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The Hidden Benefits of Offsite Strategic Retreats

When the CEO Advisory Board members head away for our bi-annual Strategic Retreat it’s always exciting.

Heading to the wine region of Mudgee, NSW we know there will be fun, laughter and lots of learning. But it’s often the ‘unexpected’ that leads to the most interesting and long lasting ‘learning’ and no, I’m not referring to the small-furry creatures (mice) that popped-up in unusual places.

Before the trip the CEOs are primed and ready, they will use this time to ‘road-test’ their plans for FY22 and explore all things customer engagement.

The real learning however turned out to be the observation of the wide spectrum in quality of customer service amongst the venues we visited on this retreat; from the poor – to the excellent. It was a real-time example of the potential chasm that can exist between a CEOs ‘expectation’ of how customers are treated and what maybe the reality.

Arriving at our destination at 12.30pm on day one, we were firmly told, there was no way we could check in till 2pm, OK so we couldn’t ‘bend’ the rules a little but no problem we’d organized a trip to the wineries starting with lunch and our driver was great.

The first two wineries we attended, had the same approach to customer service. The default assumption was, we were there primarily to get as much wine into us as possible, so we were served plenty of wine but had to really push to have the wine explained along with the context and story of the vineyard, it was almost as if our questions were unexpected? You can imagine the lost sales opportunities, with 6 CEOs sitting at the table… However, the wines were good.

Finally, the last cellar door we attended, Logan, was excellent; welcoming service, willingness to spend time with us explaining the varietals, the region, and the winery. Needless to say, more was spent there than at the previous two wineries!

Back to the hotel. Having confirmed we needed the room ready to go by 8.30am to start our conference. The next morning when we got to the room, there were some key items missing. Then I had to chase morning tea.. Perhaps worse, the next morning the room had not been prepped for our 8.30am arrival. 🙁

I must state that each time I raised the ‘system-failure’ with the staff, they were very apologetic and did their utmost to immediately fix the problem. Needless to say we won’t be going back to that hotel.*  This was a great example of James Clear’s prescient quote “you do not rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems.”

These systemic failures in customer service were a great model for our discussions over 1.5 days as we had agreed the theme of this retreat was to explore how each business manages customer engagement.  To prepare for this retreat each CEO had been asked to rate their organisation in response to these questions:

  • Is your ideal customer clear to all?
  • Is your customer acquisition strategy clear?
  • Do you have loyalty / engagement strategy?
  • Do you have a strategy to manage ‘Share of Wallet’ (fries with that)
  • Do you have a process to manage quality of service / product?
  • Do you have a strategy for providing Customer Delight (i.e., beyond expectations)
  • Do you have a strategy to turn clients into Raving Fans / Advocates?

And the most challenging question of all.

  • What if margin and cost did not matter; what would your customers love you to offer them?

Needless to say, these types of questions inevitably shine a light where an organisations ‘systems’ may need to be made more robust!

Everyone derives benefit from taking time-out for a strategic retreat including me, the host!

Recognising that a CEO is only as good as the team they lead, the members of the CEO Advisory Board asked me to establish the same, structured program for their General Manager – 2ICs and as a direct result the newly minted “Executive Leaders Group” kicks off this month!

A final note about our retreat in Mudgee. Notwithstanding the customer service challenges we had in a few venues we also had fabulous meals in excellent restaurants, and of course lots of laughs as well as the learning. Mudgee is set in a beautiful region, the people there are so welcoming, and the wine and food is excellent – I highly recommend you visit.

To know more about either the CEO Advisory Board or The Executive Leaders program contact me HERE.

Testimonial videos

  1. John Grima, Managing Director:  Kellyville Pets  
  2. Erica Westbury, Managing Director: Norwest Recruitment
  3. Felicity Zadro, Managing Director:  Zadro

* The hotel had to be chased to receive a final bill and to date, has not sent me any communication to request feedback on our visit…. 

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