As event and meeting planners we have all experienced unhappy attendees. Regardless if the grievance is justified or not, planners must address complaints immediately and skillfully. Today we are sharing our top tips on how to turn your attendee’s grievances into positive experiences.
Drop everything you are doing
Think of yourself in this situation. When you have an issue, don’t you want to be heard? Isn’t it exceedingly annoying when the person you want to speak with tells you to come back or call back later? The first thing to do to is to listen and acknowledge the issue, and it is key that you empower all of your team members to do this.
At times you cannot easily have a discussion, especially at a live event. When this happens step away, find a quiet place to have a conversation. At many of the events we have planned we implemented an issue room. This was a hospitality room near the registration area where any and all issues could be handled.
Breathe, think before speaking and above all, keep calm
You have worked months on your events, and it is only natural to become defensive when presented with a complaint. It is important to realize that a complaint is not a personal attack, and therefore you should not take it as such. If the tensions are high, and you feel you may not be able to remain calm, it is best to find a colleague to step in, or suggest a location and time to meet a bit later in order for the parties to cool down.
Allow the attendee to speak, ask as many questions as possible to get the full story. This will prove to the attendee that you are giving them your full attention. It will also allow you to get all of the facts.
Asking questions will also unearth any underlying issues at the event. Issues you may not be aware of that may need to be addressed, and may improve your event.
If the attendee has a valid complaint offer your sincere apologies and a solution. If the complaint isn’t justified, it is still key to show empathy so the attendee feels heard. You could say, “I understand how upset you must feel.” Key in this stage is to insure you do not pass the blame. The attendee is coming to you, believing that their issue is with you and wants to hear what you are going to do about it.
Offer a solution and follow through
Once you have a good understanding of the issue, talk about next steps. What is an acceptable solution for both parties? Make a proposal and agree! Offer the solution, timeline to implement and insure that future issues like this won’t happen again if at all possible.
If you are not able to implement the solution immediately, such as a refund, insure that the attendee has a clear understanding of the situation and stay in contact with the attendee until the issue is solved.
In our many years of event and meeting planning we learned that a large percentage of attendees just want to be heard and receive a sincere apology. It is key however for event planners to take all of the complaints received from attendees, review and explore what steps should be taken to avoid similar issues at future events.