Very few events happen in which there are no issues or problems encountered, mainly because there are so many moving parts when planning and staging an event. Frankly, any event that goes off without even a minor snag should be considered a miracle.
The problem with this is that very few people outside of the events industry are aware of this fact. Which is why some clients or attendees get so worked up about even minor problems or issues at an event. And in the case of events like weddings or parties, there are added expectations and emotions, which can magnify even the smallest of problems.
Simply put, people have no idea how complicated event planning and management can really be, and so they often feel compelled to lash out at planners and event staff when something goes wrong.
So how do you approach on-site event complaints, and how do you address the concerns voiced by attendees and clients? Here are some key do’s and don’ts.
NOTE: I often take care of customer support for our online event management software, and I implement these techniques for addressing customer complaints and issues almost every day. I have also talked with dozens of event planners, and they also use these tactics when faced with an event crisis.
DO listen, listen, listen
If you ignore all the other tips here, make sure to remember this one. Listening to the person with a complaint is the #1 way to both understand the issue and start diffusing whatever anger or frustration the person is feeling. When confronted, most of us like to talk to show we are in control of the situation, but actually listening and asking questions and listening some more is the best way to get to the bottom of the problem. And it is the best way for the client or disgruntled attendee to feel like they are being heard and not handled.
DON’T get defensive
Is your main responsibility at the event to plan and manage it or to fight with your attendees? Defensiveness almost always leads to conflict, which is what you are trying to avoid in this situation. Putting up walls only heightens the anger and frustration of the other party, and it moves you further away from finding a fast and effective solution to the problem.
DO stay positive and in control
Even if the issue is something you’re not sure you can fix completely, you still need to stay positive and communicate to the dissatisfied person that, once you are done talking, you will be looking into this issue immediately. What has happened has happened, and you need to make it clear that are now taking responsibility for finding a resolution.
DON’T act without having accurate information
Acting first without knowing ALL the details may actually make matters worse. So before you start running around and fixing things, talk to all the relevant parties (staff, vendors, other attendees) to collect more information, just in case you received inaccurate or biased information from the unhappy guest/client.
DO let them get their emotions out
The person facing you will be somewhere on the spectrum from a little annoyed to completely enraged, and you should let them feel what they need to feel and vent for a moment. However, if this emotion spills over into disrespect or even rudeness, you should remind the person that you are here to help them and that you can better help them if they remain calm and simply relate the relevant details to you so you can start addressing the problem.
DON’T make promises you can’t keep
When you first hear about a problem, you often have no idea that you may be able to completely fix it. And if you say you can fix it and then cannot, you set your client/attendees up for more disappointment and yourself up for even more disparagement. Just say you will be looking into the matter immediately and will do everything in your power to make things right.
DO take a moment to evaluate the situation
Once you have collected information, take a moment to take a deep breath and consider the alternatives on how to fix the issue. In some cases, there may be only one option. But often giving yourself a chance to think provides an opportunity to reflect on the situation and may unearth another viable option or two that weren’t immediately apparent.
DON’T start placing blame
Blame is as counterproductive as being defensive. It only adds emotion to a situation that already has plenty, and consider this … the person or people you want to blame may also be the ones you need to help you fix the problem. And they will be much more amenable to helping you if they don’t resent you.
DO communicate your course of action and provide updates
Once you have determined a course of action, communicate this to the disgruntled parties. Even if it’s not a perfect solution, it will show that you want to keep them in the loop (which they will later appreciate once they have cooled down) and will give you a sense of how much damage control you need to prepare for later on after the dust settles. It also shows you have taken control and responsibility, which people respect.
DON’T let an imperfect solution ruin the event
Yes, you may not be able to completely salvage the broken signage or the fallen wedding cake. And the backup entertainer or speaker may not be the ideal fit. But you have done your best with the limited time and resources at hand, and now it is your job to make sure the rest of the event continues on and that your guests feel welcome and engaged. You are the glue holding all this together, and everyone is looking to you to keep it all together.