes well and as expected.

Christopher Shimkus, director of catering & convention services at Boston Park Plaza, has been utilizing this tool since he took the job at the historic hotel more than three years ago. “Everyone has a post-event survey, so I really enjoy the pre-event feature. It really allows me to get a pulse on how the client is feeling before they even get on-site. Then, we can get on the phone with the client and fix any errors or confusion that might be there,” explained Shimkus. “Then, we can set ourselves up for a better post-event survey and a great event on-site.” If the event is especially long, a mid-event survey is also available.

“I run a team of over 13 people. I love the control I have with this system—especially the administrative side. I can get real-time feedback and filter the results so the people who are executing the event are only getting their surveys. They’re not getting bombarded, so that’s a huge timesaver,” said Shimkus.

Boston Park Plaza is no stranger to meetings and events. The property possesses 50,000 sq. ft of meeting and event space and is home to the third largest ballroom in the city, according to the hotel. With 32 meeting rooms, its meeting capacity is 1,130 people; the entire space recently underwent a $100-million renovation. “I don’t know the number right off-hand, but we must do over 1,000 meetings and events a year. Every group gets the surveys. Not all will fill them out, but every single group does receive them,” he said.

Training for MEETINGScope is web-based and is available for the administrators of the program to help them understand how they can manage the system. Then, that will kick off communication with the entire sales team to set up levels of expectation, so the staff can focus on their relationships with meeting planners.

Boston Park Plaza had used MEETINGScope prior to Shimkus’ hire, and when he signed on, he brought it back. For his part, he was already familiar with the system from a previous hotel. Celia Karseno, VP of technology utilization at UniFocus, refers to this as the boomerang client—and that’s not a bad thing. “Boston went out and utilized another company for a while, and then after a month or so, they were back with UniFocus. The other system wasn’t giving them what they needed. They didn’t deliver like MEETINGScope does,” said Karseno. “We were really happy they came back. Along with boomerang clients, we also have a lot of boomerang employees. That’s a very positive term in our world at UniFocus.”

UniFocus wants to present MEETINGScope as not just a report card, but as a strategic approach to success. “Many of our competitors, or even properties we work with are so used to seeing, ‘OK, this was our score from last month.’ But from our perspective, the future with UniFocus specifically is really utilizing that information more as a sales and prospecting tool and seizing the opportunity to better develop relationships with your meeting planners,” said Karseno. The company hopes hotels will grow their meetings business and also identify where they succeed and where they potentially need to spend most of their targeted and prospecting information.

At Boston Park Plaza, its survey mainly focuses on value, overall meeting experience, meeting facilities, audio visual, sales department, banquet services, billing, hotel services, conference services, catering series and coffee break services.  The survey can be as in-depth or as short as the property wants it to be depending on the complexity of the program. “I use the survey to also track issues as well—food quality, quality of room temperature, etc.,” said Shimkus. “There are many questions that allow me to take a good look at the operation. We can think one thing—but data is reality.”

According to UniFocus, the feedback for the MEETINGScope program itself has been positive. “It’s not just a survey program for meeting planner feedback,” Karseno said. “We want the hotel to be able to tie the results back to its sales team. From a broad perspective, we want the surveys to be a continuation of that planner experience. There’s a lot of flexibility the planner can have when designing the survey.”

MEETINGScope gives the industry actionable information and, according to Shimkus, is user-friendly and comes highly recommended. “If you’re going to own your own business and know your business—it is such a competitive audience nowadays and you must know what your clients are wanting and feeling. You can’t rest in the past or just do what’s always been done,” he concluded. HB

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