A friend of mine and I were talking today as we do several days a week at the gym. We bring every, and all issues to the table.

Today, she told me about a really uncomfortable customer service issue that she had recently. She was still stewing over what happened and knew that I coach in the area of customer service so she shared the tale with me.

For her anniversary, she and her husband decided to find a romantic place to get away for the weekend. They had the grandparents take their kids and they were looking forward to just spending time together.

They found this really unusual and cool place on the internet that boasted about having TREE HOUSES. Thinking that was super cool, they booked a room for $200 a night for 2 nights. When they got to the place near Fire Mountain, NC, it was a rainy and dismal day. But they were looking forward to staying in their unusual selection of a TREE HOUSE. When they got to the room, they discovered a room that fell incredibly short of their expectations. They found a non luxury room that resembled a dorm room. The so called Tree House was actually 3 individual rooms that backed up to the office. They were able to hear everything that was going on in the office and also in the rooms that surrounded theirs. Their treehouse view wasn’t terrific because of weather but directly below them outside were some dead plants in pots and air conditioners boxes.

When they mentioned it to the woman at the front desk, she said that others had also assumed that until they called to double check over the phone. My friend just booked directly on the internet and didn’t call to make a reservation.

My friend Amanda, who is one of the most polished and tactful women I know, chose to make the best of a bad situation. Even though it rained all weekend and they had a miserable room that they paid $200 a night for, they enjoyed the breakfast and had fun doing other activities. But when she returned home, she wrote the hotel a letter suggesting they change the Website to make it sound more realistic. She commented on the fact that her husband had 10 of his website design associates review the website and they all came to the same conclusion, that they were marketing TREE HOUSES instead of dorm rooms.

A week or so later, my friend Amanda was excited when a letter arrived at their house. When she opened it, she was MORTIFIED that the owner of this so called resort, never expressed any sympathy whatsoever towards my friend’s experience, and personally attacked my friend and suggested that she was the first person to ever not be 100% satisfied with the accomodations. She raved on and on that she COULD have read the FAQs on the website to see that it wasn’t REALLY a TREE HOUSE but it just looked OVER the trees. The letter was a 2 page single spaced letter with small print. Not only THAT, but the owner, in so many words, told them NEVER TO COME BACK again!

Now, both Amanda and her husband John were incredibly upset and angry, and rightly so. They are reasonable people and were hoping for a letter that apologized about their unmet expectations with a possible discount for them in the event they could woo them back for another visit. They were shocked that there could be someone like this in business, let alone in the service and hospitality industry!

My suggestion was to go directly to the Better Business Bureau, or the media with this juicy story. However, they feel that the lady might literally come after them with revenge.

I think of all of the times that I’ve had bad service. I’m no wall flower so when someone gives me bad service, I’m the type that will write about it, talk about it to audiences, and write the corporate CEO. On the flip side, when someone goes out of their way to offer exceptional service, I take the time to write a letter of recommendation or make sure to write good things in their suggestion box. So when I get bad service and write a letter, I’ve been comforted over and over when the person acknowledges their mistakes, or tries to make up for whatever the problems were that occurred.

It doesn’t take much training to know that if a service organization messes up in Customer service, they’ll get more with honey than with vinegar. People are forgiving, but they AREN’T forgiving when the person never admits their mistakes, or refuses to apologize for the bad service.

With all of those Mystery Shoppers on the hunt these days, and the internet full of good and bad reviews, people are going to have to WAKE UP and offer excellent and friendly service if they expect to win over the customer and keep customers happy. Customers are becoming more and more savvy about spreading information to save other people the trouble of having a bad experience. The media has played a nice role on that too and that can greatly help the customers.

So here are my tips if you’ve been cheated or taken advantaged of:

1. Speak up! Tell the manager on duty that you’ve just experienced some bad service. Try to say something nice first, but then be direct and report your experience. Good managers will apologize and do something about the situation right away. (I was at a Burger King in SC recently off of I-85, and the male cashier had dirty fingernails. I got the manager and told him how disgusting that was, and immediately the employee was sent to clean up. The manager took immediate action and I appreciated it! But I still couldn’t stomach eating the food after that gross sight!)

2. Next, go over the managers’ head. Write a letter and do a little research. Put it in writing to everyone you can find. I’ve sent letters to CEOs, VPs, Sales Directors, Board members and whoever else I could find on the internet. I “cc” all of them so they know that everyone in the corporation got the letter from me. I’ve also written to the Better Business Bureau about my situation or experience.

3. Be factual, but be blunt that you were treated wrongly. If they refuse to address the issue, then I have stated many times that I’m happy to report this to the media. I’ve stated that I hope that they’re fine with a little PR on my experience.

4. I’ve offered to them advice on what would make me happy. If a gym states that they have a 5 month cancellation policy but I never knew of it, I’ve offered to pay a 1 month cancellation fee. I’ve tried to be fair, and hope that they will also.

5. Lastly, I’ve never gotten into a shouting match or gotten emotional. It’s not personal, it’s business. I let them know that I’m concerned that their business isn’t up to par, and I expect them to rectify the situation. I do these things and I usually get results, and you will too!

So put your best foot forward if you are in customer service. The customer, while maybe not ALWAYS right, has a right to be treated with respect, fast service and a great product. If you are servicing people and can’t keep up with these three things, then find a new job or learn some new skills.

Learning how to say that you’re sorry can save you thousands of dollars if you’ve made a mistake. Its been said that you can have 100 satisfied customers who tells no one and 1 unsatisfied customer and they can share it with hundreds of people. It can save you hundreds of hours of stress too. But the best lesson is to learn from your mistakes so you won’t be getting bad results at all, you’ll be getting raves. And raves my friends, is what good customer service is all about!