Dealing with customer complaints effectively is important, 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 possibly lose a valued attendee forever. If you get it right, you could turn a negative encounter into a positive one.
You put your heart and soul into every event. After months of hard work and trying to think of every possible eventuality it is crushing if things don’t go to plan. It seems even more distressing if you receive complaints.
As the saying goes, “the customer is always right.”
So, how do you turn a negative into a positive? Here are some ideas.
Try to think of the complaint as a gift. The attendee has taken time to talk to you so that you have the opportunity to rectify it but also potentially for others before the situation escalates. Consider it a valuable second chance to put this right.
If they had not brought 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 without being any wiser about their dissatisfaction.
The person complaining wants to have their say right away. They need you to stop everything and take note. 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.
At a live event you do of course need to consider your location and potentially minimize 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.
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. This could help calm them down. 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 faced with a complaint, particularly if their facts are wrong, but try to remember this isn’t a personal attack 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 hand the situation to a colleague instead.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Nobody likes complaining and so going back to the first point, appreciate that the individual has taken the time to give their opinion and that this probably isn’t easy for them. Look at the whole situation 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.
If the complaint is justified ensure you give heartfelt apologies to the attendee and let them know that that is not how you like your events to run. If the complaint isn’t justified—in your opinion—you should show sympathy, 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 believes you have done something wrong so resist the temptation to pass the blame. The person complaining wants to hear what you are going to do for them and it is unprofessional to accuse others.
Agree Next Steps
Hopefully after hearing everything, you will have a few ideas for how you can put the situation.
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 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.
Make sure everyone is aware of the complaint and steps are taken to put things right and avoid the same mistake happening again. 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.