This post is written especially for cashiers and any front-line customer service people who serve people who are waiting in line, but may be interesting to all of us who wait in those lines. The two posts after this are especially for the people who do the waiting.
There is an old customer service saw that you need to handle people in the line one at a time, when they are in front of you. This is true as far as it goes – it is grounding and comforting to focus your primary attention on that person – but you do need to also invest some attention in the people farther down the line. The manager of my store reinforced at a meeting recently that you need to greet other people in the line, so they know you are conscious of them waiting their turn and get the feeling that you are working hard to get to them. He says “People don’t mind waiting, but they hate to be ignored.” I don’t know that it’s always true that they don’t mind waiting, but they definitely hate to be ignored.
I don’t always greet people all the way down the line, but I try especially – as I start waiting on one person – to greet the person who has just stepped up to the next in line. Sometimes when I don’t get to them until the middle of serving this first person, it seems that I have missed my window – that they have gotten antsy or irritated. Sometimes it works to include them in whatever conversation I am having with the person who is in front of me.
Sometimes, if that person or someone further down the line seems to be simmering from waiting, it’s necessary to ratchet down the conversation with this current customer. “Jesus is coming – look busy.” Even if acting industrious doesn’t appreciably speed up your process, at least it doesn’t throw stones in your neighbor’s path – doesn’t unnecessarily aggravate that person’s upset. You can take this situation as a mindfulness bell – an opportunity to ground yourself and focus on the concrete task of swiping groceries. Plant your feet on the ground, focus on your breathing and just be.
To whatever extent it seems like someone down the line or right in front of you might be upset with you over waiting, it’s important to not take it personal – actually to affirm yourself as a good cashier and a good, likable person.
When the person who just moved in front of you has been waiting a while, it may feel right to apologize that they had to wait – especially if you get the sense that they have been upset by waiting. You might take a stab at engaging them in conversation – and sometimes that will win them over or you may realize that you have been reading their body language wrong, that they have not been upset at all. But sometimes this attempt to engage them may just aggravate their irritation, so you will let it go – or you will immediately have the intuition to not attempt to go there.
These people may seem unreasonable or unlikable. It’s really useful to remind yourself that you have no idea why they are in such a hurry. Maybe they have kids waiting in the car. Maybe they have a sick person at home that they are trying to back to. In one way or another they are in pain, or they wouldn’t behave in an unfriendly fashion. A Course in Miracles says that people are always either offering love or asking for love. Get it that this person is needing love. See if you can respond to them with compassion. This can help you feel even better about yourself as a person and a cashier.
“This person is giving me an opportunity to be my best self. I am a competent cashier and a good person. I wish only good for myself and for them.”