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She knew my name. And it felt so kind.

Backing up. Perhaps it is my newfound dedication to minimizing dairy in my diet, thus my recent attraction to oat milk lattes. Or perhaps there is, after all, some secret addictive, additive that repeatedly lures us all back to Starbucks. It’s true that I have found myself more regularly dishing out five or six bucks for a 3:00 PM brew-break these past few weeks, but it didn’t seem to me that I was being exceptional or had altered my routine so much so that it was noticeable. Besides, I had a friend in town and the hotel coffee where he stayed was, well, terrible, so I had to oblige.

Whatever the case, my last stop-in was early Saturday morning, a final coffee for the ride to the airport with my departing guest. There were one or two other people already seated behind laptop screens and no one else had yet come in behind me. Three or four on-line orders were up on the screen already when my name popped to the top of the list. I hadn’t told her my name; she hadn’t asked. Maybe it was a coincidence.

“Did you take my name off of my credit card?”

“No,” she gently replied, “you’ve just been in a few times this week and I remember you.”

I. Remember. You.

I couldn’t begin to do the math on how many people she probably serves during any single regular shift, but given the usual crowd anytime I’m in, my guess is…a lot. And she remembered me. I was awash in her kindness.

The world feels like a tumble of erratic energy these days. No one seems to see much of anyone else. Not just geopolitically or even in Washington, D.C. but right here in our own busy lives as we try to emerge from our pandemic bubbles. I thrash about, still drawn to the safety of my home, finding a bit of awkward confusion everywhere else. What was isn’t, and what will be isn’t yet. This in-between place feels like a gawky third or fourth date; I don’t remember how to move about and interact. It’s changed. I’ve changed. And in that, it’s hard to believe I leave much of an impression anywhere.

But isn’t this what the service business is all about? To take the very care any human might most need and offer it without asking? The element of surprise helps. Delight matters. Simplicity always. Some do it better than others of course. Some think they can make it into an artificial algorithm like a customized on-line personal shopping experience. Some try to routinize their employees by asking them to greet customers in a certain way every single time. But I don’t think any of them can pull it off without exceptional humans who themselves are being appropriately treated…which is why it stands out when it is done so well.

One of our Company Values is EMPATHIC: We make it a point to understand those we work with on an emotional level. There is an awful lot to this and we strive and struggle for it at the deepest level every day. But maybe we can just start by remembering each other. If it can offer a dose of kindness as potent as my Hopkinton Starbuck’s barista’s, I believe we might be onto something pretty significant!

“Grande, hot, oat milk latte for Allison.”