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Handling Unhappy Event Attendees

Putting on an event is difficult. No matter the size, there are tons of moving parts. You have to secure a space and get sponsors or vendors. If you’re having food, you need to hire a caterer and event staff to help clean up. On top of all that, there’s just the normal logistics of getting everyone where they need to be. 

Sometimes in all the madness, things slip through the cracks. It’s never anyone’s intention, but even the most seasoned event planners, sometimes, have a few hiccups. Some of those offenses are small and can be handled before anyone has a clue. However, that’s not always the case. 

Though most people are reasonable and forgiving, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be bothered by any mistakes. After all, they invested time and money to partake in your event. By virtue of that, you are responsible for them.

So, how do you move forward when someone is unhappy? In this article, I cover four suggestions on how to handle unhappy event attendees. Each case will have its own nuances, so there isn’t one perfect answer. That said, these tips can provide a great starting point to turning unhappy event attendees into satisfied guests. 


When someone is upset, the first step is to listen. It may seem like the simplest thing, but it’s also very easy to forget. Also, there is a big difference between hearing and listening, as I’m sure all of our parents have said at some point. 

Hearing is something that happens, and listening is something you participate in. According to research, 59% of respondents say being treated as an individual is more important than how quickly their issue is resolved. 

With that in mind, how do you let someone know you’re listening and that they’re being heard? There isn’t one answer, but here are a few tips: 

  1. Ask questions – Asking questions lets the person know you’re engaged and shows you’re taking an active role. It also allows you the opportunity to clarify anything you’re uncertain about. 
  2. Make Eye Contact – This can be a little uncomfortable for some, but it does, generally, signal that you’re paying attention. If you’re looking all around the room, you may seem disinterested. 
  3. Let Them Finish – Before interjecting or responding, make sure they were able to finish their thoughts fully. If you jump in too early, it could come off as though you weren’t actually paying attention and simply wanted to make your point. 
  4. Give Opportunities – These days, person-to-person interactions are becoming fewer, so the likelihood that the complaint comes directly from someone in-person is slim. With that being the case, be sure to send out a post-event survey or simply offer a channel where they can submit complaints. It’ll show you’re invested in their opinion. 

Events can be chaotic affairs at times. If someone approaches you to discuss an issue, consider taking them aside so you can fully dedicate your attention to them. 


We all mess up sometimes. It’s a fact of life and one that we all know. When putting together an event, you try your best to anticipate needs to avoid certain issues altogether, but things don’t always go according to plan, and you’re bound to miss something. 

In the case where a mistake, real or perceived, happens, you need to apologize. Research shows that 89% of customers read responses to reviews, so even if your attendee has left their feedback in a public comment, it’s worth taking the time to respond. As with listening, apologizing has its nuances, but there we do have a few tips: 

  1. Don’t Get Defensive – There’s a saying I love, which is, “anytime you argue with a customer, you lose.” Basically, anytime you mount a defense for an issue someone has, it doesn’t matter if you’re right because you will probably alienate them in the process. 
  2. Show Empathy – Not getting defensive is the first step, the next is to show you understand why they would be upset. One study showed that 24% of repeat calls come from customers who experienced an emotional disconnect with a customer service agent. It’s important to connect with the event attendee to fully resolve their concerns. It’s a way to validate their feelings and let them know that their issue matters to you. Sometimes giving someone the time of day is all that’s needed.
  3. Confirm You Understand – Apologizing and empathizing only matter if you know what the complaint is about. Sometimes it’s pretty straightforward (i.e., there weren’t enough bathrooms), and confirming you understand could seem patronizing. However, in more nuanced cases summarizing and repeating the issue back to the attendee to make sure you’re on the same page can be an important step. 
  4. Be Sincere – Last, when you do give an apology, mean it. We’ve all been given the excuse that’s simply meant to placate us. In some ways, that can feel worse than someone not apologizing at all. It really comes down to humility. Like I said before, we all mess up. Own it and move on. 

Offer a Solution

Listening to and acknowledging issues are both important steps to taking care of attendees that are upset. However, at the end of the day, if you don’t offer some sort of resolution for the issue they faced, it may not count for much. 

First, be sure that you do your best to offer a solution quickly. If the attendee is waiting too long, they may not feel like you’re that invested in the issue. According to research done by GatherUp, most customers expect their complaints to be addressed in one day. It may not always be possible to get a resolution that quick, but at the very least, you could let them know the process has started. 

Next, if it takes a longer-than-expected amount of time to get a resolution, make sure you’re keeping the customer informed. Also, be sure that they only have to explain the issue once. Research shows that customers really don’t like having to repeat an issue.  

Last, once you offer a solution, make sure you get buy-in from the attendee. These conversations can be difficult but are needed. If they’re not satisfied with the offer, you may want to try and change it. To avoid lots of back and forth, feel free to ask the customer exactly what they need for the problem to be resolved. That will make their desire less ambiguous and give you direction if you’re unsure. 


Sending a message after-the-fact is a way to show your commitment fully. Also, as with any business, repeat business is essential. If they see you’re committed to their satisfaction, it could give you the edge you need to beat out your competition when they’re deciding what events to attend in the future. Studies suggest that by 2020 customer service will be a bigger differentiator than price

Outside of it being the right thing to do by your customers, it’s a smart business practice. A two percent increase in retention has the same impact as decreasing costs by 10 percent. When you invest in your customers, they may be more likely to invest in you. 

Along with bringing those who previously attended back, being genuinely interested could also win you, new attendees. According to research, 88% of consumers said they would purchase, recommend, or invest in an authentic brand. In short, you can use your actions to prove your words are true. There isn’t a shortage of conferences to choose from, so any way you can differentiate yourself from the competition is smart. 


Mistakes happen, and people get upset. It’s a fact of life. When you plan events, it’s something you’re probably all-too-familiar with. Handling unhappy event attendees can be difficult. First, you want to listen to the issue and make sure you understand it. To do anything for them, you need first to understand why they’re upset. 

Next, make sure you apologize. No matter what the issue is, it’s best to say sorry. There’s nothing to be gained by winning an argument. After you’ve given a sincere apology, you need to offer a solution. The cliche is true, and actions speak louder than words. Last, follow-up to make sure there aren’t any lingering issues.

No one is perfect, and no one is expecting you to be, but they are expecting that you do your best when things go wrong. Approach each case with humility and empathy, and you’ll be on the path to success. 

This post is written by Sarah Chambers, Editor-in-chief, Chatra.

You are most welcome to share how do you handle such cases.



Explara Guest Author

About Explara: SaaS Platform for Online Business, Event Ticketing, Membership Management, and Payment Gateway.

Our success in helping 100,000s of small & medium business to grow their revenue and solve business needs influenced us to expand Explara to become a multi-product business.

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