It strikes me that a service business model that relies on frequently suing your customers is not really sustainable.
My folks out in the field operating campground face far greater problems with customers than any of these petty complaints that Suburban Express is taking to court. My folks have drunks in their face almost every weekend screaming obscenities at them. We have people do crazy things to avoid paying small entry fees. We get mostly positive reviews online but from time to time we inevitably get a negative review with which we disagree (e.g. from the aforementioned drunk who was ticked off we made him stop driving).
And you know how many of these folks we have taken to court in 10 years? Zero. Because unless your customer is reneging on some contractual obligation that amounts to a measurable percentage of your net worth, you don't take them to court.
Yes, it is satisfying from an ego perspective to contemplate taking action against some of them. There are always "bad customers" who don't act in civilized and honorable ways. But I tell my folks that 1) You are never going to teach a bad customer a lesson, because by definition these same folks totally lack self-awareness or else they would not have reached the age of fifty and still been such assholes. And 2) you are just risking escalating the situation into something we don't want. As did Suburban Express in the linked article.
The first thing one has to do in the customer service business is check one's ego at the door. I have front-line employees that simply refuse to defuse things with customers (such as apologize for the customer's bad experience even if we were not reasonably the cause). They will tell me that they refuse to apologize, that it was a "bad customer". This is all ego. I tell them, "you know what happens if you don't apologize and calm the customer down? The customer calls me and I apologize, and probably give him a free night of camping to boot." In the future, if this dispute goes public, no one is going to know how much of a jerk that customer was at the time. Just as no one knows about these students in the Suburban Express example - some may have been (likely were) drunken assholes. But now the company looks like a dick for not just moving on.
This is all not to say I am perfect. It is freaking amazingly easy to forget my own rule about checking one's ego at the door. I sometimes forget it when dealing with some of the public agencies with which I am under contract. One of the things you learn early about government agencies is that long-time government employees have never been inculcated with a respect for contract we might have in the private world. If internal budget or rules changes make adhering to our contract terms difficult, they will sometimes ignore or unilaterally change the terms of our written contract.
And then I will get really pissed off. Sometimes, I have to -- the changes are substantial and costly enough to matter. But a lot of the time it is just ego. The changes are small and de minimis from our financial point of view but I get all worked up, writing strings of eloquent and argumentative emails and letters, to show those guys at the agency just how wrong they are. And you know what? Just like I tell my folks, the guys on the other end are not going to change. They are not bad people, but they have grown up all their lives in government work and have been taught to believe that contract language is secondary to complying with their internal bureaucratic rules. They are never going to change. All I am doing is ticking them off with my letters that are trying to count intellectual coup on them.
To this end, I think I am going to tape these two lines from Ken White's post on the wall in front of my desk
- First, never miss a good opportunity to shut up.
- Second, take some time to get a grip. You will not encounter a situation where waiting 48 hours to open your mouth will destroy your brand.