Convention centers need to run smoothly in order to generate revenue—not only for themselves, but for many other local businesses throughout the city as well, as visitors spend money on off-site venues, restaurants, local shops, and transportation.
Convention center employees are a critical component for the success of any event, and it takes skill, cooperation, and trust in management for things to run smoothly. If employees aren’t performing as needed, there will be tell-tale signs: Vendors will not rebook, complaints will be more frequent, and industry ratings will fall.
The Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia (lovingly referred to as the “Philly” convention center) is a great example of a convection center that realized it had some challenges, and so turned to Treat ‘em Right to find a path forward. The turnaround was amazing, making the Convention Center a top-ranked venue and propelling the local economy.
The Pennsylvania Convention Center
To put things into perspective, the Pennsylvania Convention Center is the largest public facility in the U.S., located in the heart of downtown Philadelphia. This space is more than 2 million square ft. and can host up to 25,000 people at a time. Administered by the state of Pennsylvania, it is designed to accommodate massive events—conventions, exhibitions, conferences, and other exciting events like the National Jazz Festival.
For events on such a large scale, a lot of moving pieces need to be in place…and that means a ton of people from different departments working together to make these huge events happen successfully. Several setbacks were giving the Pennsylvania Convention Center a bad reputation.
Overcoming Many Challenges
Treat ‘em Right knows that guest experience is key. We’re the ones to call when you’re ready to build valuable and lasting relationships within your company and with the people your brand serves. We discover what your customer experience has been, we determine the right plan of action to reach your goals, then we guide you in implementing that plan no matter the challenges that need to be overcome.
The most significant challenge impeding progress was the need to gain the trust of the employees. For years, the relationships between the different unions working for the convention center were tumultuous. The team delivering the vendor’s goods didn’t get along with the team who unloaded the boxes and took them to each vendor’s booth. Carpenters didn’t work well with electricians. The list goes on. This fact was obvious to the people who paid decent money to participate in the event, and they voiced these concerns to management.
Another problem was evident: The unionized workers didn’t trust their managers. When management would relay negative feedback coming from the guests, the managers themselves became the target of negativity. Guests and vendors would leave reviews about terrible service, hostile employees, and personal property going missing or becoming damaged when unloaded from the delivery trucks.
Workers were not receiving good feedback from guests, so bad feedback was feeling more like criticism than anything else…and the messengers were the managers. With so much turbulence between employees, the convention center was losing out on business: Few planners were eager to return, and vendors were actually uncomfortable being there.
Due to bad reviews, negative feedback, and an abundance of comments from vendors, the convention planners had no good reason to send them business. Vendors didn’t want to be there, and the planners knew it: The bad reputation the convention center earned stuck around for years.
The Treat ‘em Right Solution
Because things at the convention center were not running smoothly and hadn’t been for years, Phil Bruno from Treat ‘Em Right was hired. Trust was an overarching theme among employees, and Bruno knew he needed to get on their side. He knew what it was like to be a union worker, as he came from a family of union workers—and so he was able to speak authentically to employees’ experiences. Once employees felt that Bruno understood them and “had walked in their shoes,” it went a long way to establish trust and begin a dialogue.
With the union workers in his corner, Bruno proceeded to successfully implement their three-step program.
- Discovery. Bruno sat down with front-line employees and managers one-on-one to get to the root of the issues. This is called an on-site evaluation, otherwise known as the discovery visit. This is when Bruno asks, “If we were to build a training program for you, what would have to be a part of it?” He discovered what the issues were and how to solve them by listening to what each person had to say. One of the major issues across the board was with teams setting up the convention center before the events. The teams needed to work together as a larger unit to get things running smoothly but there was too much hostility. Mainly stemming from needing to be in the same space at the same time to get their work finished.
- Development. Now that he had a list of problems to solve, Bruno got to work on developing a specialized training program that would really impact the employees. One simple thing the training centered on was customer service. For example: When a guest asks where the bathroom is, it’s best to guide them there instead of pointing. Likewise, it’s OK to make small talk, and there are ways to do it: Ask where the guest is coming into town from, and ask the vendors what their business is about. Actionable training tips like this made all the difference in the employee’s workday, and it showed in the customer experience.
- Implementation. Treat ‘em Right worked with the convention center through the whole process of implementing the training plan. Bruno went in and conducted a training for all the employees where he stepped in as an objective third party to relay concerns coming from management as well as problems vendors were reporting.
This fully customized training program also included relationship-building skills employees could use to connect with guests at the convention center. Making introductions and recommending places to go around Philadelphia would go a long way in making vendors feel safe, welcomed, and trusting.
Capitalizing on the forward movement provided by Bruno, new labor lines were drawn, and a 3rd party firm was hired to help manage the facility. This firm made great strides in keeping the momentum going, and the convention center’s industry rankings improved year over year.
A big win for the Pennsylvania Convention Center and for Treat ‘em Right was when conventions, exhibitions, and events started to rebook the venue. This meant the convention center was gaining a better reputation for itself due to improvements in employee performance.
Vendors were leaving positive feedback instead of complaints. Guests felt connected to the employees and trusted they would take care of moving their products and setting up their booths.
Not only were the employees formulating relationships with the vendors, but they were also working together as a unit to make the events a positive experience for all. There’s a specific system used for setting up each event and the steps run very smoothly when the many different teams work well together.
As of 2022 Pennsylvania Convention Center is ranked #4 on America’s Best Convention Centers list. Thanks to Phil of Treat ‘em Right, this convention center’s employees were able to dig their way out of a long-lasting bad reputation and into the top ranks for event centers nationwide.
Featured image: Pennsylvania Convention Center N. Broad St, Beyond My Ken, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons