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Customer Service Conundrum: Why It's Important to "Walk the Talk"

  
  
  
  
  

On Monday, I described a recent Walmart misadventure where a single act of good customer service left me with a positive impression despite my own lousy experience.

In an unsupportive work environment with little incentive to excel, a Walmart employee treated a customer kindly and patiently only 10 minutes removed from dealing with a difficult, line-clogging beast of a customer.

It was the first time I’d actually seen this happen at Walmart. Personally, I think it’s a great customer service story, but it’s definitely not a story about Walmart. It’s about one person going out of his way to simply be helpful.

As I left, I began thinking about what I value from the companies that call me a customer, and where Walmart misses the mark. I began to wonder why they continually disappoint me when I have such low expectations to begin with.

Of course, Walmart is recognized as the low-cost leader among retail superstores. It’s who they are. I understand that, accept it, and have set my expectations with regard to the customer experience accordingly. Basically, I don’t expect much of anything from Walmart aside from a low price. Time and again, lousy in-store experiences drive this point home. As a result, I stay away unless I’m left without any other options.

disconnect resized 600
 At Walmart, the message doesn't match the reality

Certainly, I come to the fray with my own preconceptions. I’ve never been a fan, and admittedly, it would take something significant to change my mind. And, to be fair, sheer weight of the numbers suggests Walmart is clearly doing something right. Courtesy of Walmart.com, a few very big numbers to consider:

•     200 million weekly customers and members

•     10,700 stores under 69 banners in 27 countries

•     $466 billion in fiscal year 2013 sales

•     2.2 million employees worldwide

As a company, however, Walmart’s drive to deliver inexpensive merchandise touches the lives of customers, employees, vendors, and workers in places as distant as China and Pakistan. For the 200 million customers frequenting Walmart stores every week, this low-price commitment obviously means something.

When it comes to serving the customer, Walmart’s corporate website outlines three basic beliefs/values “lived” by Walmart associates:

  1. Service to our customers
  2. Respect for the individual
  3. Striving for excellence

For large corporations, such mission and value statements are de rigeur, but why must Walmart claim to be something it’s not? Wouldn’t it be more honest to stake their claim on the company’s dedication to providing customers with the lowest prices out there? Why set an expectation for something more than they intend to deliver?

Everybody knows Walmart has the lowest prices. Everyone is also familiar with the Walmart customer experience. On the whole, this experience lacks each of the three basic beliefs outlined as the core of the company’s culture.

As I reflected back on my memorable-for-the-wrong reasons experience at Walmart, I finally decided the distaste in my mouth came from the disingenuous customer brand that doesn’t reflect the actual experience.

This is where it becomes important to “walk the talk.” Essentially, say who you are, and do as you say. Set the proper expectation, and then meet it. Anything else is disingenuous, and more than anything, is why I find myself so disappointed with Walmart. To suggest an experience other than what I see time and time again, is just disingenuous.

For Walmart customers shopping there out of necessity, the additional promise of great customer service probably doesn’t carry much weight. For others, using Walmart as a convenience or a last gasp, the disconnect is just frustrating.

Fortunately, I’ve never shopped there out of necessity, and as a result, will gladly continue paying more to buy the same products elsewhere.

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