Customer Service Conundrum: One Night In Walmart

Posted by Brenden Scott on Mon, Mar 04, 2013 @ 03:14 PM

An uninspiring, and also familiar, experience last night at Walmart led me to spend inordinate amount of time thinking about Walmart, the customer experience, and why I value companies that “walk the walk”, not just "talk the talk".

Just before 10 p.m. last night, a dead car battery and an AWOL set of jumper cables led me to Walmart with an urgent need and frayed nerves. While Walmart was able to provide a low price on the portable car charger/starter I came for, the low price was the last thing on my mind when I left.

Walmart, not infrequently, finds itself on the wrong end of publicity. They get beat up on their customer experience, employee rights, and international business practices--among other things. Just for kicks, consider doing a Google search on “Walmart customer service stories.” It’s not a pretty picture.

One Night in Walmart Makes a Hard Man Humble

For me, Walmart’s in-store experience is a constant point of frustration. And, usually, I put enough time between visits to forget just enough to be disappointed all over again.
Last night, I hoped to simply get in and get out, get the battery charger, and be on my way. The moment I walked in, however, all of my previous experience were affirmed... Daily restocking had already begun, leaving huge pallets blocking aisles and walkways everywhere; and the inventory stockers moved frantically about the store making it impossible to tell who was on duty for actual customer service.

My shoulders tensed up, I gnashed my teeth, and wished I could have gone to Target.

How a dead car battery and a trip to Walmart left one writer feeling zapped

 How a dead car battery and a trip to
Walmart left one writer feeling zapped

Not-So-Speedy Checkout

It didn’t take long to find what I needed, but I picked up a few other items before making my way to the checkout line. There must’ve been 40 or 50 separate checkout lanes; however, no more than six were open. I filed into the speedy checkout line (fewer than 20 items), and proceeded to watch the woman at the front of the line question the price of at least half her items (more than 20 by the way).

Whereas the average grocery store pages a clerk or manager to help in these situations, NOT SO WALMART! The cashier was left at this woman’s mercy. Seriously, he had to verify 25 prices one-by-one without so much as a simple shout-out from a supervisor. He was completely on his own.

After waiting for 15 minutes in the fast lane, my turn finally came. The cashier rang up each of my four items, and the total was nearly double what I expected. The culprit? The car charger, of course, which rang up nearly $40 higher than the display price.

What now? Because the cashier had no help, I simply paid for the three non-essential items I’d picked up before starting over again. I was upset, but steely. And pretty much at Walmart’s whim.

Round 2

I returned to the automotive section, found a model in my price range, used the self-serve price checker to verify the price and returned to the very same cashier at the very same check stand.

There was only one person in line, speaking Spanish as she pointed back and forth between blender she had picked out and the one in the weekly ad. The cashier, who was very much not fluent in Spanish, did his absolute best to communicate with the customer in front of him.
And after a moment or two, she understood, and decided to buy the one she’d picked out instead of the model in the ad.

After getting beat up by another customer 10 minutes earlier, without even a passing thought of help from a co-worker, this man calmly and patiently helped his customer understand the situation without even really speaking the same language.

In an environment where he was clearly given little incentive to excel, he’d done just that by delivering an exceptional customer experience. And it was, honestly, the first time I’d ever seen that happen at Walmart.

Even though I wasn’t satisfied with my own experience, I left with that positive final impression. I think it’s a great customer service story, but it’s definitely NOT a Walmart story. It’s the story of one person going out of his way to simply be helpful.

And this made me really consider what I value from the companies that call me a customer. I only know of Walmart as the low-price leader. I think of them as the home of cheap stuff and customer indifference. But how does Walmart see itself? And how does that jive with the actual Walmart experience?

Please come back Wednesday to read more about the Walmart experience and the value of "walking the walk".

Tags: #custserv, exceed expectations, Walmart, people, new perspective