Archive for March, 2014

Hiring and Training Staff for the Conference Season

Posted on: March 17th, 2014 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Jen Neilands, Front Desk Manager, Conferences and Accommodations, University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus

UBCO Conferences and Accommodation aspires to be an outstanding service provider to all visitors by embodying the spirit and warmth of the Okanagan.

Everything comes back to our vision statement.

We demand a lot of our staff: we have a combined housing and conference front desk, so we serve both sets of clients. Our summer staff may spend 20 minutes on the phone with an anxious parent about to send their oldest child to university, and then check a youth soccer team into their accommodation. The student staff fulfill our expectations with grace and enthusiasm.

Our training program is designed to give our seasonal staff the skills and knowledge to embody the spirit and warmth of the Okanagan in all of our interactions. We spend four days preparing our staff for conference, housing, maintenance, and other situations that they may run into during the season. We begin on Friday morning by setting the tone for the week: we discuss our vision statement, what it means to us, and how we exemplify it. We spend the remainder of the morning working on customer service training. We’ve deliberately placed customer service training at the beginning, as providing excellent customer service is key to our goals.

We have lunch and meet everyone that works in the department. The seasonal staff are a key part of the team – they make everyone’s job easier. The department staff appreciate the opportunity to get to know the people they’ll be seeing at the front desk all summer. We work off our lunch with a tour of the residences and the campus. Though our staff are students, they may not be familiar with all the residence buildings and rooms, and the locations of campus amenities like the ATMs and payphones. They learn to see the campus from of a guest’s perspective.

After the first day, we spend the weekend getting down to brass tacks: we train on our reservation system, our room descriptions and rates, cash handling, and other office procedures. Training on the weekend when the office is closed allows everyone to spend a significant amount of time training at the front desk without guests arriving and telephones ringing. When the staff start their first shift, they are already comfortable with how the phones work, where to find things in the office, etc. They can jump in and focus on customer service immediately.

On Monday, we spend time learning how to talk with parents and students about student housing. We talk about our rooms differently depending whether we are interacting with a conference guest or a student/parent, and we expect our staff to adapt their message to the audience. We also meet campus partners in security, maintenance, and fire safety. A representative from Tourism Kelowna comes and presents on the many activities to do in and around the city while guests are visiting.

Our final activity is a campus and residence scavenger hunt, with clues taken from important sections of training. The winners of the scavenger hunt get to sign our trophy, and have bragging rights for the year.

Every year after training, we ask the summer staff and our presenters to evaluate the program, and use their suggestions to make the program stronger. Just when I think it’s as good as it can get, a new staff member comes up with a terrific idea that brings the program to the next level. I can’t wait to see what they come up with this year!

Jen Neilands, Front Desk Manager, Conferences and Accommodations, University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus
Telephone: 250-807-8843

A Week in the Life of a Conference Manager

Posted on: March 3rd, 2014 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Sara Tuck, Manager, Conference and Event Services, Georgian College

I was stuck on what to write about for my upcoming blog when it dawned on me that for my own sanity I needed to recap and regroup after our extremely busy Reading Week.

As I am sure you can all appreciate, the week started off with more snow and of course the event that we were planning was at one of our satellite campuses, the route to get to that campus is one with open fields, lots of drifting snow and blowing snow.  Having to leave my house at 6:00am, we still managed to get to the campus by 7:30am – not a fun drive but a very successful event!

Day 2 consisted of 27 high school busses coming to campus for an Equity in Action youth conference.  It seems that the bus drivers decided not to follow our recommended map when entering the campus and ended up in the round-about where city busses drop off.  You can imagine how fast Campus Security was all over Conference Services, quick to blame the bus situation on us.  We also had another group in today that decided to park in a Fire Route resulting in 10 parking citations that they all refused to pay….another reason for Campus Security  to be all over us…oh and did I mention that it snowed today!

Day 3 – Convocation Day – 1500 guests expected.  Much to my dismay I enter the gym expecting to see it nicely setup and ready to go only to find it not even ½ setup and guests are expected to arrive in less than one hour. I then had a mother yell at me because she felt that her parking spot was too far away from the entrance of the facility.  Today it is snowing and minus -25 with the wind chill, our outdoor signage blew away and I received 2 more parking citations from the Tuesday group.

Day 4 – Today is now Thursday, we have a large agricultural conference arriving today bringing with them several tractors to display outdoors, one of the tractors would not completely fit through our gate arms causing damage to the gate. As I am investigating the damage, I am notified that one of their designated classrooms seems to be occupied by an academic class who is refusing to move because they swear that they booked the space.   Today there are snow squalls, reduced visibility and several road closures.  It is now 3:30pm and the college is closing due to deteriorating conditions, we have had to ask all of our groups to pack-up early.

Day 5 – I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is Friday and the sun is shining! The agricultural conference is back in today along with 3 other groups. Only one small hiccup today around technology, quick on our response we were able to set up a Go To Meeting for our client which was a success even though our presenter was in a different time zone and had to present with bedhead. We are wrapping up the week on a busy note – lots of classroom resets to be done in preparation on Monday’s classes. 

When I reflect back on our weeks activities, I can only smile and think that this is exactly why I do what I do.  I love trying to predict every single need that a client may request and when the unpredicted happens, I love problem solving, mentoring and troubleshooting to ensure that our clients have the best possible experience.

Another successful Reading Week has come to an end, looking forward to the next!

Sara Tuck, Manager, conference and Event Services, Georgian College
Telephone: 705.728.1968, ext. 1135

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