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Four great tips for a great trip in a taxi (or anything else)

Do you ever notice how some people always seem get the best tables, the most helpful sales people and that nobody ever messes up their order at the drive through?

Is it just good karma? Or are they doing something different than the rest of us who find ourselves dealing with distracted desk clerks, surly wait staff, and always drive away without enough ketchup for our fries.

People like to bemoan the dearth of customer service in America, and as a consumer I have certainly experienced my fair share of rude, poorly trained personnel.

But other than writing a scathing letter to the CEO of We Can't Be Bothered To Help You Inc., is there anything you can do to get better service out there in the cold cruel world of indifference?

It turns out there is. Customer loyalty experts Chip Bell and John Patterson, two men who literally wrote the book on customer loyalty and service, several in fact, use four techniques to get great service everywhere they go. As two road warriors who spend much of their time in taxis, they share how their four tips can get you a great ride every time:

· Animate: Model the attitude you want, if you want a happy ride, get in happy. Most riders are rushed and curt, so simply showing up with a smile will differentiate you.

· Appreciate: Express gratitude right up front. Start off saying, "Thank you for being my driver." This sets the stage for a more professional interaction.

· Affirm: After you've thanked your driver say, "Here's where I'm going, do you know where that is?" And when the driver says yes, say "Terrific I'm dealing with a professional."

· Elevate: Raise the transaction to a partnership by saying, "I bet you've seen some incredible things as a driver."

After years of being tossed around in back of cabs by noncommunicative drivers who seemed oblivious that there was a paying customer in the backseat, I tried the four tips and they actually work. Two minutes of conversation at the start of the ride transformed what was once a meaningless, frequently unpleasant transaction into an experience that put me in a better mood for the rest of the day.

Bell and Patterson say they use a similar approach in restaurants, hotels and even gas stations. Asking for the best server, praising people in advance, and modeling the attitude they want back has gotten them better meals, cleaner rooms, and even eager to please taxi drivers.

In their new book, "Take Their Breath Away: How Value-Unique Service Creates Devoted Customers in Times When Value-Added Costs Too Much," Bell and Patterson show leaders how they can improve customer loyalty by becoming more imaginative and creating unexpected "whoas" from their customers.

CEO hint: If you're surly and uncommunicative, that's exactly how your people are going to treat the customers.

But until all the big bosses decide to read the book, I guess we consumers will just have to take charge. If companies are too short-sighted to train their people how to approach us, we'll have to show them how we want it done.

Hi, I'm Lisa, I'll be your customer today, and I'm just delighted that you'll be serving me.

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect." Contact her at www.forgetperfect.com.