How Patty Klein has built A-Plus Meetings & Incentives into an industry can-do-all

Patty Klein is a self-proclaimed perfectionist. It’s this attention to detail that makes A-Plus Meetings & Incentives so successful.

As president and CEO, Klein has used her background in business consulting to build a 16-person meeting planning company that can do — or figure out how to do — just about anything for its clients. The company, based in Coral Gables, Fla., serves a number of Fortune 500 companies, including Staples Inc. and Ryder System Inc.

Smart Business sat down with Klein at the 2011 Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum to discuss how she’s built a company that can creatively cater to a variety of client needs.

Q: How did you develop the variety of service capabilities you have?

Every time a client says something like, ‘We need to do this,’ we just say, ‘We can do it.’

It’s just something that we develop based on requests and pretty much a lot of times analyzing and just saying, ‘What are we doing for you? What are they using other vendors for and how do we then provide that service, as long as it’s within the scope of the meeting, either pre or post?’

Q: Where do you look for creative inspiration?

We stay creative first and foremost in the agenda design. I think that’s really where the rubber hits the road. You can have great décor, you can have a new innovative dinner and food and so forth, but to me, the creative part comes in, ‘How do we make this meeting more interesting and more impactful and have a higher return on investment for the attendees?’

A lot of times I’ll just talk to clients and talk to them about what ideas they have, and I share among clients. Why not? None of our clients are competitors. … Once I get a partner, I feel it’s really important. I know I sit in the Staples meetings; I sit in the Ryder meeting. I understand their strategies; I understand what’s important to them. And I want them to win in their business.

(We need to) make sure the content is as fresh and integrated as possible with the strategy of the company. So we really spend a lot of time talking to our clients about, ‘What is the goal? What do you want to see? What are the outcomes?’ Because we need to measure that we’ve done that on the outcomes.

Q: What metrics do you use to gauge feedback?

We do an online survey after every program. We measure not only our service in terms of logistics — all the communication, how easy was the website, how is everything from check in and with our service on-site, which is critical …  but we measure every single content of the session in terms of the effectiveness, and we measure all the outcomes. We start off with, ‘These were all the goals. How did we do against all the goals?’ We can really show the client the return.

A lot of times we brainstorm based on what happened the last time. So let’s analyze everything about the meeting: what went well, what didn’t go well. And that gives us ideas to bring back the clients and say, ‘Next time, we need to do this differently because based on the survey results.’

Q: How important is word-of-mouth feedback to your business?

If I can get a potential customer to talk to talk to my clients, every single time I’ve won their business. It’s that much of a wow. … A couple years ago, one of my clients tried another meeting planning company and I was concerned, but it was the best thing that could’ve happened. They did nothing of the same level of service. But that experience, that’s so hard to describe, and that’s where my client references really make a difference, the wow stories.

Q: How do you create that wow factor?

It’s very simple — you do everything that the client wants but even more.

Because of our business consulting background, we really get involved with actually writing and viewing presentations as well as helping people do rehearsals. Things that a lot of other meeting-planning companies don’t do, we do. And we built a model where we’re sort of soup to nuts, so not only do we design the agenda content, but we actually negotiate with all of the hotels, do the flights. We have an internal air department at our company. Transfers, greeting people at the door, all the food, all the AV production … as well as all of the on-site service, and then follow ups with budget reconciliation.

Q: How to you engage your employees in that culture of superior service?

We hire for service at our company and we train for meetings. We don’t really hire a lot of experienced meeting planners because they have some habits that are not within our company. They would sit on the sideline. Our company strategy is to interact and become the client’s friend, because that creates the glue and it is the service business over the long term. We go to the store and get people tampons, aspirin or whatever they need, prescriptions, because that’s the difference between us and our competition.

Mistakes in our business are very costly for us. So we do have a very strong perfectionist and detail orientation, and I demand that of my people. And when a mistake happens, we discuss that and we make sure it doesn’t happen again. … If it’s a small mistake can we learn from it and we avoid it with processes next time, and that’s probably good for us that we learned about it. … What I’m really trying to build is a culture of accountability and ownership.

How to reach: A-Plus Meetings & Incentives, (786) 888-3201 or www.aplusmeetings.com

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