Thursday, 7 April 2011

Attention Customers...

Originally posted December 24, 2010...

Hello Friends.

If you think about it, there’s one person without whom you’d have a pretty lousy Christmas. Without this person, you’d have no booze or food for your parties, no gifts to give anyone and, likely, no gifts under your own tree (unless you count homemade gifts which you shouldn’t because homemade gifts are just well-intentioned garbage). Anyway, this person who is responsible for most of your Christmas probably even goes unnoticed by you, even if you’re standing right in front of them. I’m talking, of course, about your cashier. Inefficient and plus-sized though they may be, cashiers put up with a lot of your guff this holiday season and don’t take home a tip at the end of the night. I have Christmas Day off this year, for which I am extremely grateful, but I do work full days on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day (the second busiest and busiest retail days of the year, respectively). And it won’t be the number of customers, sales or refunds that will make these shifts difficult– it’s the expectation of rude, impatient, and oblivious customers (an expectation often exceeded on a nightly basis) that will make these next few days a pain in my Christmassy ass. Which brings me to my Dream this holiday season.

Dream: Humanity collectively deciding to be a little more respectful of cashiers.

Goal: Sadly, unachievable. Shopping online has made the personal touch obsolete in this business transaction, so to a great many shoppers, the cashier is an increasingly unnecessary and unimportant element of the experience. Also, as we become an increasingly digitally-connected society, where texting replaces conversation, we forget how to be polite when faced with another actual human. But mostly the reason cashiers will never get the respect they deserve is, I’m sorry to say, other cashiers. People remember the disengaged, incompetent cashier with the piss-poor attitude a lot more readily than the polite cashier who rings up your sundries without incident. And I would venture to guess that because of the temporary, transitory nature of the job (no one dreams of being a cashier when they grow-up, the job is often a last resort income generator), there are more bad cashiers than good ones. So ultimately we’ve got no one to blame for our shitty treatment but ourselves. You’d think this diatribe would end here, then, but I’ve got ten minutes until my next break, so let’s soldier on.

Plan: Refresh the masses on the basics of cashiering in the hopes that we’ll garner a little empathy along with your debit card. A few facts:
  1. The guy who runs the place is never the guy behind the till. As cashiers, we don’t decide what to carry in our store and what not to. We don’t manufacture the products in house, there’s seldom anything “in the back” and we don’t ever set the price for an item. Often, particularly in a franchise, not even the manager makes those calls. So don’t yell at the poor sap behind the till because your items are so expensive. You know what else is expensive? Rent and food, and that’s all we’re trying to pay for by coming in to work everyday. And I love when a customer, fed up with items being overpriced, poorly-made, or out of stock, threatens to leave and never return. How I wish those people would follow through with their promises. Yes, it’s bad business to lose business, but if you’re so dissatisfied that you’re willing to go elsewhere, let them deal with your bitchy self, I have milk to stock. Speaking of milk, this lady called me the other day and asked when our skim milk was due to expire. I checked all the bags and told her the dates. She responded, “But I don’t think that’s enough time to drink all that milk! I’m just one person!” Think about that. How, rationally, could I have responded to this woman? “I’m terribly sorry there’s only one of you.” Or, “Forgive me, for I am personally responsible for the fact that milk expires on a certain day. I’ll be more prudent in the future.” Or should I have gone out and milked a cow, pasteurized the milk, extracted enough fat to make it skim, and deliver it to her in my cupped hands? But instead I said, “Oh… yeah, that’s too bad.”
  2. We’ve heard all of your banter before. Let me qualify this one: I don’t mind chatting at a till. In fact, I really appreciate it. It’s far better to engage in inane small talk than it is to be totally ignored (more on that later). But I know you have too many cards in your wallet. And I know that some debit machines take your card one way and others take it another way. You’re right, there should be a universal way of doing it. And I know it’s cold outside. I don’t sleep here, I’ve been out of doors. But again, this one gets a pass, because the alternative is the most disrespectful a customer can be.
  3. Get off your fucking phone. I know you have lots of stuff to do, but you’re buying dish soap and condoms, you’re not the President. There’s no need to completely ignore the person at the register just because you’re familiar with the way the transaction will go. Customers will throw their items on the counter, then wave a twenty in my face until I’m ready to take it and make change, all while talking on the phone the whole time. Occasionally, they will apologize, but only to the person they’re talking to (“Sorry, I’m just buying something.”) I don’t know why this bothers me so acutely, but it really does. I interpret the fact that you won’t get off the phone to mean that you regard your time and energy as more important than mine. That I am basically a machine with hair, undeserving of your attention. The only time this behaviour would be acceptable is if the cashier is talking on their phone, or to a co-worker and completely ignoring you. Then, go for it. Otherwise, have an ounce of consideration, dick.
  4. We’d rather be somewhere else, too. Customer service is seldom the career path someone sets out on. We want to be puppeteers or astronauts or pornographers. But things don’t always work out like we plan. I know cashiering will be temporary for me. I look for other, better jobs constantly, and my dream is to never serve another customer ever again, but for now, I’m going to work hard because that’s the only way to do a job somebody’s paying me for. But there are some for whom this job is the end of the line. A lack of education, opportunity, or skill has landed them in a position and a paycheque they can’t afford to leave. I’m lucky because if I’m ever really mistreated, insulted, or abused, I can hand in my stupid keys on their stupid lanyard and walk out the door. Not so for all my coworkers. Every week I get a resume handed to me from someone who was a doctor in Tehran, or a lawyer in Greece, who will now “take any position and wage available” and consider themselves lucky! And angry customers love these guys, who will take all their complaints with genuine concern, for fear that one displeased customer could cost them their jobs.
This is a really preachy entry into the Big City library. I make it sound like every customer is awful, which is of course untrue, and that the job is somehow difficult, which is untrue as well. Headaches aside, cashiering is as easy as it looks. I marvel at servers, who put up with all the crap I just mentioned plus insanely busy periods, coked up pervy bosses, lousy wages, terrible hours, and all of it with a smile. Even if a customer is an asshole to me, I know I’m dealing with them for two minutes, tops. If a servers have a table full of assholes, they still have to bring them food and drink for an hour, and be unfailingly courteous so that they might earn a tip, a portion of which goes automatically to the ungrateful kitchen staff who hates them. But it’s easy to forget that, you see. Easy to forget the lousy job you had when you were young, and how much work you did for such little pay. So this holiday week, let’s not forget the cashier. Maybe if we’re all a little more respectful at the till, they’ll really mean it when they say, “Have a nice day now!” And maybe we will.

No comments:

Post a Comment