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Using the Internet and eCommerce to Deliver Value-Added Services

- Jeff Marson, Stanford University


The following article encapsulates a special interest session
facilitated at the March 2008 ACCED-I 28th Annual Confer- The following narrative is intended to distill our expe-
ence in Las Vegas by representatives of Stanford University’s rience in a way that enables our colleagues to under-
Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE): Jeff Marson, Mar- stand (and perhaps model) the steps we undertook to
keting and Sales Manager for Stanford Conference Services take our revenue generating ideas from conceptualiza-
(SCS) and Bob Van Zant, Program and Portfolio Manager for tion to implementation. And because financial well-
Information Technology (IT). Note: Mr. Van Zant has since being can also depend on how effectively potential
left Stanford to pursue another opportunity. risks are mitigated, this article also explains how SCS
disseminates vital safety and health updates through
Harvesting Revenues from Value-Added Services its Stanford Guest Information web page.

At Stanford Conference Services (SCS) and, as we often I. Virtual Shopping Experience: The Cardinal Mall
hear, at many collegiate conference operations throughout the for Conferences
country, there’s a constant directive to increase revenues. If,
like SCS, your revenues are driven mostly by bed and meal With the objective of fostering a convenient, time-sav-
package sales, the first response to such a directive is to ramp ing campus shopping experience for our conferees that
up efforts to sell as many of these packages as possible. But would simultaneously advance our branding efforts
where do you turn to for more revenue when you’ve sold out across our conference community while generat-
your beds, and you’ve increased your room and meal fees to ing revenues for aiding our students, R&DE/SCS, in
the maximum level acceptable to your loyal clientele – and to 2005/6, investigated the feasibility of implementing an
what local market conditions will bear? That’s the question online shopping mall that would come to be known as
that was posed to SCS awhile back – and one that required the Cardinal Mall for Conferences. This online mall
our team to marshal its creative energies to formulate a was to be patterned after the Cardinal Mall website
strong response. that had recently been established for Stanford stu-
dents during the academic year.
Realizing how close we were to maxing out our available in-
ventory of conference beds, we knew that we had to explore, Ease of Use
initiate, and capitalize on nontraditional revenue generating
opportunities to achieve the ambitious financial goals set While developing a vision for the two virtual shop-
before us. Given our interest in offering value-added ser- ping malls referenced above, it was determined that
vices that would tangibly enhance our clientele’s conferenc- their online platforms needed to allow for easy view-
ing experience, it appeared that the Internet and its progeny, ing, easy product/service selections, and a secure
eCommerce, presented some compelling possibilities worth credit card payment process. Thus, both Cardinal Mall
pursuing. Consequently, we focused on two distinct online websites were designed around the shopping cart con-
resources: 1) a virtual shopping experience tailored to our cept and payment mechanisms that underpin many of
conferees’ needs; 2) conference registration services. today’s most successful eCommerce websites.
packs), housecleaning services, and special retail offers
from Stanford Dining (e.g., Cardinal Dollars prepaid
dining cards). Presently, discussions are underway to
expand the mall’s offerings to include Stanford logo
items, as well as customized merchandise our conference
organizers may wish to sell to their conferees.

To further enhance the value of shopping through the


Cardinal Mall for Conferences, we offered free, next-day
delivery of ordered products to our Conference Front
Desks (where conferees check-in). In fact, conferees
Cardinal Mall for Conferences Homepage
could even place their orders prior to arriving on campus
and expect to have their orders waiting for them upon
their check-in.
Ensuring a Secure Shopping Environment: PCI
Compliance
Promotions...and Results
Developed, implemented, and regulated by a consor-
Getting the word out about the Cardinal Mall for Con-
tium of the major credit card brands (i.e., MasterCard,
ferences was accomplished through a four-pronged
Visa, JCB International), PCI (Payment Card Industry)
approach: 1) developing promotional collateral for
Compliance has become a staple in today’s world of
insertion into our Conference Planning Manual and for
online credit card transactions. Briefly, PCI compli-
distribution at our Conference Front Desks; 2) making
ance sets forth specific and verifiable criteria that
prominent mention of the mall in the print and online
eCommerce merchants must contractually adhere to
versions of our conference “Quick Start Guides”; 3)
for ensuring sufficient protection and confidentiality
incorporating strategically positioned links into the SCS
of the credit cards used to purchase their products/ser-
website; 4) engaging our clients on a regular basis to
vices online.
remind them of the benefits of utilizing this virtual shop-
ping experience. As a result of these orchestrated efforts,
To continuously meet the stringent PCI compliance
interest in our online shopping mall has been growing
standards established by Stanford University, the
continuously over the past few summers as evidenced
Cardinal Mall websites (as is the case with all Stanford
by increased client inquiries, web traffic reports – and
eCommerce websites) utilize the services of PayPal
steadily rising sales.
(an eCommerce payment gateway that processes credit
card information), while also undergoing continuous
II. Conference Registration Services
auditing by Trustwave (a PCI approved testing and
auditing service) and internal audits from Stanford’s
While touring various campuses several years back,
Controller’s Office, Internal Audit Department, and
SCS’ senior management noted the success UCLA
the Information Security Office.
Conference Services and other industry colleagues were
having in marketing conference registration services.
Note: To learn more about PCI Compliance and ap-
From these observations, SCS foresaw opportunities to
proved testing and auditing vendors, visit: http://www.
not only sell an additional service to its new and existing
pcicomplianceguide.org/aboutpcicompliance.html.
summer conference clientele, but to also expand into a
previously inaccessible market: academic year confer-
Offering High Demand Products/Services – and
ences and events.
Free Delivery

Anticipating the needs of our conference community,


the Cardinal Mall for Conferences catalogued specific
products and services that offered the greatest poten-
tial for purchase by our conferees: laundry and dry
cleaning services, household products (i.e., laundry
products, housewares, personal grooming kits, “liv-
ing green” items, conference “essentials,” and linen Conference Registration for Stanford Conference Services’ Clients
Moving Forward With the Right Resources tion, processing payments, accommodating refunds, and
answering registrants’ questions). To assist prospective
After conducting a comprehensive analysis of the clients with understanding our service, we directed them
technical, operational, and financial systems needed to an animated online demo that simulated our regis-
to launch and maintain a successful conference tration process, while also offering them the option of
registration services program, SCS, in 2005, moved downloading a guide containing step-by-step instructions
towards implementation by first obtaining software and screen captures from the demo. Further, we provided
(Seattle Technology Group’s Conference Program- prospects with a questionnaire that allowed them to ex-
mer) capable of processing registrations, sending pand upon their specific registration needs.
out confirmations to registrants, and producing a
variety of financial and event management reports. With promotional efforts augmented by word-of-mouth
In step two, we ensured PCI compliance by making advertising and client referrals, SCS’ registration ser-
arrangements to have PayPal process registrants’ vices have, over the past three years, blossomed into a
online credit card transactions (transmitted via Con- resource that continues to attract business from many
ference Programmer). Step three entailed selecting departments across the Stanford campus. And while our
and training personnel to operate our conference initial intention was to concentrate our efforts on setting
registration software, to set up new registration ser- up registration web pages and managing registrant trans-
vices accounts, and to provide high-level customer actions, client demand has driven SCS to sell a number
care throughout the entire registration lifecycle. Step of related products and services that include designing
four involved coordination with Stanford’s account- and printing conferee name badges, staffing and manag-
ing systems to facilitate accurate and timely trans- ing conference registration tables, and cross-selling cli-
ferences of registration fees to our clients’ accounts. ents on our comprehensive Meeting Planning Services.
In Step five, fees were established for setting up
the clients’ registration web pages (fees were based III. Using the Internet to Mitigate Risks
on setup time needed) and for processing registrant
transactions. As mentioned earlier, mitigating potentially costly safety
and health risks can be just as crucial to maintaining
your operation’s financial wellbeing as creating new
revenue streams. On this premise, SCS launched its
Stanford Guest Information web page in 2007 as a way
to disseminate vital information to our conferees in a
timely, easily accessible, and cost-effective manner.

Addressing Sensitive Issues

While planning content for our guest information web


page, SCS first focused on safety issues, driven in no
small way by the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy and other
related news stories. Realizing that campus safety would
likely be a major concern for our incoming summer
Downloadable Guide to Online Conference Registration Services conferees, we published a “Director’s Letter on Campus
Safety and Security” (linked to from the web page) that
Success Leads to Spin-off Services highlighted the many campus resources and systems in
place to support a safe and secure environment. Further,
Leveraging upon its long and successful track record we included a link to our comprehensive “Emergency
in working with a multitude of conference groups, Preparedness” document that articulated the procedures
while also promoting its intimate knowledge of cam- to follow should a crisis occur.
pus facilities, SCS embarked on a series of direct mail
campaigns built around the concept that its registra- The subject of bedbugs was another sensitive, yet high
tion services could save clients from the hassles and profile issue our web page needed to address. By linking
administrative costs associated with doing their own to our “What You Should Know About Bedbugs” docu-
registrations (i.e., keeping track of registrant informa- ment, conferees were informed on ways to detect a bed-
bug presence, procedures for containing the spread of
bedbugs, and the elaborate measures Stanford employs
for responding to bedbug occurrences.

To acclimate our conferees to the many services, re-


sources, and cultural/recreational attractions available
at Stanford and throughout the surrounding area, our
web page included links to our conference “Welcome”
publications (Quick Start Guides; Conference Front
Desk orientation fliers and maps), and to our “Cardi-
nal Mall for Conferences” and “Visitor Information”
websites.

With the aim of creating awareness for our new web


page, SCS’ director composed a letter inviting confer-
ees to take advantage of the information offered by the
web page. In deference to our clients’ privacy policies,
we offered to provide conference organizers with bulk
quantities of the letter for distribution to their confer-
ees, or the option of having SCS email the letters di-
rectly to their conferees. To date, both of these options
have proven to be popular with our clients.

In Summary

If you’re seeking to offer value-added services to your


clientele that will not only enhance their conferencing
experience, but also generate some fresh, nontradition-
al revenues and loss prevention initiatives for your op-
eration, then consider the virtually limitless potential
of the Internet and eCommerce. The three SCS online
resources referenced in this article (virtual shopping
mall for conferences, conference registration services,
and our guest information web page) are customizable,
scalable to fit within many types of operating budgets,
and versatile enough to be hosted by either an on-cam-
pus IT department – or a quality external web hosting
service.

Jeff Marson is the Marketing and


Sales Manager for Stanford Confer-
ence Services. He can be reached at
(650)725-1427 or jmarson@stanford.
edu.

Association of Collegiate Conference and Events Directors International (ACCED-I)


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