Beyond the oodles and oodles of goods at Trader Joe’s, one thing I enjoy are the random conversations with the cashiers. There they are, in their Hawaiian shirts, happily ringing up Greek yogurt or pita chips. They always emanate this cheerful-without-being-perky, laid-back-without-being-lazy, almost Californian vibe. Most of the time, they’ll strike up some casual conversation– on any given day I’ll chat with them about whatever I’m buying, about the weather, about food, about their day, etc.
It’s a stark contrast to what seems to be the current trend in customer service: self-service units. You know: self-service stamp kiosks at the post office, self-checkout at the library and the bigger grocery stores, self-check-in at the airport, the good old ATM. You get in, you get out, with only the need to hand-sanitizer-it after touching buttons and screens.
If the objective is to get in and out of there as soon as possible, that makes perfect sense.
However, I can’t help but wonder what societal implications exist in trading human interaction for efficiency. While we all know we’d rather talk to a person on any 1-800 number or customer helpline for efficiency’s sake, the argument for preserving in-person customer service is a bit different. You probably can get things done faster if you get into the self-checkout.
But at what cost? In our iPod-headphones/cell phone world, we’re already decreasing our concentrated face time with strangers. Accessing these self-service units on a regular basis will cut back human interactions during routine transactions. This is disturbing to me. For a quasi-introvert, on some level I know I need to talk to strangers on a semi-regular basis to a) remember there are all sorts of people outside of my own world and b) practice my social skills. Talking to the cashier is just one small way of doing that. There’s also something blessed about the shared humanity you witness during a friendly, warm moment with someone you just met.
So I suppose, if I have the time, I’d rather interact (sometimes forcing myself) with a cashier than gain proficiency in touching screens. At Trader Joe’s recently, a cashier sent me off with a random: “Stay focused.” I asked, “On what?” He said, “Anything you choose.” Food for thought.
And I didn’t have to Purell after, either.