“Boy, if you like it, you can have it,” said the salesgirl with a charming smile.

The offer was music to my ears. I was only about six years old and…

…had been eyeing the toy train for quite some time. My parents refused to buy it for me and the salesgirl noticed.

When I nodded, she took it from the shelf and gave it to me without hesitation. My parents were dumbfounded. They thanked the salesgirl profusely after she insisted that I could have it.

To me, that’s the best service anyone can have. Luckily for me, I have had similar pleasant experiences in other shops.

I do not know if their kindness and service with a smile had anything to do with my disability. However, I do know that my parents have been patronising these shops after I received their special treatment. As you can see, good service makes good business sense.

Despite the benefits of quality service, it is evident that there is concern about the unsatisfactory service standards in Singapore.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech on Aug 21 highlighted, among other things, the need to improve the service sector.

Six days later, the Customer-Centric Initiative was launched by NTUC deputy secretary-general Lim Swee Say to reverse falling service standards.

While the concerted effort to upgrade the service industry is timely, I think we owe it to ourselves to play our part if we want high service standards. Otherwise, we deserve the service we get.

We can expect to be treated like a prince or princess only if we are reasonable, considerate and appreciative. But if we behave like hooligans, we can look forward to being served grudgingly, if we are served at all.

My experience with poor service is rare. When I am faced with a case of it, I try to understand the situation. After all, I am being served by a fellow human being who has needs and feelings, too.

Once, my parents became very upset because of slow service at a restaurant. The waitress disappeared faster than she appeared. And she looked like she had not been paid her salary for months.

What’s more, we had to wait ages for our food to be served. I told my parents to be patient as it was crowded.

My mum snapped: “Then, the restaurant should employ more staff. The service here is pathetic!”

“True,” I said. “But what is the restaurant going to do with the excess staff when it is quiet on most other days? It will not be able to sustain its business.”

As for the waitress, she could have done better. But I wonder how many of us, in her shoes, would have. It is easier said than done, is it not?

After dinner that day, I suggested to my parents to have our meals at the restaurant during non-peak hours when there would be fewer customers. We did just that and enjoyed ourselves every time.

Being reasonable and considerate has its advantages. So is being appreciative. It can bring about outstanding service.

I thank the lady who clears and cleans the tables at the food centre and tell her the good job she has done. I compliment a cafe owner for the scrumptious food she serves. I congratulate an airline on the excellent customer service provided by its staff. And what do I get in return?

The cleaning lady merrily gets ready a clean table for me whenever she sees me. I get a larger portion of food and an extra scoop of ice-cream at the cafe.

And from the airline, I receive a letter of thanks and an assurance of continued personalised and quality service. (Actually, I was hoping for a free ticket … Just kidding!)

Although one good turn deserves another, I do not advocate the method used by Mr Anthony Robbins, a renowned motivational guru. He not only informed the manager of the good work of the service staff, but also arranged for those who had enjoyed the service to give the staff a standing ovation.

On second thoughts, perhaps we should do that some time, to inspire the great service we want.

As they say: What goes around, comes around.

(This article was published on 8 September 2005 of TODAY)