The basic inability of geek organizations to handle talking to the public isn't always super surprising, and it isn't new - but it kind of bothers me that it's still an issue. Now I'm no PR expert, and I don't claim to be the smoothest operator out there - but there are things that I think of as common sense that (for reasons beyond comprehension) seem to elude my brethren.
After any convention for instance, someone will be dissatisfied. Someone will have a complaint. Maybe this complaint is justified, maybe this complaint isn't -- but either way, if a con handles this wrong, it can be a disaster.
And it frustrates me when cons handle basic situations completely wrong, because I want to help them. I want to show them how to do things before they screw them up.
The key to damage control in this community is to actually listen to the complaint, no matter how trivial. It doesn't matter if the person complaining is right or wrong - you need to listen to it. Maybe the person complaining is off of their rocker, maybe they're just plain wrong -- but no matter what, you need to rationally listen to what they were saying.
It's important that you listen with emotional detachment. The biggest mistake any con staff can make is reacting emotionally. Chances are the person filing the complaint is going to be angry. If you get angry or offended too, you've failed entirely. Why? Because you're going to need to respond, and if you respond while angry you are going to make it worse.
Try to look at the complaint through the attendee's eyes. Try to see how they could have drawn their conclusions. Maybe they're right, and you've misjudged how something you thought was no big deal would appear to an outsider. Maybe the attendee has a point, but you have good reasons for not having done things the way they wanted them to be done. And... maybe the attendee is totally wrong.
If you realize their complaint is valid, do the stand up thing and apologize. Frankly, if you know you're in the wrong, doing anything else is asinine. If you think you're right, then you still need to respond -- but be respectful. The person wants to know they've been heard, and you need to let them know. Politely explain why you do things the way you do - don't condescend or act like an ass. They need to know you've taken them seriously and thought about it (because if you've followed my advice you have thought about it).
It's not hard to not act like a jackass in these situations... and I should know, as I have a hard time not acting like a jackass in a lot of other situations.
As a final note, the worst thing you can do is try to hide the complaint. Don't dismiss the person if they do it to your face, and if it's on your website or Facebook page do not delete it. Seriously, the best way you can add validity and weight to any complaint is to try and hide it. While you don't want to draw attention to a negative situation per se, you never want to be seen covering it up.
If you're in the right, it falsely makes your accuser look legitimate. If you're in the wrong, it makes it much harder for others to forgive you later.
As one currently in charge of a form of "Public Relations," I can completely relate to this post. For some god-awful reason some Geeks just can't handle customer service.
I almost think its required to be part of any kind of staff. That is just me, though.
Although, when I joined NebKon, my work history was all of Construction and working at a factory. Hardly a good strong work history, which usually doesn't matter in the first few years of a convention.
As the convention gets bigger though, so do the issues.