AMERICAN philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "Service is one of the greatest compensations in life that no person can help another without helping themselves."

In other words, true service comes from the heart and must be given willingly and with passion.

Imagine the following scenario: You are greeted by an irate customer, angry boss and impatient co-worker, who all demand that you help them with something. To make things worse, lunch tastes terrible.

Back at work, you find that your boss is upset over something that was not your fault. Later, one of your colleagues on the afternoon shift calls in sick and you are asked to stay late. By the time you leave your office, you are feeling miserable and asking yourself, "Why me?"

One possibility is that your Reticular Activating System (RAS) is attracting these circumstances. A person's RAS kicks in when his subconscious mind is activated, and it focuses on an object, possibility or outcome.

Returning to the earlier scenario, a bad start to the day may affect how you perceive events that follow - rude customers, lousy food and sick colleague. Everything seems to be a conspiracy to make life difficult for you.

If you are able to counter these irrational thoughts with a positive attitude, you will feel less like a victim.

When you encounter an irate customer, tell yourself that it is an opportunity to correct a service lapse or to conduct a service recovery to win over the customer. This empowers you to take control of the situation and resolve it.

The service provider must be someone who loves to make others happy and feel rewarded when a customer is satisfied. He must be passionate about seeing a smile on the faces of the people he serves.

Personal touch

According to training consultant Barbara Grantz, "everyone can make a difference and create memories for their customers that will motivate them to come back".

You can do so by adding a personal touch. Think of something you can do for your customers to make them feel important. Customers will remember your thoughtfulness and come back to look for you.

Rules of engagement

Motivational speaker Arthur F. Carmazzi said: "Fulfilment is taking what is in your environment for what it is, and not for what it should be."

Encoded assumptions are formed by your values, beliefs and cultural practices. They represent what you think the world should be and how people should behave. Most people have encoded assumptions, such as customers should be polite and understanding at all times or they should demand for a compensation only for serious service lapses.

When these assumptions are violated, you react with rules of engagement. These are our subconscious reactions. Examples include complaining about how bad a customer is to your colleagues, blaming your co-workers for initiating the problem or getting frustrated, withdrawn or angry.

Change your assumptions

Understanding how the brain works can shed some light on negative behaviour and how to avoid it when dealing with customers.

Directive communication psychology studies how people act and react to the environment. The oldest and smallest part of the human brain, referred to as the reptilian brain or the R-Complex, is associated with rage, aggression and basic survival "fight or flight" responses.

When encoded assumptions are violated - for example, when a customer starts shouting at you - your R-Complex instinctively prompts you to respond with rage as your circle of tolerance reduces.

This is where your brain's "grey matter" - responsible for enhanced thinking skills - comes to the rescue. It allows you to accept that your encoded assumptions are not reality but a set of ideals you aspire to.

When your assumptions change, so do your reactive rules of engagement, and your circle of tolerance expands. This allows you to handle any tough situation with a rational response and a smile, providing service excellence while experiencing personal fulfilment in the process.