Sunday, August 5, 2012

Naming Names

I am currently a part-time Retail Cashier at Target Field in Minneapolis, MN. The company I work for manages stadiums and parks across the globe and has been doing so for several decades. In their time doing so, they have developed certain “protocols” for how the retail trans/inter-action is to occur. At this time, I wish to focus on one particular rule: “The cashier must say the guest’s name three times throughout the transaction.” They do, however, accept that not all transactions give rise to the opportunity to learn the guest’s name. i.e. cash transactions. Also, that cashiers are not, then, required to outright ask a guest for their name. Personally, I find the “three name” rule abhorrent and will spend the rest of this entry trying to figure out why.
It is not difficult to imagine the company’s thought process. It was most probably something like: Customers will most likely leave a store happy if a positive, personal, experience is had. If a customer leaves a store happy, they will most likely return to that store again looking for another positive, personal experience. Therefore, the best way to ensure repeat patronage is to create that experience. We can call this the “Cheers” argument. Words taken from the theme song:

"Sometimes you want to go,
Where everybody knows your name,

and they're always glad you came."

And it’s true. That is what we want, as a customer; that feeling of inclusion, of welcome. It’s an experience we will go back for. Therefore, if the “three name” rule creates this feeling for a customer, and the “Cheers” argument is true, then the “three name” rule is justified. On the face of it, the “Cheers” argument sounds like a solid one for the existence of the “three name” rule. I would argue, though, that that is not the case. That it is a non-sequitur and that the name rule does not follow from the “Cheers” argument at all.
I think that the “Cheers” argument is correct, and most probably the best way to ensure that your customers will return to your store in the future. The point I disagree with is the assertion that the “three name” rule is the way to accomplish that goal. The company will reason that saying “Here is your Discover Card back, Mr. Plato” will somehow, instantaneously, make  him feel that Cheers-like feeling. Personally, I do not find this to be the case. The only people who seem to react positively to this sort of exchange are the secret shoppers who are there to see if you’re following the rule in the first place. The majority of the time, the guest hears their name and they sort of clam up like someone’s just infringed upon their personal bubble.
From personal experience, both as a cashier and as a patron, I have felt similarly when my name is read off of my badge or debit card. It’s a feeling not too dissimilar from getting a phone call from someone whom you did not give your phone number to. Perhaps neither are the most offensive things in the world but both are cases where the information is such that you would prefer to have given it out voluntarily. In either case, we end up feeling slightly put-off. So not only is the “three name” rule not the best way to accomplish the “Cheers” result, it is often counterproductive and can, at best, be neutral.
So is there an alternative to the name rule, perhaps a successful way to achieve the result of the “Cheers” argument? Well, in conjunction with general politeness and attentiveness, having a genuine conversation with the guest is going to provide a good deal more success than simply saying their name one to three times. It is far less awkward and more successful to, say, strike up a conversation about where the guest is from, or about an intriguing tattoo or a piece of clothing they have on. This is a genuine attempt at connection and even if it is a complete failure, the guest will appreciate that more than simply saying their name as you give them their credit card back. One of the reasons is that anyone can say your name, but not everyone can carry out a real conversation successfully. It takes observation, intelligence and skill and it will make a greater impact on the guest.
So perhaps abhorrent is the wrong word. I don’t actually think that it can be argued that the “three name” rule is unethical, but is more likely simply the result of a poor understanding of human interaction. It is not this reason alone, though, for which I flatly refuse to abide by this rule, although it is certainly a factor. There is just something that feels so repugnant and distasteful about it. Perhaps it is simply that I would not wish a cashier to steal my name from my debit card and toss it back at me like they were my friend. So then, following the logic of the Golden Rule, I am turned away from doing so to others. Whatever the reason may be, I will continue with the best way I know how to be a good cashier, and will continue to only say the guest’s name when my supervisor is standing directly behind me.

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