I am on the road this week talking to students at different college campuses across the province of New Brunswick. It’s an annual road show of sorts in my old stomping grounds. Because I know all of the campuses quite well in the region, I know where to find coffee on every campus. Naturally.
The college campus in Fredericton is co-located on real estate adjacent with two other universities in town, the University of New Brunswick and Saint Thomas University. Here, the lines where one campus ends and the others begin do actually exist but to the untrained eye, it’s all one big campus with shared resources. However, the Tim Hortons that I frequent when I’m here is ‘technically’ on the STU campus.
When you stand in line for coffee on a campus and you’re not a student, you can stand out quite loudly. Me, I’m either seen as a) a faculty member or b) a visitor. Either way, I was clearly not a student in line as I shuffled along with the students working my way forward.
The young lady in front of me, clearly an undergraduate, moved to the cashier for her turn and placed her order. When she was finished, she turned back to me, smiled, and said the most interesting thing I heard all day.
“And what are you having?”
“Pardon?”, I said, a tad surprised.
“What are you having?”, she repeated.
“Ummm, a large with cream and a medium double-double.”, I answered.
“Ok. Great.”, she said, turning back to the cashier and adding my order in to hers.
In that second, I experienced my first ‘pay-it-forward’ moment.
She was making the offer to pay for my order because, in that moment, she had the trifecta at her finger tips: means, motive, and opportunity. She had a $20 in her wallet, the desire to do something nice, and a stranger standing behind her to whom she could make a small gesture of kindness.
Sure, I could have politely said no. I had plenty of shekels in my wallet, didn’t ‘need’ the help and could have easily taken a stance on the principle of being self-sufficient. Her friend certainly (and loudly) didn’t like the idea that she was paying for other people – too much like charity I guess.
But I didn’t say no. The gesture was too pure, too in-the-moment. I asked her name. Amy.
“Thank you Amy. That is very kind of you.”, I said.
See, I don’t think Amy gave me a free cup of coffee. What she did was silently pass along a small torch of kindness that I now need to carry for a while. Then I have the responsibility to pass on to someone else. That’s the pay-it-forward way – make other people happy.
Thank you Amy. Challenge accepted.
PS – For all you business folks, remember that your brand is a perception crafted by customers based on a) their most recent experience and b) their most extreme experiences. Amy just made a massive positive impact on my brand perception of STU; sadly, like every other company, STU has no way to see, influence or control these micro-experiences. Stop thinking you’re in control your brand already, ok?
Question for you. Have you ever received or participated in the ‘pay-it-forward’ gift? Share your thoughts in the comments below.