Some of us are old enough to remember when British Rail coffee was a national joke. Today, almost every station has a little shop or a van that makes coffee I’d have crawled over hot nails for in the ’80s and ’90s. At Oxford, we’re lucky enough to have Little Italy (@LIEBtweet) who know all their regulars, serve belting good coffee and have a smile for everyone. Not only do they caffeinate Oxfordshire’s commuters; they make a massive difference to the atmosphere of the whole station.

While I was waiting for my coffee this morning, I wondered what Emily and her team’s effect is on the people they serve.

La Marzocco machine making coffee
Essential for 0600 starts

We often don’t believe we’re significant or important enough individually to have an impact. And that’s particularly true for people in coffee shops, retail, parking, hospitality – the sort of jobs that tend not to pay CEO-style salaries and where people can feel caught between the customer and the business. But it’s not true – they have a huge impact.

In a strictly unscientific experiment, I watched as people stood in line (we’re British after all) for their coffee. In the queue there were plenty of ‘I really don’t want to be here’ commuter faces you’d expect at six on a Wednesday morning. But, as they reached the counter, things changed.

Emily had a smile for everyone and you could see people who ‘just fancied a coffee’ start to become regulars. As they walked away, most were smiling too. Some had started chatting with people they clearly hadn’t chatted to before.

Thanks to some proper human interaction with their caffeine intake, their mood – and the mood of the whole station – had changed.

Little Italy at Oxford Parkway station
Little Italy at Oxford Parkway station

Those smiles and that friendly attitude go on to have a massive impact on colleagues, customers and anyone else Emily’s alumni meet that day. Oxford Parkway sees around 800,000 passengers a year. It’s a conservative bet that ten percent of them stop for a coffee. So that’s 80,000 a year – or around 200 people a day – that she and her team influence and send away with a cup and a smile.

I’ll bet that those people’s resulting good mood rubs off on another 20 people – that’s 4,000 more people a day. Let’s assume a little bit of ‘mood decay’, and say that those 4,000 people influence 15 each and you’ve got another 60,000. That’s the population of Hereford or Loughborough every single day – all from a smile, some humanity and a cup of coffee. Quite an impact.

We don’t tend to measure stuff like this in business, but it’s significant. I’ve written about it before, with Lin, one of the cashiers at Morrison’s in Basingstoke. The impact of treating each other with more humanity and kindness is huge, not just on how we feel but how much work we get done together and how enjoyable it is. And that starts with each of us realising the massive impact we have on the people around us and maybe, just maybe, giving them a bit of smile to show we’re human too.

Dare you.

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