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Lessons From the Fyre Festival

Fyre Festival Lessons

5 Lessons the Fyre Festival Can Teach About Customer Service

Thousands of guests from around the world arrived in the Bahamas in late April 2017 for Fyre Festival—a new music event promising fun, luxury, and entertainment. However, the event quickly spiraled into a PR disaster for organizers, and a valuable service lesson for others to follow.

How One Festival Turned into an International Fiasco

Attendees paid anywhere from $1,500 to $12,000 per ticket for the two-weekend festival, along with airfare and transportation to a private beach in the Bahamas. Once on the island, attendees expected to enjoy luxurious accommodations and world-class cuisine while taking in a roster stacked with some of the music industry’s top performers.

Problems appeared even before guests left the mainland, though. Flights and buses were delayed, rough winds collapsed tents across the island, the promised infrastructure was incomplete, and security was understaffed, just to name a few issues.

The entire debacle played out live via Twitter and Instagram as attendees took their frustration online:

What’s the Takeaway?

The 2017 Fyre Festival proved to be a complete mess for attendees and organizers.

While a music festival in the Bahamas might be far removed from the demands and realities of most other businesses, the situation demonstrates a few important—and very basic—customer service values:

Lesson #1: Plan Thoroughly

As published on the website, “We thought we were ready, but then everyone arrived.” The planners oversold tickets, believing that they could scale for the number of attendees that bought them. Instead, they should have based their capacity on what would be completed in time.

Not accounting for the demands of scalability is a common problem. Given that growth is the primary goal of a business, planning for the present rather than what will be needed later is a surprisingly common error.

Don’t fall into the trap of rigid technologies and solutions, especially those primarily reliant on automation with no human oversight. Even if they seem to work fine at first, they will only slow down growth as the business attempts to scale.

Lesson #2: Do Not Promise What You Can’t Deliver

One of the main themes circulating the internet was that the 2017 Fyre Festival simply did not live up to what was promised. Rather than beachside villas and gourmet cuisine, attendees were greeted by construction materials, tents, and bread and cheese slices.

Customers should be able to trust that a business will follow through on what they promise. If an eCommerce retailer promises next-day delivery of an item, customers will expect that item to be in their hands the next day. Anything less will likely result in dissatisfied customers, which will translate to lost sales and disputes down the road.

If an organization can’t be sure that they will always live up to a guarantee every time, then they shouldn’t make it a guarantee.

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Lesson #3: Be Responsive

Another major source of trouble on the island was that guests had no idea what was happening. The event was understaffed, meaning there was no one to whom attendees could direct questions, and this led guests to panic.

A lack of up-front communication is bad, but being unresponsive to customers’ questions and concerns is even worse. The best thing to do when matters go awry is to be responsive, address the problem, and promptly deliver a solution.

Up-front communication is the most important part of customer relations. Merchants should guarantee that they always adhere to business best practices:

  • Provide live phone support 24 hours a day.
  • Answer phone calls in three rings or less.
  • Utilize overflow customer service centers during peak times and outside business hours.
  • Respond to emails and social media inquiries within 60 minutes.
  • Ensure that all phone numbers listed online are properly connected.
  • Make all social media and email links on the site live and clickable
  • Keep customers informed about their orders’ status and delivery estimates.

Lesson #4: Provide Reassurance

Obviously, customers hate feeling that they’ve been cheated, which is exactly the impression resulting from less-than-reassuring customer service. This sense adds fuel to an already burning fire, creating a feedback loop of negative PR.

When things go wrong, it’s every business’ first responsibility to reassure customers that their concerns are important and will be addressed. If customers feel they’re being ignored, they will vent their anxiety and frustration elsewhere—namely on social media, for everyone to see.

Treat upset customers delicately, be accommodating, and don’t be afraid to bend policies. After all, it’s better to bend policies on occasion than to face chargebacks and negative online backlash.

Lesson #5: Take Responsibility

No matter whether it’s a massive situation like Fyre Festival or just an individual customer interaction, averting responsibility is the worst response possible.

Even if a situation is genuinely not one’s fault, the last thing an upset customer wants to hear is an excuse. Blending excuses and apologies sends mixed messages to customers, and leads many people to doubt the genuineness of the apology in the first place.

Owning the situation and taking responsibility says to the customer “I’m sorry, and I’m more interested in helping you than in clearing my conscience.” It suggests that the merchant doesn’t want to dwell on making themselves look better, but instead on making the customer happy.

Thus, the best solution is to apologize sincerely and offer solutions to the problem, rather than offer responses that come across as half-apology and half-excuse.

Learn from Mistakes

Negative customer interactions will happen to just about every business from time to time. Learning how to respond in those situations, and how to recover when they occur, is part of developing and scaling a brand.

Let’s take a lesson from Fyre Festival’s unfortunate example—when things go wrong, make sure the response is right.

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