I love to entertain. Whether I’m hosting an around-the-world wine tasting soiree to celebrate the Olympics or a chili and scary movie night for Halloween, I’ll throw a party for almost any occasion. But being a good hostess comes with great responsibility. And as I thought about it, I realized that many hosting responsibilities align with creating top-notch customer experiences. Your customers are your guests after all and they should be treated as such. So, here are my 10 tips for how to be a perfect hostess, whether in your home or for your brand.
1. Plan ahead: Hosting a successful event requires thoughtful planning. From the theme and the date to the guest list and the menu, every element (and its cost) needs to be considered. And while it’s often the details that make an event stand out, it’s important not to get so caught up in the nuances that you feel stuck and don’t make any decisions at all.
The customer experience should be thought of in the same way. Life stages, touchpoints, and calls-to-action all need to be planned out, and costs for each initiative should be budgeted. And although the objectives and strategies should be mapped out, it’s OK if marketers don’t have every subject line or social post squared away—that’s what testing is for.
2. Remember, timing is everything: When hosting a party, timing is of the essence. The host needs to allocate enough time for the wine to chill, for the appetizers to cook, and for the house to be cleaned (my least favorite part). If the timing is off, the host could end up serving warm wine in smudged glasses.
Timing is also crucial in marketing. Sending an email immediately after a customer visits your website screams creepy, but waiting too long to follow up on a prospective lead can cause a company to lose a sale all together. And getting timing right applies in all channels. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve abandoned an in-store shopping experience because an overly energetic salesperson approached me the second I picked up an item. Clearly, it’s vital for marketers to not only consider how they engage with their customers but also when.
3. Offer a variety: Not every guest has the same tastes or dietary restrictions. So, it’s always important to offer a variety of options. For example, I like to have both red and white wines at my events to satisfy everyone. Likewise, if I serve a heavy dinner I’ll try to balance it out with a lighter appetizer or dessert.
In marketing, not all customers share the same contact preferences. Some enjoy a lot of engagement; others prefer minimal contact, for example. A preference center can be a great tool to find out which channels consumers prefer to engage with and how often. And because today’s consumers are always connected, it’s important to offer them a variety of touchpoints so that they can interact with a brand wherever they are and at whatever time they prefer.
4. Be clear: As the world becomes more digital, I find myself missing the days of the mailed invitation. They presented all of the necessary party information in such a clear, concise, and attractive way. Now, people just skim over Facebook events or Evites, which can cause them to overlook crucial details. So, when inviting people to a party digitally, it’s important for the host to make sure that all of the key information—like if there’s a theme or if the party is a surprise—is displayed at the top where people will see it (not buried in the middle or at the bottom). This will help guests know what to expect.
Clarity is essential in marketing, as well. For instance, having separate prices in-store and online will only confuse customers and lead to frustration. Also, brands need to be up-front with customers in terms of the data that they collect and how it’s being used to prevent any unwanted surprises.
5. Set the tone: Are you throwing a 1920s mixer? Make sure to throw on a flapper dress. Hosting a relaxing dinner? Create a chill playlist and light some candles. A good host always sets the tone for her party and helps her guests follow suit.
Marketers need to do the same with their customers. If you want customers to click-through an email, make sure that it has a clear call-to-action. Similarly, if you want customers to provide more data, clearly explain the value exchange that they’ll get in return. Customers can’t read marketers’ minds, so it’s important for marketers to state their intents and guide customers down the path to purchase.
6. Make everyone feel welcomed: It’s always easy to spend the whole night chatting with your closest friends at a party. But as a host, it’s your responsibility to talk to everyone and ensure that they feel comfortable. Did your significant other bring a few coworkers to the bash? Introduce yourself, ask them if they need anything, chat a little, and thank them for coming. Who knows? You may even make a new friend. Guests who feel unwanted or socially awkward will usually flee the party quickly—and nobody wants that.
Often, marketers devote all of their time and resources to new customers and leave their existing customers on the side. This favoritism can make patrons feel undervalued and result in the company losing business. Clearly define your life cycle so you know where each customer is in her journey, and then develop targeted and relevant communications for each phase so everyone feels included.
7. Don’t panic when things go wrong: If there’s one thing that I’ve learned about party planning over the years, it’s that things rarely go exactly as planned. People cancel last minute; spills happen; the weather is less than ideal. It’s up to the host to remain calm, find a solution, and keep guests at ease—because if the host panics, the guests will panic, too.
As marketers well know, the industry is full of challenges. From lower than expected campaign results to rising unsubscribe rates, it’s important for marketers to stay calm, identify the problem, and work towards a solution. If a brand appears frantic, customers will become concerned and only elevate the problem with inquiries and complaints.
8. Take feedback in stride: People love to talk about parties—both the good and the bad. Think of how many times you’ve heard people complaining about the food at a wedding, for instance. Generally, negative feedback doesn’t get back to the host as it can come off as rude. But if it does, it’s important to consider the guest’s comments. Was your food a little burnt? Was the temperature a bit too cold for your outside soiree? This is all valuable insight that you can apply to your next gathering. Positive feedback is important, too. Did you get a lot of compliments on your bean dip? Maybe bring it to the next football game tailgate party. Did people love your flower arrangement? Perhaps you should use that local florist again. The key is to listen to both the good and the bad.
Likewise, as much as marketers love to hear customers rave about their brands, they have to consider both the positive and the negative feedback. Hearing directly from customers is marketers’ most valuable source of data. However, listening is only half of the work; acknowledging customers’ feedback and then turning their insights into action is a necessary but entirely different feat.
9. Show your appreciation: A little appreciation always goes a long way. Following up with guests and thanking them for attending an event is a polite gesture; plus, knowing that their time and presence was recognized may make them more inclined to attend your next party.
Similarly, it’s important for marketers to recognize customers’ patronage. Whether they’re a lifelong customer or a newbie, just thanking them for doing business with the brand can strengthen their loyalty—not to mention make them more inclined to forgive you when there is a party foul.
10. Don’t be afraid to try something new: Everyone loves a good wine and cheese party. But some of my favorite parties have incorporated themes that I’ve never tried before. For instance, I hosted a really fun Crayola crayon party in college in which everyone had to dress in one color and come up with a name for their shade. Admittedly, some parties have been more successful than others. But trying something new creates a sense of excitement for both the host and the guests, alike.
In the same way, marketers need to be willing to experiment. Introducing customers to new products, campaigns, or technology generates buzz, which often results in helpful feedback for what’s working and what’s not. Plus, it inspires teams internally to push the envelope and be innovators in their industry.