My husband is from the Washington, D.C. area. Like many East Coast residents, he finds getting friendly with your service or checkout staff time-consuming and time wasted. He’s stuck in the Midwest now with a Midwestern wife. So today’s visit to the store to get cat food drove my husband nuts.
Just a quick backstory. Our cat is ancient, and he’s decided he will only eat all the varieties of cat food of all the different soft foods rotated at maximal distances in time from each other. I get it. If you’re this old, and you’ve eaten only variations of chicken, beef, turkey, liver, and tuna your whole life, that’s got to get boring.
Besides our cat was wild before being rescued, and they are said to want more diversity in their diet. I’m sure he wonders why there is no field mouse, rabbit, or bird in his bowl. He thinks we’re bad hunters.
The cat had been rejecting every thing we tried to give him, so it was time to try out all new brands. We made a trip to Target. All the flavors of Sheba pate. All the flavors of Iams pate. You get the picture. We got to the checkout lane, and put all of the small containers onto the conveyor.
I apologized to the cashier for having to scan 30 annoying small cans. I began explaining to her why we had so many different kinds of cat food. My husband appeared as though he wanted to throw his hand to his forehand in exasperation. Why is she telling this cashier our life story? I just smiled at him and continued to share about how our cat had earned the right to any food he wanted at his advanced age. He is likely to die any day after all.
Suddenly, the woman behind us in line chimed in. She said she had overheard our conversation, and she also owned a senior citizen feline. He acted the same way about food. He had to have every brand in the store. Every flavor. And isn’t it funny how this must be how they got the finicky reputation?
It wasn’t long before the cashier, the woman behind us in line, and me were laughing for a minute or two about funny old male cats. Her cat and our cat, cunning and affectionate. We laughed. We all shared an admittedly meaningless exchange.
My husband thinks this kind of communication with strangers is pointless. One of the things I love is that if there is any question you can imagine, most of the time, someone has asked it…with data.
I used to do academic research and one of the topics I studied was quality of care and quality of services. When you are doing an extensive search for research related to these topics, some of the studies that come up are about these kinds of service interactions we have at cashier’s counters.
The researchers point out that these types of interactions end up making up a significant part of our social interactions. For some people, these interactions make up the majority of their societal interactions. People treat these interactions with all kinds of attitudes, needs, and behaviors.
But people are most happy when everyone makes it a pleasant, friendly interaction. That’s hardly a surprise. Using emotion makes customer interactions more favorable, even if it’s negative.
Now, there was no one behind our little group in line at the checkout that day. If there had been, we would have made our interaction snappier. Time and place. Time and place.
The research isn’t convincing my husband. He still thinks it is embarrassing to open up to strangers behind cash registers. But modern life is isolating. We interact with strangers more often than with friends and family. Why not make it a small-town checkout chat?