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I attended an industry conference in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago. Three days of 24/7 stimulation — even my sleep was inspired. I admit I am a bit of a sure-thing when it comes to stuff like this. My meter goes on before I even get to the airport and continuously clocks every morsel and nugget of learning well into the days after I return home.

But these inspirational endeavors are not gentle on one’s circadian rhythm. It takes, even for me, some mental gymnastics to maximize the learning sprints with only intermittent revival from meals, candy dishes, and coffee breaks.

Thus, a cute little coffee shop on the street level of the hotel/conference center held promise as a salvatory, 3:00 PM, oasis of caffeine and sugar. I ordered a large latte. Hot. Preferably oat milk if they had it.

“Sure thing,” he said, “but we only have small and medium.”

How fascinating I thought, staring directly at the rack clearly holding small, medium AND large sized to-go cups replete with cardboard sleeves and sippy lids.

The cracker jack behind the counter didn’t miss a beat…

“The large cup is only for drip coffee.”

Oh, the policy makers will be proud, standing his ground like that.

Perhaps numbed by the overwhelm of spectacular industry information I was garnering from the talks upstairs, I had little bandwidth to sort through the ensuing negotiations. An extra shot of espresso in my medium sized cup? Or perhaps opting for a drip coffee in a large?

Surely another inch of foam couldn’t be a deal breaker.

He didn’t budge. Was the personal penalty too great? The wrath of managerial hierarchy not worth a slip? Another chit on his chart, company policy over client satisfaction? A weary conference goer unable to ply a large to-go from this vigilant barista. Well done.

Except I was super annoyed.

It got me thinking about customer experiences and that critical line of connection between clients and staff. There is so much to care for, but have we become so embedded in a gotcha culture that we have lost our ability to pivot towards a better human experience? For every human involved. Meaning, these are the kinds of subtle but impactful occurrences that mount up over the course of a twenty-four-hour period. Over and over again, the psyche encounters such self-protection tragically becoming the norm not the exception.

Businesses like mine, that provide service to, that care for, the human experience, have the most opportunity to change the tide. It is shortsighted to think we are simply offering a product when inside every interaction we have the power to change the timber and tone of a person’s entire day. This is an awesome responsibility. A terrific reason to get up out of bed. Something immediate. To be done. To break an otherwise endemic pattern of lack and loss. For ourselves, our clients, our employees, our partners, our vendors. To interrupt. To know what is enough. To lead with HEART.

We don’t hit the mark every time. Some days we’re too focused on outcome. But I can assure you, we are foundationally interested in what you experience with us as a fellow human. 

If we miss the obvious because we’re overly stuck on some kind of policy, let us know. We’ll be happy to froth up some extra oat milk for you.