Industry of Interactions

With the continual growth of complexity in society, there are bound to be new roles created in order to account for these new complexities. One of the recently developed roles is that of the server. In this context, the server is not solely defined as the job in which a person serves food to another, but as any position in which a human is hired to interact with others and provide a service that the consumer cannot accomplish by their own means. These roles as they are defined here can include the previously mentioned waiter or waitress, the host, or the main topic of this article, the cashier. Other roles that cannot be categorized as such are mechanics, chefs, or any other similar occupation because the interaction between server and consumer is not a necessary part of the tasks that the worker must complete in order to fulfill their role.

Interactions between the server and the consumer is an everyday activity for all members of a heavily economic society like the United States, but it is not one that is often thought about. The rules of these interactions are so familiar to the two participants that it comes as second-nature; they do not need to think about how they should act with the other person. While there is a wide range of types of interactions, there are three main components that seem to be common to all types of tasks that a server must complete: promptness or speed of service, cordiality, and proper exchange of goods and payment. All three components must be fulfilled as completely as possible in order for the interaction to be considered a good one, otherwise the consumer exits feeling as if the server is not appropriate for their position.

In the service of cashiering, the speed at which the main task (ringing up goods) is completed is one of the most important aspects of success at the job. Often raises and promotions are contingent upon the speed at which a cashier can get a customer through their line. With my own work in the service industry as a cashier, I was lucky enough to find positions which allowed for promotions that were not reflected upon my speed, but even then speed is a necessary part of the social interaction. There is, of course, a variability of speed amongst cashiers and the quicker cashiers are often seen as better at their position by the customers. From what I have witnessed, it looked as if a person is more likely to go to a line where the customers are moved through quickly, even if the line in that aisle is longer than one of slower cashier’s. This along with the various compliments that were overheard about the swiftness of a cashier proves that in a consumer’s mind speed is directly related to perceived goodness and also that speed is much more prized over other beneficial aspects of a cashier.

Cordiality is perhaps least essential to completing tasks, but also the most important for the consumer. While speed is the first impression that a consumer will get of the cashier, the cordiality of the cashier actually lays the base and constructs most of consumer’s opinion on the quality of the interaction. Cordiality appeared as a universal in the interactions that I observed and participated in, but it also seems to manifest in many different forms. This component varies from one cashier to another, but also varies based on the type of consumer that the cashier comes across. In some of the observed interactions, cordiality meant “yes, sir” and “you’re welcome” with very minimal talking, with another it meant telling jokes, and with another still, it meant sharing personal stories. What seems to be evident from this is that matching cordiality with the consumer’s preferences is a very important aspect of the interaction. This helps to build a relationship between the two participants. This relationship may only last as long as the interaction does, but if it is strong enough, the relationship may span much longer as the consumer returns to the store and continually interacts with the server that they find the most to their liking (sometimes even insisting to only interact with that particular cashier).

Proper handling of the economic aspect of the relationship is the most important aspect of completing the particular task at hand and it is also important to finishing the structure of quality that was mostly created by cordiality. Unfortunately for the cashier, this part of the interaction cannot be completely manipulated by them like the other aspects. It is reliant equally on the server and the consumer. The consumer must be able to forfeit the correct amount of money and must also understand the transaction that is taking place. The cashier, on the other hand, must be able to complete the transaction with no incidence. An improper handling of this can quickly turn a previous neutral or good relationship sour. In one of the most alarming examples of transition from good to bad was with customer at a Sam’s Club when a customer was trying to buy products with her EBT card. She did not understand that those card can only be used for unprepared food and rather than trying to understand the issue, she placed all blame on the cashier and verbally attacked him until a manager had to be called. What was previously a good relationship quickly turned into an aggressive one.  It seems as if for some consumers, their finances are more important than the human interaction.

The relationship between consumer and server is a relatively simple one. The three main aspects that were previously mentioned mostly cover all there is to the interaction. Though within the simpleness lies many complexities. These complexities are the complexities of culture as a whole and some of them become more prominent in this interaction. Some characteristics of culture that are questioned in other relationships also come up in this one, such as the appropriateness of touching or the proper handling of words in order to not offend someone. Fortunately for both participants this interaction of cashier and consumer is short and often easily forgotten. This greatly alleviates the pressure of having a good interaction, bringing the relationship back to simpleness.

Thomas Degroat

A student majoring in Neuroscience, art is a second passion to him. He is particularly fond of analyzing film, theater, television, and literature. If he had not found love within science, he would most assuredly be a Comparative Literature major. His review inspirations are Lindsay Ellis, Rantasmo, and Chris Stuckman.

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