Cashiering – especially good cashiering – is manic work.
Some times behind the register are slow, but most are not. You need to change your focus immediately from one customer to the next. You are wheeling and dealing. If you value engagement with the customer – which is the factor that really makes cashiering shine – you need to really focus intently on the customer in front of you, listen well, pay attention to them, make them feel valued, have fun with them, while always paying attention the whole line. Sometimes I will say to a new customer something like, “I know you have been waiting a long time. I’m sorry for that. With your permission, while you are here, I’m just going to put my head down and swipe groceries, so we can get you out of here.”
I’m more attuned to the manic quality of good cashiering because I have bipolar disorder. In my first four years with our store, depression would sometimes infect my work with customers. I would be sad – and not as responsive as some of my regular customers expect. Occasionally a customer would say something to me like “Are you OK?…I don’t know – you’re just not your usual self.”
In the last five weeks, since I have been so happy to return to my job after a year away, cashiering pretty consistently makes me happy. I am fun, playful, funny – and fast. People leave my line happy, happy with our store – looking forward to coming back. I consistently take register #5, the busiest register because it is right in the customer’s line of sight as they approach checkout. I used to avoid this register, but now I like it because it keeps me busy. Even in my currently happy state, I can quickly drop into depression if I am not busy, engaged.
I thrive on connection with the customer. I love to make them smile, to make them laugh. I strive to find just the right validation to make them feel good about themselves. I compliment their shirt, their hair, their glasses, their choice of foods, their children. I play with them. When an obviously fun family recently asked me the origin of my Majo name (many people do), I said, “Would you like the real story or one of my many bullshit stories?” They, enthusiastically and in unison, said “Bullshit! Bullshit!” And, because there was no one in line behind them, I gave them my bullshit story about being “born in Hungary, to gypsies.” Because we had time, I said, “This is going farther into this story than I have ever gone – this is going to be interesting.” They left really happy – with a grocery store story that they would remember.
Connecting with the customer in front of you – and keeping the line moving – is part of art of cashiering. It is necessary. Mania helps. But if you don’t have access to mania, you need to reach down deep and pull up all your energy. It is the difference between joy in your work and just swiping groceries.