“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” (John Holmes)

I have a rare opportunity on occasion to have a bit of time to myself at a coffee shop while waiting for a flight, or for a client meeting. Being a creature of habit, I usually migrate to the same franchises and brands. But in unfamiliar territory, I recently stopped off at a coffee shop in a chain of at least forty stores – all of them similar clones of each other. Everything was fine until I asked the waiter for sweeteners. He asked me how many I wanted, and I said, “Why don’t you just fill the sugar jar?”

He told me he wasn’t allowed to and repeated his question. To tell you the truth, I was a bit taken aback and I muttered “Two, please,” under my breath. But as he searched for some sweeteners in his little hip pouch, I re4alised what had just happened and told him that this was ridiculous. He looked embarrassed, and I asked him why they were so stingy.

He replied that the manager had instructed them to do so, so I called the manager over. By the look on his face, I knew that this wasn’t the first time this had happened, and he launched into a long speech about how expensive sweeteners were, and added, “No offence, but customers steal them.”

I was offended – and flabbergasted! How many customers actually steal from coffee shops? And how many sweeteners – or sugars, or serviettes, or toothpicks – can they actually steal? I told him that I thought he was being really small minded, and suggested that he print his company’s name in bold letters on the sweeteners, and let customers steal them. It would be a great branding tool to remind people of the coffee shop later.

He looked at me as if I was quite mad.

I have to admit, I really hate pettiness. As a businessman, I understand that we have to constantly watch costs, but never, never in a way that compromises the experiences of customers. I know that customers hate it, and will make the company pay a heavy price; but the opposite is also true: when your business shows a spirit of generosity, (and love and compassion,) towards customers, it will reap wonderful rewards.

There are many examples of pettiness in organisations. The classic is how banks tie down pens to the counter, and now, more recently they have started charging to give you change. I have even heard of a bank that charged an extra two months of service fees for a client who had passed away and the family had forgotten to close the account. Some restaurants sell small cans of cold-drink for the price of a full portion, while others charge for extra bread. You may have spent R15000 to buy a fridge or some furniture, but they will charge you another R150 for delivery. Some car hire companies and hotels charge for a whole extra day when you rent for an additional three hours. And don’t get me started with the pettiness of cell phone providers. But pettiness doesn’t end there. It is also about the myriad of rules and processes that seemingly make customers jump through hoops. It’s about an inability to plan for the times when your business will become extremely busy, and make customers suffer by waiting in interminable queues. (Hint: get people in the back office to serve customers, and give your staff incentives to work during lunchtime