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Positivity Begets Good Customer Service

written by Yee-Ming Tan 3 June 2009

Yee-Ming Tan, MAPP, provides executive coaching services and leadership development training to senior executives. Recent clients include: Cathay Pacific, Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft. Yee-Ming also publishes a series of tools, RippleCards, for people who choose to cultivate greater well-being in their lives.

Her articles are here.

Cover of Positivity I finally received the long awaited copy of Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson from Amazon this morning. It was Fredrickson’s research that made me realize the importance of positive emotions to well-being.

Positive Wave

Positive Wave

I used to be someone who experienced predominantly negative and neutral emotions. I strove to be neutral, the ideal state. I have since become a total convert to positivity as a way to flourish.


As I read Fredrickson’s book, I couldn’t help recalling a wonderful episode from my mini-vacation two weeks ago on a private rain forest island in Malaysia.

I find restaurants a great place to practice positivity, and very often, receive great service in return. Positive customer behavior begets positive service.

Here’s what I do in restaurants:

  1. Flash a big smile to the waiter/waitress
  2. Establish eye contact
  3. Call the waiter/waitress by name
  4. Express my appreciation for their service
  5. Show my interest in him/her

On the first morning at breakfast, my partner and I were lucky to get a table in the garden, surrounded by lush tropical plants and a wandering peacock! I noticed a waiter, Jonathan, who stood out from the rest of the staff because of his Duchenne smile.

Engaging him in conversation, I learned a bit about his story. Jonathan, a Nepali, came to work in Malaysia 4 years ago. Because of this conversation, we established a connection as individuals beyond the buyer/seller relationship. My partner and I had a great morning enjoying our leisurely breakfast, looked after by Jonathan.

On the second morning, we had the same table and Jonathan again looked after us. I brought my own mango (a big juicy Indian mango) with me that morning. Jonathan came over and offered to have the kitchen prepared it for us. It was so kind of him to do this. I made a mental note to write to the hotel general manager about such an outstanding service.

Waiter with a smile

Waiter with a smile

On the third and our final morning there, Jonathan surprised us by serving us a plate of mango on the house! It was a special treat as mango was not on the menu. He also packed us some snacks for our ferry trip home!

The smile, the attention, the acknowledgment, the appreciation, the interest from our side brought out the best in Jonathan, who in turns gave us the best gift – a peak-end (the high point and a great ending) experience of our vacation.




Fredrickson, B. (2009). < Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life. New York: Crown.

Kahneman, D. (1999). Objective Happiness. In E. Kahneman, E. Diener and N. Schwartz (eds) (1999). Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology (pp.3-25). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.



Couple at a restaurant table from Pangorlaut Resort Web site
Smiling waiter courtesy of Djuliet

Other image courtesy of Yee-Ming Tan

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Steve 17 June 2009 - 10:13 am

That’s a great point. Our attitude either attracts or repels positivity or negativity. It’s important to keep these principles in mind with all our interactions. Also, it’s important to think of these principles as a way of being, versus as a means to get what we want. The law of indirect effort, as per Brian Tracy, states that we must give without intention of receiving, in order to receive.

Ming 17 June 2009 - 8:45 pm

Hi Steve
Thanks for picking up on this point – giving without intention of receiving. Authentic positivity is a way of being. I do it as a personal practice, without considering how the other person might react. I certainly do not get this special experience every time I go into a restaurants. I would say I tend to have more good than bad service experience.

Rachel 4 November 2009 - 12:17 am

At the beginning of your article you stated that you used to experience mostly negative and neutral emotions, but now you experience positive emotions. How long do you think it would take most people to make that transition? Do you think it would take a long time for something like that to come naturally and not require any conscious thought?

Ming 11 November 2009 - 12:35 am

Hi Rachel
You asked a good question. I’d love to give a definitive answer but the truth is “it depends”. For me, the first step was the awareness of the What and Why of positive emotions. Only when I am convinced that more positive emotions is good for me and it’s something I want in my life that I could move to Step 2, which is the HOW. I don’t think I will ever be a natural but I notice a shift of in my range, Before: -5 to +1 and Now: -1 to +5 with more time on the positive side. Positive emotions don’t come naturally but I consciously allow myself a time or a period in a day, to savor the moment. Another method I use is to be in the company of people who are great at this. The key is really being mindful of the emotional state we are in and practice shifting it. Personally it’s easy to remove negative emotions by practicing ABCDE model. It’s much harder to cultivate positive emotions and here I use savoring.


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