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Who Needs Attention, and Can I Get a Quality Latte with It?

The other morning, I was feeling cranky, unfocused, and unproductive — the perfect situation for coffee. Sadly, I haven’t been allowed to have caffeine for a couple of years, on doctor’s orders, and I miss it terribly.

Coffee gets the day off to a civilized start, provides a boost in the afternoon, enhances all kinds of well-being, and delivers a satisfying snap! of clear-headedness. I still believe in — and crave — coffee’s healing powers, even though it’s not healing for me. So just this once, I decided that a small latte (more milk, less coffee) was a necessary, not-too-risky compromise.

Customers Are Hard Work, Even with Caffeine

My favorite café wasn’t open yet, so I trotted off to Starbucks. Somehow my saying “Good morning” sent the barista on a jag about how people today expect “instant everything,” and nobody has any patience. Worse yet, she said, every customer wants her full attention, even when she’s working on someone else’s drink. But the espresso shots degrade after 10 seconds, so the drink she’s making is going bad while the next customer is telling her exactly how they want their drink made. She wants customers to know that it’s more important for her to attend to the shots than to them!

I smiled and nodded at her, the way you do with someone you think might be dangerous. “Wow,” I thought, “she’s having a rougher morning than I am! But it’s been way longer than 10 seconds, and my espresso is degrading!”

Customer-facing jobs can be tough and draining. But employees shouldn’t share their personal problems or complaints with customers. It rarely helps to complain to someone who can’t do anything about your problem except to feel bad for you, and complaining can really turn customers off. It’s up to managers to give their staffs the personal attention they need and to work on the resource issues and stresses they experience on the job. Then individual associates are less likely to blow off steam to customers.

Giving It Your Best Shot

I sat down with my latte, pulled out my computer and took a sip. Degraded espresso or not, the latte had absolutely no flavor. Just then, the conversation turned loud at the next table.

“I got a new gun!” the older fellow announced at high volume. The younger guy asked, “What do you shoot?” I expected to hear “skeet” or “squirrels,” but instead, the older guy described the type of ammo the gun takes. “It’s not a very big bullet,” he explained. “But there’s a lot of force behind it. So it could blow through a man’s chest. In fact, if you lined up (Governor) Cuomo and five of his idiots behind it, one bullet would go through all six of them.”

The young guy asked again, “But what do you shoot?” “Oh,” the old guy said in a voice gone suddenly quiet and flat, “just targets,” and then changed the subject.

You could classify me as a gun control advocate, so I didn’t want to hear any more. I got up and left, dumping my drink on the way out. I wondered whether the older fellow was just overly excited or was amplifying his comments in a bid for attention, showing his strength and toughness with a dramatic example — which was also potentially offensive, whether you like the governor or not.

It felt as if my quest for a quality latte had somehow turned into a travelogue of attention-seeking behaviors!

Coffee, Coffee Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink

It was still too early for my favorite place to open, so I popped into a popular little café nearby, where the staff is a bit hipster and the drinks are hit-or-miss, depending on who serves you. A young woman made my latte and, without prompting, told me how dehydrated she was, how headachy, how she can’t sleep. I couldn’t believe it.

Sometimes it’s so hard to get attention that people are willing to practically accost strangers to get it. Managers have two responsibilities in this regard. The first is to know what’s going on with their employees, to help them be and do their best. The second, though, is to ensure an appropriate and pleasant customer experience.

Again I sat, and sipped — but this latte was worse than the last one! The milk tasted boiled with no hint of espresso at all. What a waste! I debated giving up, going back to my office and somehow forcing myself through the blog I’d been agonizing over.

But it was finally opening time at my favorite café. I still wanted that caffeinated snap of focus, and felt I deserved some kind of reward after these unsatisfying and somewhat perplexing experiences. So I went to my old standby.

Satisfaction and Success at Last

Before I even reached the counter, the owner looked up from the equipment he was cleaning, and said, “Oh, you must need a latte.” I smiled. “Small?” I nodded. “Nonfat?” I nodded again. Now that’s paying attention — in the good way!

Ah, there it was, at last: The desired drink, served up with the kind of welcoming service that comes from understanding exactly what a customer wants — and without any inappropriate bids for attention. I sat, I drank, I simultaneously focused and relaxed, and I wrote this blog instead of the one I’d planned. The third try really was the charm!

Counting the (Coffee) Beans

My financial outlay for the three lattes: $13, including three tips. Time spent, including walking from location to location, chatting, and drafting this account: well over 90 minutes, but no longer than the usual first draft. The outcome: Stories to tell, a blog draft, and a sense of accomplishment — plus empirical confirmation that if I want a good latte, it pays to wait ’til 10:30.

The entire morning served as a powerful reminder that people truly need what they need, whatever their roles. And when people get what they need, it serves the business, the employees, and the customers as well.

Onward and upward,


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