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Senior Correspondent

My nieces and nephews love to tell the story about the time our family had dinner at a Friendly's in the Boston area and had a less than friendly customer service experience.

We had been on the road for a good eight to 10 hours that day with my folks and other family members. We were on our way to my nephew's high school graduation and my young niece’s graduation from a DARE program. No time to eat? No worries! We chose to go to Friendly's, so all would be well.

Our party of 13 arrived at the restaurant with a set of customer expectations as big as our appetites. The kids were psyched, but the grandfathers were verging on blood sugar issues.

We placed our order with a young man who had apparently quit but forgot to tell anyone. You've probably had this happen before, being served by someone who would rather be elsewhere and seems to be having an out of body experience.   

We accounted for the majority of the customers in the restaurant. As a half hour became 45 minutes, our food had still not arrived, even after we appraised our server of our family’s special needs.

Eventually, I went back to the kitchen to see whether the waiter had, in fact, turned in our order. Oh, yes. They had the order and they were working on it, but couldn't tell me when we might expect food.

My nephew's banana split came out first, without bananas. This just sent me over the edge. That was when I decided to return to the kitchen, convene a team meeting, and provide a little customer service training. I remember telling the staff that this was their lucky day because I wasn't going to charge them for the workshop.

It must have worked because properly prepared food began to appear, not necessarily in the appropriate sequence, but food came all the same.  Grouchy family members became kind and loving again and as we enjoyed our Friendly's meals.

Over the years, when someone experiences a customer service disappointment, they recall the night, "Jeanne went friendly in Boston.”

My nieces and nephews are grown now and each of them makes sure that they provide more value to their employers and customers than they are being paid, every day. They understand that no matter what their job involves, they do it to the best of their abilities as a matter of professional pride.

I went on a girls getaway to the Riviera Maya once. While there, we enjoyed glorious beaches, food to die for, and had the customer service experience of a lifetime. In the course of the four day trip we must have been served by dozens and dozens of individuals who truly seemed to appreciate their jobs and our business. It showed in their every action. Each service provider projected competence, confidence and professional pride and appeared to enjoy their guests, each other and the opportunity to serve others.

I contemplate the challenges we seem to have in our workplaces with pulling off a suitable level of customer service. I can’t help but wonder what we could learn from these humble, energetic and grateful people about service. As guests we were eager to find ways to show them our appreciation for great service, like telling the world about our experience.

Research suggests that when we have bad service experiences, we tell 10 to 12 people. When we have good service experiences, on the other hand, we are less likely to tell others about it. I have repeated the Friendly's story for over a decade in customer services classes everywhere, as an example of how things can go wrong. But I’m ready to try a new angle and share positive examples as well. Who knows, maybe I don't even have to go to the Riviera Maya to enjoy great service, if I really pay attention.      

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