Dealing with customer complaints effectively is an important skill, particularly if the feedback comes in the middle of a live event. How do you handle an event complaint situation? If you get it wrong you will probably lose a valued attendee forever. However if you get it right you could manage to turn a negative encounter into a positive one and earn a loyal fan...
You put your heart and soul into every event that you organise and after months of hard work and trying to think of every possible eventuality it is heart-breaking if things don’t go exactly to plan. It seems even more distressing if you receive complaints – do they not realise how hard you worked to avoid anything like this happening?!
On the other hand everything could be going great but an attendee may still voice a complaint if something isn’t to their exact liking. And of course the saying goes that “the customer is always right.”
Whatever the circumstance of the complaint (and however valid or not it may be) how can you turn a negative situation into a positive?
Perhaps this sounds strange but try to think of the complaint as a gift. The attendee has taken time to feed back to you so that you have the opportunity to rectify it for the complainant but also potentially for others before the situation escalates. In essence you have been given a valuable second chance to put this right.
Moreover if they didn’t bring this to your attention they could have just disappeared without saying a word, which would have left you no opportunity to put the situation right and probably having lost a customer forever, without ever being any the wiser about their dissatisfaction.
This is a tricky one but the person complaining wants to have their say right away, they need you to stop everything and take note.
Anger will rise if you try to dismiss or delay someone who is primed to have their say.
Try to ensure that all team members know how to handle complaints and that any junior team members know how important it is to pass it over to a Manager promptly and with care.
At a live event you do of course need to consider your location and potentially minimise the impact on the rest of the event and other attendees. If you can suggest a suitable and convenient location close by to discuss the scenario in private this may be a wise move.
Make sure that you gather the full facts of the situation before jumping in. Give the attendee the opportunity to vent their anger and frustration as this may help to calm them to calm down, as well as filling in the gaps for you as to what has gone wrong and the crux of why the person in front of you is so upset. The information you gather here will help to ensure you can suggest the best possible solution and outcome.
It is natural to feel defensive when listening to a complaint, particularly if their facts are wrong or unfounded, but try to remember this isn’t a personal attack on yourself and never argue back.
If tensions are high you are potentially not going to deal with the situation with a clear head so it may be best to suggest some time out for both parties to simmer down before reconvening? Or perhaps you need to escalate the situation to a colleague instead?
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Nobody (ok very few people!) like complaining and so going back to the first point, appreciate that the individual has taken the time to give their opinion to you and that this probably isn’t easy for them. Look at the whole situation from their point of view and see it through their eyes.
Prove that the attendee has your full, undivided attention. Ask questions to be sure that you understand the full facts of the situation and to get them to clarify anything that is unclear.
This earlier post may be useful background reading How to Create the WOW Factor in Event Customer Service.
If the complaint is justified ensure you give heartfelt apologies to the attendee and let them know that that is not how you like to do business/your events to run.
If the complaint isn’t justified in your opinion you should still empathise with them, for example “I am sorry that you feel that way” or “I understand how upset you must feel” or simply “I can see that this must be inconvenient for you.”
Don’t Pass Blame
The person complaining truly believes that you have done something wrong so resist the temptation to pass the blame. The person complaining doesn’t want to hear you passing the buck, they want to hear what you are going to do for them and it is unprofessional to accuse others. It is your event and therefore it is your full responsibility if some element has been unsatisfactory.
Agree Next Steps
Hopefully after gathering all of the information you will have a few ideas for how you can put the situation right and you can now share these with the attendee to gauge their thoughts.
Sometimes it may be appropriate to ask the person directly how you can put the situation right for them; “What would be a fair solution?” “What course of action do you want to see?”
It is important that you jointly agree what is a fair and suitable next step to be taken.
Resolve the Situation
Once a course of action is agreed make sure you move swiftly to put things into place. Ideally the person that has heard the complaint will personally take the necessary action and remain the main point of contact.
If for any reason the actions taken are not immediate and will take some time, ensure that you keep the unhappy attendee informed or the negative feelings could escalate again.
Let the person who voiced the complaint know what changes and measures have been put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again and to show how seriously you took their concerns.
For some it may be enough to be heard and to receive an apology and assurances. Only you can judge the gravity of the situation though and whether compensation should be offered. For example should you offer them a free or discounted ticket for the next event to make up for this bad experience?
Make sure that all of the team are aware of the complaint and steps are taken to put things right and avoid the same mistake happening again in the future. Be grateful for the early warning sign and the chance you have been given to rethink and redesign for the future. The most important lesson is to learn from the error.
If you deal with a complaint at your event successfully you may secure yourself a customer for life and turn a negative experience into a positive one. Nearly all customers would recommend a company to their friends if a complaint had been resolved efficiently, according to The Institute of Customer Service.
Thanks to the Event Planning and Event Management LinkedIn Community who shared their valuable insights for this post.