I currently work a part-time job as a cashier on a college campus.
This is not a picture of me. But you get the idea. A cashier is an anonymous, friendly face, whose sole purpose is to help and to serve. Like a robot. Except with a human face. Essentially, a cashier is a robot that doesn’t creep you out when it asks you how your day is going, (staring with those vacant, hungry eyes).
The whole interaction goes something like this:
- The customer approaches with a product, ritual greeting are exchanged.
- The cashier asks a couple of friendly, heavily scripted questions.
- The customer responds with correct and appropriate scripted responses.
- The cashier inputs relevant responses into a machine.
- The customer offers up payment.
- There is a ritual well-wishing and…
- …if all goes smoothly, the customer leaves and everyone is happy.
It is a simple, mindless, repetitive process that I could probably do in my sleep.
I am an efficient, friendly cashier overall liked or at least tolerated by customers and co-workers alike. I take no small pride in my ability to ring up hundreds of students and keep a smile on my face. There is, however, one tiny little crucial thing which I have never quite been able to figure out: small talk.
In particular, I want discuss a certain phrase that has always bothered me. That is,
“Have a good day!”
Where to start? First, as a cashier, it’s important to know what you’re about to say, otherwise whatever’s in your mind will slip out, and if what’s in your mind is “I’ve been wearing the same socks for three days now, I should sleep, I can see wavy sleepy lines everywhere, that’s kind of silly, look, a man with a beard!” or, really, anything personal, it will lead to a long, awkward moment where you try unsuccessfully to turn it into a joke and then awkwardly laugh it off.
I’ve found that the most crucial time to stay “on script” is that awkward time between the end of a transaction and the departure of a satisfied customer. I’ve found that the simplest, most polite way to smooth this transition and encourage a customer to enter into that final vital step is to tell them that you hope that the rest of their day is (ambiguously) pleasant. For some reason, this is the appropriate and agreed upon cue that says “look, I like you, but I’ve got seven other customers here. Please keep moving” without producing any hurt feelings. I, certainly never known to over-think anything, find that even this can be a little excruciating when you’ve served three hundred customers, just survived an all-nighter, and am struggling to remember how I got here. What eventually comes out of my mouth is something like this:
[n] nice great fantastic super swell awesome pretty cool terrific exciting interesting not-too-bad good day!
After some painful soul-searching processes, I decided that the most appropriate and all-encompassing phrase, my phrase, would simply be “have a good day!” – because that is what I wish for people going through my line hour after hour. A “nice” day is unlikely if you, a student, have an impending test that you may or may not be prepared for, or if you’re experiencing some unknown tragedy, I don’t want to belittle it with a work like “terrific.” If you, the customer, approach with a huge, ear-to-ear smile, I may up the ante with an occasional “have a great day” – but for the most part, I want whatever your day is, even a very awful day, to have some redeemable sense of “good”ness about it. That is then the phrase that slides the most easily off of my tongue, as I look sincerely into a customers eyes; “Have a good day.”
This, readers, is only a small part of the mental processes that keep your cashiers occupied during long, slow stretches without human interaction. Let your local cashier know they are loved and appreciated to responding to their ritual goodbye “have a super-terrific-jolly-nice day!” with an over-enthusiatic “Me too!” Then walk away very quickly and let them try to work out what just happened for the rest of the day.
Admit is, we all secretly need a shirt like this:
Are you strange?
Also, if you’re feeling especially ambitious, why don’t you reinvent my script?
Reimagine the trivial conversations that happen in your everyday life and reinvent one in a way that makes it more meaningful, personal, or sincere.