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Meeting Snacks: The Difference Between Offering Service and Providing It

If you invite me to a party or a function, there’s a high chance I will ask you, “Will there be food?” Lots of people make this joke. Heck, we even see it printed on t-shirts. But the fact is, food or snacks are a large part of someone's perception of or their willingness to attend something.

Think of when you’re at your grandmother’s house and the first thing she does is ask you if you ate and if you want anything to eat or drink. It’s a very welcoming and accommodating feeling that someone is primarily concerned with your wants and needs. This concept can be easily transferred to businesses and can help take your customer or client experience to the next level.

The Snack Dilemma

In our experience, one point of differentiation has been bringing assorted snacks and drinks to every meeting we have. Providing snacks for a client meeting - you might think that's a no brainer – pick up some packaged snacks or pastries and then grab some bottled water or coffee and you're all set. Doing that is excellent, and you're offering a little something extra to the client! However, the essence of next-level hospitality and service is anticipating individual needs and wants.

For example, some clients are gluten-free, some don't drink caffeine, some have beliefs about sustainability, and the use of plastic and some might even feel uncomfortable eating in front of others. And even though they may never mention it, something as seemingly trivial as meeting snacks can turn in to an unspoken point of contention if it is viewed as wasteful. Providing refreshments can greatly improve your client experience; however, the last thing you want is to try and offer something nice like food and beverages at a meeting and have it backfire.

How Do We Improve the Experience?

Because we want to focus on the client experience here, we always want to pay close attention to behaviors and plan for anyone with a special request or need.

One way that this can be done is by notifying your client ahead of time that you will be providing refreshments, and ask that they forward any dietary restrictions or special requests ahead of time so that you can best accommodate everyone. This way, you can get something specific for anyone who has an allergy or is vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free. It's incredibly disheartening for someone to walk into a meeting only to frown and say, "I can't eat this," while everyone else is munching down. While this probably won't be a deal-breaker of any kind, this does affect that client's perception of you.

Additionally, we pay close attention to the behaviors of our clients so that we can make their experience with the food more seamless. We initially put the snacks and drinks in the middle of the table, but this made it awkward for someone to get something in the middle of a meeting, having to walk around the table and lean over other people to grab an item. To ease that friction and overall improve the client’s experience, we started placing items with each seat next to a printed agenda, within comfortable reach. We then paid close attention to and made a note of the types of food and drinks the client would consume. For example, we had a client who did not drink caffeine due to religious beliefs, so instead of coffee at his seat, we gave him a bottle of water.

Another way to solve any discomfort involving meeting snacks is to choose appropriate ones for the time of day and type of meeting. For meetings in the morning, the obvious choice is to provide some breakfast items and light snacks for meetings that take place after lunchtime. When choosing what to buy, avoid sticky foods, noisy foods or ones with a million crumbs – these can be embarrassing to eat at a meeting and create a big mess to clean up after (again, don't let your kind gesture of food backfire). We typically opt for small snacks that are easy to pick up and eat without causing a disturbance, such as berries, mixed nuts, or pretzels.

Aren’t You Overthinking This?

Not really. While this might seem a little extreme or too deep when talking about meeting snacks, it illustrates the difference between offering a service and providing one. Placing a basket of snacks and drinks in the middle of the table is offering a service; each client is free to take items from a generic selection.

In our elevated experience, the service is provided with a specific client in mind. Remember that customers and clients today love the idea of being personable and having a unique experience catered to them. This snack situation is an example of how we are anticipating their needs and making it very easy and comfortable to enjoy. Additionally, the gesture signals a type of care and thoughtfulness that speaks for the work you do and your approach to every kind of touchpoint.

Another Way to Look at It

This concept is easily applied to any customer engagement for any business.

For example, asking a customer at a hair salon if they would like a bottle of water or a snack is a nice level of service. However, to create a higher level of service, you would anticipate this customer's needs based on their last visit by bringing out a selection of teas along with a bottle of water because that is what he or she enjoyed during their previous visit.

This is an unspoken gesture of your gratitude and your intense attention to detail, adding an extra level of value for that customer. Creating these subtle moments may seem small or insignificant, but when you apply them throughout your guest experience, it can have an overwhelmingly positive effect on guest retention and customer loyalty.

Elevated service is not achieved by any one gesture alone, and you have to think of how to implement these anticipatory moments throughout your guest experience. Elevated service is a total mindset that focuses on adding value to every touchpoint, no matter how small.

Remember that customers and clients, potential or current, are often looking for a personalized experience, and not one that is cookie-cutter.

What is one way you can make a small change from offering a service to providing one? It could make all the difference for your next customer or client!