A Complaint? It's a Compliment! - 7 Tips for Dealing with Complaints at Trade Shows

Julia O'Connor

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A Complaint? It’s a Compliment!

What made you mad last week?

In the past week, how many times were you upset by something? What action did you take? Complain to the neighbors, make a snide remark to a co-worker, post it on a list or email a group? Did you just gossip or did you try to make it into a positive experience? They say we complain to ten people for every one compliment about a product or service.

Did you call the manager of the company, write the company president, email a suggestion for improvement? Probably not. You were upset but not enough to take action. Or you thought you’d be perceived as a whiner. Or that nobody would do anything because you’re nobody special.

Complaints are Compliments

People don’t complain because they don’t like you. They point out faults and know you can do better. They have expectations of your product, your service, your reputation and you’ve let them down. They complain because they’re disappointed - they like you and want you to succeed.

Look back on your history of lost clients. Was it because they complained or did they just slip quietly away. It was the final straw - once too often that the invoice was wrong, the shipment was late, the product was incomplete, the salesman couldn’t solve a problem, the repair person never showed. Etc.

It’s one thing to have complaints come into your office and have them solved. It’s quite anther when the complainant shows up at your exhibit. So, when you’re on the trade show floor, and folks show up with complaints, welcome them. This is an opportunity to gather market intelligence, find out what’s really happening with your product and service and keep a client.

Here are 7 Tips to turn complaints into positive action.

1. Be Prepared
If you know about problems with product, shipping or sales staff, you should expect some negative comments or direct complaints. Don’t pretend to be surprised. Decide before the show how these complaints will be acknowledged. You can’t hide from problems - surely you’ve made a recall, rebate, replacement or other adjustment.

2. Make Sure Everyone Knows
Perhaps there were problems resolved at a managerial or division level. But your booth staff is composed of people from all levels and areas. Everyone needs to know of potential problems that might come up. There should be no secrets. Secrets leak out and become gossip. Gossip can be deadly.

3. Control the Conversation
The meeting will generally start pleasantly and then get to the complaint. Sometimes you’ll have a rowdy visitor. In either case, move to the side, or out of the booth, or best yet, set an appointment to resolve it off the floor. This is a problem between your firm and one customer - don’t make it part of trade show folklore.

4. Listen Carefully
Make sure you understand what the problem really is. Is it a specific complaint about one shipping disaster, or a general blast about your shipping carrier? Resolve the first with the customer. Report the second, find out if it’s widespread and fix it. You can’t afford to lose business because of middlemen you can’t control.

5. Write It Down
Ask the complaintant if you may make written notes as you speak Say you want to make sure you have all the details. Review them after the encounter. If the person is upset that you are taking notes - stop, and put the notes aside until he leaves. NEVER make people fill out forms. That shows you anticipated a problem but didn't try to reach out to clients. They took the initiative and found you on their own at the show.

6. Appoint an Arbitrator.
There has to be one final authority from your firm in the booth at all times. This is the person who has the authority to resolve the problem on the spot, to pass it to the right level and to calm the complainers. Don’t make them fill out forms. Trade shows are fast paced - they want a decision now. More critically, they want to know that their input is valuable to you. Acknowledge and thank them for their valuable assistance in making your business a success.

7. Out of the Blue.
Sometimes, there will be a problem that’s a complete surprise. Often it’s a staffing problem - a rude sales person, a question of misappropriated funds, an unknown side deal, an executive with an addition. This is not gossip. It’s unconfirmed information in tricky territory which must be treated with utmost confidentiality. It’s critical to get the correct information and pass it along discretely to the proper persons within your firm.

Remember, a complaint really is a compliment.

Enjoy your next show!

Julia O'Connor - Speaker, Author, Consultant - is an expert in the psychology of the trade show environment. She understands that one bad experience by a client can explode into a confrontation on the show floor. Helping her clients in knowing traps on the show floor.

http://www.TradeShowTraining.com - 800-355-3910


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