Tony: Tony Winyard here with Episode 9 of Exceeding Expectations. In this episode, I speak with Jim Cerone, known as the perfect host. One of the most respected and experienced MCs and DJs in the whole world. Not only do clients love him, but there are literally thousands of DJs in the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada who admire Jim enormously. There is so much great value in this episode. I hope you enjoy it. In today’s episode of exceeding expectations. I have the absolute honour or speaking to a man called Jim Cerone. How are you, Jim?
Jim: I’m wonderful, Tony and you?
Tony: I’m very well thank you. we, I mean we had a brief chat just now but for the listeners, obviously, many of them may not know anything about you. So you’re a DJ and an MC wedding host based in, is it just outside of Chicago?
Jim: Yes. I was actually born and raised in Chicago and my dad worked right downtown in the big city, but we grew up in the suburbs. So sort of the same with you in London and people that live outside London. But then my wife and I settled in Indianapolis, Indiana, which everyone knows from the Indianapolis 500 but it’s actually a wonderful medium size city, a very warm, we have what we call a Hoosier hospitality, which fits in with what I do very well.
Tony: Do you just do weddings or do you do other events as well?
Jim: I do all sorts of events and I’m just a very fortunate person. I knew what I wanted to do from the age of 16. We had a radio station at my high school and so what you would call a secondary school. I knew the minute I walked in that room and saw all the wall of vinyl albums and all the equipment with the knobs and buttons and I wanted to learn how to use everything and how to talk on the radio.
So about that same time, my folks belong to a country club because my father loved golf and country club needed somebody to play music on a Friday evening for something they called Twilight. So I played this little Twilight event with all of my parents’ vinyl records and my brother’s speakers, and my mismatched turntables. It was just such a fun thing to see people respond to music that that was it from the age of 16 on, that’s all I’ve ever done is radio and being a DJ.
Tony: Do you still get the same buzz? Do you still enjoy it?
Jim: I love it every time. The thing that really changed my business, I had been a DJ for a long time and most of my parties went pretty well. But our house was the place where everybody always gathered after high school basketball games after, you know, my folks would have dinner parties all the time. We were a very, our family hosted a lot of parties and I was deejaying an event and I thought to myself, you know, I always think of the parties that I’m at as the dance floor. My job is just to keep the dance floor full. Well at a wedding, at a corporate event, there are so many other things happening and sometimes dancing is the shortest part of the night. What if I got involved in helping make sure everything else ran smoothly? What if I, instead of deejaying the party, hosted the party. that’s what started the concept and that’s when my business really took off. So now thanks to my parents and the example they set, I’m known as the perfect host.
Tony: So when you had that realization, how did you go about implementing that? What did you change?
Jim: Well slowly, I began to think of ways that I could help the party, be planned. That’s not something I used to ever get involved in. So I began to help plan the parties with my couples and with the corporate planners. Then there were certain steps that I began to take at the events and I began to write those down. So I ended up creating a Perfect Host, top 10. Then I realized I’d left some things out. So I made a Perfect Host part two top 10 list of things to do. Then I realized how much my radio career had involved and informed what I said on the microphone at events. So I created a top 10 list of steps that I could follow to make sure that what I said at events was necessary, concise and moved people. So all of these things just continue to evolve.
Tony: How long would you say it took to sort of make that transformation and what kind of period of time?
Jim: It was probably a 10-year span where I consciously began to write things down and say, I need to do this for every wedding. One of my examples is show preparation. I never used to do much, but I began to develop a very detailed planner, whether for a wedding or for a corporate event, just to help them think of the things that I know affect the timeline that can throw things off or that can create awkward moments. I began to expand the planning and the meeting that I do with my clients to help them create a smooth flowing, fun event.
Tony: So how did that change the experience for both the couple and for you as well?
Jim: I think the biggest thing it helps my clients do is relax. It gives them more peace of mind because we’ve discussed all of the possibilities. I’ve helped them predict an accurate timeline. If you’re going to move 250 guests from the outdoor balcony to inside, how long will that realistically take? Somebody puts five minutes into the timeline and I know from my experience that’s going to be 15 or 20 minutes because there are a dozen people who go back up to the bar.
Tony: Has it made it a more enjoyable experience for you as well?
Jim: I think so because it takes the skills and the experience I have and puts them to use and so we all want to be useful in life. It lets me assist my clients with the things that they would never think of just cause they’ve, they haven’t been involved in hundreds of events and so it does make me feel good knowing that I’ve helped them avoid trouble or pitfalls or problems that would have thrown their timeline off. Nothing’s worse than the chef having a hundred filet mignon served at the perfect temperature and then suddenly Dad’s speech goes 35 minutes instead of the five minutes allotted. All of the steaks are dried out or the chicken work or name your entree. So we have to realize we’re part of a team and we have to cooperate with everybody to give all of the guests a great experience.
Tony: The title of the show is, as you know, Exceeding Expectations. It’s all about, kind of over delivering to clients, give them a much better experience. Can you give any sort of examples or stories of where you’ve done that?
Jim: Absolutely. When I began to consciously think of myself as the host, I realized that if you are the host of the party, if you are throwing this party for guests, you feel much more pressure. You feel responsible for each guest’s experience. So hospitality is just in my bones and I want to make sure that every guest is comfortable and happy. So I’ve done things. We had a bride who desperately wanted her wedding outside and the chairs were already set in the outdoor ceremony area and it rained and all of us looked at each other, the caterer and the venue manager and myself. We said, how can we make this happen? I always carry towels. There’s another reason for that in a second.
But I handed a towel that each person, I said, let’s go. We all went out and dried off as fast as we could, every single chair for the ceremony so the guests could sit, be comfortable, and we could get the ceremony, and quickly before the next round of rain hit. There was a wedding I did where the catering staff was kind of shorthanded and we needed to do the toasts. The guests had all finished eating and they were sitting there waiting for something to happen.
So I went out and I grabbed a bottle of champagne in each hand and I went and helped the staff pour champagne, so everyone had a full glass and we could do the speeches. I always clean up spills on the dance floor. I know that that’s not really my job at that moment. I’m very focused on keeping people dancing. But if there’s a spell and someone’s injured, or if there’s a broken glass on the dance floor and a bride, a bridesmaid gets her foot cut. So I keep towels, bar mops, they call them with me at all times. So I’ll dry up spills. I’ve turned the lights up or down to set the right, you know, mood with the lighting. I brought dad a music stand for his speech because he wanted his hands free. So any way that I can, whether it’s my job or not, I just try to look for ways to be hospitable.
Tony: Do your guests ever react with, really surprised that you are doing things which they would never have expected you to be doing?
Jim: I think subconsciously they do. Sometimes they’ll come up and mention it to me later when I clean up a spill on the dance floor rather than crouch down and do it, I’ll throw the towel down and then I’ll dance. I put my feet on a towel and I dance to dry up the spill. that always gets a laugh and a smile. So it’s not always for the recognition. It’s just…
Tony: Yes, of course.
Jim: …to make sure that guest walks away, and sometimes they do stop and ask for a business card, which is what you hope for. Or they say a three weeks later when they’re deciding to throw a party, they’ll call my client and say, who was that person you had as your host? That’s…
Tony: That crazy guy with the mop on the floor.
Tony: So how do you find, some people struggle with the concept of over delivering? Because when they have a meeting with a prospect who they’re trying to get to book their services. So some people feel they need to tell them everything that they’re going to do for them and then they can only ever meet expectations. What are your thoughts on that?
Jim: Always under promise and over deliver. You can certainly tell prospects the results they’re going to get, but you don’t have to tell them the how behind the way that you’ll help them achieve that. So I think you want it with pictures and with video and audio and all of the tools we have at our disposal now, you want to show them the way that their party is going to go, the results that they’ll get. But you don’t want to give away all your secrets.
Tony: Is over delivery, exceeding expectations, is it a deliberate strategy or is it something that’s just come about?
Jim: I think today it has to be a deliberate strategy. I am a big believer in reading as much as you can get your hands on. I drive my wife nuts. We’ve been married 25 years and everywhere we go, every interaction we have with a salesperson or a business, I’m observing their customer service and I’m thinking to myself, why? Why did they do that? Or why didn’t they do this? So, I think that in today’s society there are two great books that I read recently. One is called the Customer Service Revolution and I think the author’s name is, DiJulius.
Jim: That talks about how the balance of power has shifted from customers to businesses. That was the way it was that kind of in the industrial revolution in the early 1900. The businesses had all the power and they just pushed out their message to clients, customers, and the customers just had to take it pretty much.
Well in today’s economy it’s gone 180 degrees now, literally the clients, the customers have all of the power. If they don’t like the service they’ve received, they can leave a bad review, they can go on social media and blast their message to all of their friends. it really does have an effect on businesses. So businesses have had to rethink things. So that’s kind of my take away from that book is my client’s really hold all the power on whether my business survives or fails. So the second book that I read recently is called What Customers Crave and that author’s name is Nicholas Webb. He says that we need to stop offering customer service and start offering customer experiences.
Tony: Okay. So how does he define that?
Jim: He says that we constantly need to look at our process from the minute the client might contact us all the way until the end of the event that they’ve hired us for and even after that because we want to keep a relationship with them. Analyse every single interaction in that long process and look for ways that we can exceed expectations that we can not just serve them but over deliver. so he really challenges you as a business owner to have an outside team or you and some friends look at all aspects of your transactions and experiences and look for ways to change that and just by small degrees changing the way that you deliver something can really have an impact. It’s gone back to word of mouth and referrals being our source of business more than advertising.
Tony: So just now, you were saying that when you’re out, you’re driving your wife crazy when you’re spotting all these things that have nothing to do with your job as a DJ as most people would think. So you’re very much in the habit it seems to me, of just taking things from completely different industries and in trying to adapt them into what you do.
Jim: Absolutely. A friend and I, I have a wonderful friend who is a videographer, and we worked a wedding last weekend together. When we finished, we were both starving. So we went to a pub at the end of the night and it was very obvious that the folks who are working at the pub wanted to go home, even though their hours, they were still open for another hour and a half, but they kept turning the music up and the music choices kept getting worse and worse. So by the time left, we could barely talk to each other across our table. It was Metallica or some sort of speed metal Queens Riker or I’m not sure. What’s the German band? I can’t think of it, Megadeth or something. It literally drove us out of the place. So if you just go places and analyse the experiences, the customer service, your getting, it can tell you what to do and what not to do.
Tony: Can you think of any examples where you’ve taken something from a completely different industry and used it in what you do?
Jim: Well, I try to watch all the different places that we go, but my wife and I recently celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and we did something we never do. We took a spontaneous trip, Kenny Loggins who’s an artist, probably people are familiar with footloose and danger Zone and we wanted to see Kenny Loggins. He’s always been one of our favourite artists and he happened to be playing on our anniversary, which was a Wednesday, in Las Vegas at the Wynn hotel. there’s a restaurant there called Sinatra’s, which I’ve been to before. it’s just one of those places where every detail is specifically purposefully chosen.
So first we made our reservations online for Sinatra’s and we received a call about three hours in advance. Mr. Cerone, just wanted to confirm that we’ll be seeing you and your wife for your 25th anniversary dinner and we’re excited to see you. Just wanted to confirm your reservation. So, a small thing, a confirmation call from a real-life person who was aware of what we were celebrating. That was step number one.
When we arrived, we were ushered in to the bar and the bartender knew it was our 25th anniversary. When we sat down, our waiter made sure that we… the waiter immediately set down a handwritten note with our names on the front, Mister and Mistress Cerone, handwritten. This was not, you know, typed or processed by a printer or something. all throughout our meal and afterward, we received these little touches. Then Sinatra’s restaurant is inside the Wynn hotel. We received a call in our hotel room. We just wanted to be sure it would be all right if we dropped something off. Sure they addressed me as Mister Cerone when I answered the phone and all of that. Almost immediately a gentleman appears at the door with a box of chocolates and another handwritten note from the staff of the Wynn hotel.
Jim: It was just, it blew us away. then the concert was unbelievably fantastic. So, we had a tremendous experience. We were not treated like just another customer or like we were getting customer service. We were given a warm, hospitable experience that really blew us away.
Tony: Wow. So how you implemented that into what you do?
Jim: I think the importance of the handwritten note today cannot be overemphasized. We all do Facebook messages and email and Instagram and text and that’s great. It’s a terrific way to stay in touch with people. But hand-writing something and getting something in the mail is still an experience. When people go to the post and pull out something that you’ve taken the time to write or printing pictures. None of us print pictures anymore. What if you took a picture of the bride and groom’s first dance or you caught a wonderful moment just holding your iPhone camera up like I do, print that picture and include it with a handwritten note. So there’s, I think handwriting or letter writing, in general, has really lost its appeal, but it can be very powerful.
Tony: So after the wedding, the pictures that you’ve been taking, or you choose one picture and you send that to the couple there.
Jim: There’s a way to do that. There’s a fine line between being a photographer and being a DJ and no matter what you are in the hospitality industry, you want to be sure you don’t step on other vendors’ toes. I am helping to create a good time on the dance floor and so I feel like I can capture that. So there are lots of different ways you can do that, but snapping a picture or getting a selfie with the couple or with your corporate client or whoever’s hired you, if there’s a way to include a personal photo, again, that’s not something they expected. so it exceeds their expectations.
Tony: is there anything, I mean there’s obviously, from what you’ve been saying so far, there’s a number of things that you’re doing in the whole lead up to the actual day itself and then on the day itself you’re doing a number of things and other, a lot of things on a day itself. After the wedding, so you’ve mentioned just then about the photograph, is there anything else that you may do after the wedding?
Jim: I think it’s fun if you do unconventional things. I love going to seminars and educational experiences and you take away a little nugget from each person you see. I wish I could remember who it was, but someone said, don’t go by the holidays on the calendar. So everybody does a Valentine’s gift for their clients or people often do, they’ll hand out holiday packages to their venue managers or the people that send them referrals.
Someone suggest you create your own holidays and come up with it. That takes a little time to sit down and think of them. But instead of sending out things at the usual time, like everyone else does, try to create a summer break package or you drop off your cookies or something to cool off people if it’s been unseasonably hot as it has been in England. What if you gave your venue managers or any of your customers or referral sources? What if you gave them a chill-out pack in the middle of a hot English summer? So there are all kinds of different ways, be unconventional. Try to be creative and come up with different ways.
Tony: When you meet with people who are interested in booking your services and then joining from that where they actually book you to be the DJ for their wedding and then during the process from there right up until the wedding. I imagine from some of the things that you’ve said, you’re listening to your, I know you’re a very keen listener, so are you listening out for things that you can maybe latch onto to give them an unexpected surprise, what is it you do there?
Jim: Absolutely. You’ve touched on two important words, listening and caring. If you really care enough to listen as your clients are speaking, you shouldn’t be thinking of anything else. that’s tough to do because you think, okay, I’ve got to get milk on the way home or my car is almost out of petrol or whatever your thoughts are, just focus. For that time that the client is speaking, really take the time to listen and listen with your ears and listen with your eyes. That’s a really weird thing to say.
But if you can see a bride is very uptight, if you can physically see how stressed she might be, if you can really get everything else out of your mind and focus 100% on what she’s saying and empathize with all the stress she’s going through and the pressure she’s getting from her mom and the groom doesn’t want to be involved, he doesn’t seem to care. She has all of these things competing with her at once. For our clients, sometimes they’re looking for a job. They’ve just graduated and they’re trying to find a job. They’re trying to find a new place to live. They’re going to be getting a husband that, that there’s a book called, I’ll come up with it before we finished, but there’s a book that really details all of the stress. It’s one of the most stressful times in people’s lives planning their wedding. So just dial in and listen. I happened to be meeting with a bride, this goes back probably 15 years, and she said, I’m just so disappointed that my grandmother can’t attend. She’s just not healthy enough to be at our wedding. I listened and I made a mental note. I try not to write notes when I’m meeting with my clients.
Jim: I challenged myself to remember everything and I think it makes a difference to them that I’m looking them in the eye instead of writing notes down like a stenographer. I think if you, if you’re really dialled into a conversation, there’s no way you’re going to forget something. As soon as they walk out the door, I write everything down. But during our meetings, I try not to write things down. So anyway, she said, I’m so disappointed my grandma can’t be there. Well, I went into action. I called the bride’s mother to get Grandma’s phone number. I asked the mom, would it be okay if I called Grandma just to kind of get a message from her? Not only was it all right, but when I called, Grandma had written out a message of what you wanted to say.
So I recorded her message a couple of times. I think her name was Grandma Dewey, D- E- W- E- Y I still remember this. I recorded her message and then at the wedding after the toasts and speeches, I played it back. The bride was so surprised, tears of joy that her grandmother could be included in was truly ‘there’ quote unquote. She was thrilled and that couple sent me so many referrals. That wasn’t the goal. The goal was just to, just to include Grandma because that was something that was really important to her.
Tony: I think you’ve just touched upon something there. I mean, you said that wasn’t the goal. I get the impression you enjoy giving your customers a surprise, enjoy making them, giving them a far better experience than they were expecting.
Jim: Well, I try and I try not to duplicate because if you do something frequently, it becomes common. If it’s common, it’s just not special. So I wouldn’t do that for every wedding, but if a couple has told me that they really don’t dance much, that the two of them probably won’t be on the floor a whole lot, then I know that’s going to affect the dance floor. so I might bring, I have up lights that bounce to the beat of the music. so, for a couple like that, that I know is not going to be leading the charge on the dance floor, I might bring a couple of up lights at no charge, just to help the atmosphere be a little more energetic.
I have glow sticks that I might hand out if the couple tells me, well, his side of the family is religious and so for religious reasons, they might not dance if I know there are going to be challenges then I try to take extra steps to really encourage people to dance without being loud, obnoxious or cheesy, but just doing it. Sometimes handing out a glow stick, can energize the dance floor and bring people out who might not come out otherwise.
I had a couple recently, a family hired me for a dual anniversary party. So it was the younger couple celebrating their 25th anniversary, which I think is a silver, and the Mom and Dad were celebrating their 50th anniversary, which I think is gold. So before the event, I went online and I found a silver and gold necktie, and I wore that on that evening to celebrate their silver and gold anniversaries and the husbands didn’t notice, but both wives noticed.
Tony: Wow. We have almost come to the end. Is there anything you’d like to say about the whole concept of over delivering and exceeding expectations that people have of you?
Jim: I think if you build your business that way, there’s no way you can’t succeed. There’s times when it can be too forced or when it’s too patently obvious that you’re pandering. So there’s a fine line between caring and being phony. So it has to be genuine and authentic. Those are buzzwords now in the marketing world where everyone really wants you to be genuine and authentic. I think that’s a good way to run your business. But listening and caring, truly listening and caring about people’s events, I’m trying not to duplicate yourself, challenging yourself to do something different and unique according to that particular couple or that corporate client is really key to having a long-standing business. , and really the key to success in today’s economy if you’re running a small business, is to give experiences and not just good customer service.
I think word of mouth and referrals and reviews online have become really vital to our business. you don’t want to let somebody down. So that’s why you have to be kind of cautious, that fine line between under promising and over delivering. If you tell everybody what you’re going to do, then their expectations are even higher than they would normally be. Now you’ve got to go way high to over deliver. So I think all of those things, I think running a small business today is almost more challenging than it’s ever been in history because our businesses are an open book online. If we fail, we fail publicly. So we’ve got to take steps to listen, to really care about our clients’ experiences and just over deliver but not tell them how we’re going to do that.
Tony: Well Jim, you’ve given so much value in this, I mean, I think you’ve over-delivered in this episode. There are so many takeaways I think people can take from what you’ve been saying over the last half hour. So it’s been a pleasure speaking with you, Jim.
Jim: Tony, it’s always a thrill. I love to listen to you speak and I have so many wonderful friends, across the pond as we say in England and the UK and Scotland and Ireland. I just consider a real privilege to have friends like you and I thank you for this opportunity.
Tony: No problem at all and I look forward to meeting you again sometime soon Jim.
Jim: I hope so. Thank you so much.
Tony: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Next week we’re back into the United States talking to a man called Joe Calloway in Episode 10. Joe is the author of many superb books. I’ve recently read two of his books. One was called Be the Best at What Matters Most, the Only Strategy You Will Ever Need. The other one was becoming a Category of One, How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity and Defy Comparison. Both of them were really good books.
It’s a really good interview. I think you’ll learn a lot from this. It’s the first in a series of authors of bestselling books in the arena of customer service and so on. We’ve got a number of those authors over the next couple of months.
So next week, Episode 10, Joe Calloway. Thanks for listening. Please subscribe. It’d be great if you could leave a review and if you do have suggestions for future guests or anyone you know that over delivers to their customers, do get in touch. Hope you have a great week.