Category Archives: Customer Service

A Culinary Misadventure

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As we were driving out of town, we skipped several eateries along the way, ones which we knew would be great. Absent being sidetracked, we were holding out for a repeat experience in the town of our destination. We had eaten at the tex-mex in question once before and although it had some issues, we were very interested in giving it another try. We had hunger and enthusiastic anticipation to ensure our experience would be great.

And the universe noted our idiotic expectations and drove them headfirst into the rocks.

We stood at the door as various employees jockeyed toward the front register and seating chart. I said, “Yes, two please” at least 4 times. Finally, one of the people decided to seat us. This undoubtedly was part of their strategy to make us work up an appetite or perhaps wisely flee the building. After a long wait, a waiter appeared. He seemed very uncertain. He came back twice to ask about the drinks and appetizers. The salsa was tasteless, even though it felt like it might contain a numbing agent.  While Dawn went to wash her hands, I attempted to salvage the salsa by using a chip to pluck onion and cilantro from my pico de gallo bowls and mix it with the lifeless concoction.  Upon tasting it, she said, “This tastes like tomato sauce from a can.” I laughed. I poured all the juice from pico bowl and managed to get some flavor in the salsa.

I’ll forego most of the usual jokes about bathrooms and Tex/Mex eateries. I’ll say this, though. When I used the restroom and opted for toilet paper to blow my nose instead of the hand-activated sandpaper dispenser at the sink, I laughed when I discovered that all of the toilet paper holders were empty. The odds of all the holders being emptied were so slim that I defaulted to another of my theories: if the bathroom smells like a lakeside bathroom or there’s no toilet paper, it’s generally a bad idea to frequent the eatery unless one of your hobbies includes studying infectious diseases. I usually trust my instincts about these things. I knew we had made a critical error in our eating selection. The men’s bathroom had all the allure of a WWII latrine trench.

A few minutes later, I noted a man hurriedly scampering toward the restroom. Although I didn’t actually hear his reaction, I imagined that a shrill cry of “No!” followed by a tirade of profanity wafting through the air. Pardon my specificity, but I hope he discovered the absence of the necessary bathroom accessory prior to engaging.

Our waiter was inexperienced. I left my readers in the side door of the car, so I was attempting to find a safe selection on the menu. Dawn helped me read the menu as if I were already 80 years old. As I mentioned the number I wanted, the waiter began asking me a series of perplexing questions, some of which convinced me he might have killed the actual waiter and took his order book as a cover story. To add insult to injury he then asked me to read verbatim the combination I had asked for by number. Also, these don’t allow substitutions, so I was confused. After being polite, I told him to bring me whatever the cook thought belonged on #3 and that such a course of action would be fine with me. (He had visibly flinched when I asked about ‘tacos de alambre’ and similar items.) When my alarm bells begin to sound, I always opt for plates containing no meat. It’s a lesson Dawn is slowly learning, too.

My wife foolishly ordered a selection with grilled chicken fajita meat on it. When the plate arrived, she was surprised to discover that they had used what I now call “squirrel chitlins” instead of chicken fajita slices. I’ve come to learn that restaurants that use the chicken pieces which resemble small sections of curly french fries can’t be trusted. Using that type of chicken under the guise of grilled fajita chicken is a dead giveaway that cost has surpassed quality as the main guideline for inventory. In NWA, I stopped getting my favorite dish and then abandoned my favorite restaurant precisely because of this. Dawn initially ate with the enthusiasm that hunger demands but her enthusiasm quickly faded as the texture, flavor and strange aftertaste of her meal overwhelmed her hunger. The sour cream that had been added to her plate was runny and tasted like it had been left out for an hour. I won’t critique the guacamole in fear that the Avocado Mafia will kill me for my honesty.

Dawn found almost nothing savory to eat from her selection. She picked at her plate like a spoiled turkey buzzard might after discovering a whole pizza on the road. The waiter never returned to ask us about chip refills, salsa, or drinks. It might be a good thing, though. Dawn might have had commentary. She knows better than to return food except in emergencies or to ask for something else. He was around us, though. I watched as he moved around. I could tell that he was very concerned about his coworkers needing him to help them or to bus tables, even though there were 3 buspeople on duty. Dawn was showing a little frustration, something that’s unusual for her. I already knew the waiter wasn’t coming back absent a lassoo in my hands. I tried to get Dawn to accompany me to the front register to expedite the process. It took the waiter 4 or 5 times to actually have our ticket. For me, it was hilarious. Dawn wasn’t amused, especially at the part regarding me finding hilarity in the failed dining encounter. She just wanted out of there instead of being forced to look at the inedible carcass of her food selection on the plate in front of her. Even as Dawn attempted to pay at the register, she didn’t know how to answer the cashier who asked, “How was it?” I dared not turn around, lest I pantomimed sticking my index finger down my throat. Adding another insult to injury, the payment system didn’t allow her to customize her tip. Only 3 high-tip options were available. Instead of asking, she chose the lowest with a grimace. Dawn, like me, is normally a great tipper. We both found it appropriately hilarious that the one time we might have tipped badly, the restaurant’s payment system didn’t allow her to do so. We added this observation of our list of signs that a place might not deserve to survive.

As we left, I snapped a selfie of us, as I was riffing jokes about “What could go wrong?” Evidently, the universe had kept the tex-mex eatery in business to provide an answer for us. So, even though we had just survived the culinary equivalent of an equestrian kick in the crotch, we laughed as we walked away. The numbness faded from our tongues within an hour, even though our stomachs saluted us well into the night.

The good news is that Dawn now completely agrees with my rule regarding fajita chicken strips coming to the table disguised as squirrel chitlins.

I’m not calling out the restaurant by name. I want you to accidentally discover it one day. You’ll know if you have. Something primordial will trigger in your lizard brain. Your first instinct will be to call 9-1-1, if you’re still conscious. P.S. Fight or flight. I suggest you run if you remotely suspect you’ve entered the place in question.

 

 

 

 

 

Kroger in Hot Springs

A word of praise: The larger Kroger in Hot Springs was both amazing and depressing.

Old age has its pleasures.

It’s awesome to see the shores of the Pacific. But it’s epic to find new delicious foods to shove into one’s gullet.

The Kroger in question was a sight to behold, in part due to the wide selection of food, both healthy and otherwise. There were at least 30 items that I would gladly substitute as my entire diet if I could.

It was depressing, though, because I knew I’d leave and come back to NWA, where none of the competition has such a spectacular cross-section of items, price, and quality. It’s true that I can visit 3 different stores and probably approximate what I’d buy in one visit to Kroger.

I know that a “super” Kroger isn’t common. But if you’ll permit me to dream for a moment, I’ll ask for world peace, total nonviolence among nations, and that Kroger builds a replica of the Hot Springs store near my house. I wrote Kroger to let them know how much I look forward to them building a store near me.

P.S. You can remove all the Walmart Neighborhood markets and relocate them to Nebraska.

Thanks.

Customer Service For Werewolves

When being normal fails, I bring the weird. WalMart’s attempts to make me into a cashier have been inspiring.

Given that I was enjoying a bout of sleeplessness, I went to Walmart before work very early this morning. I ended up with more items than I had planned because I’m a guy. When I reached the front of the cavernous store no lights were on for the cashier stations. As I walked towards a smaller lady in the very front she looked up, saw me approaching and rapidly started walking in the other direction. Not to be outdone I went the opposite direction to trick her into thinking I forgot an item somewhere in the store. I then hot-footed it back to the front coming from the other side. Now, she was directly in front of me with no way to evade.

But surprise me she did. She started to walk away. So I pulled out one of the tricks of my youth and shouted a small howl. Not only did she stop in her tracks but several other people dropped what they were doing and turned to see what freak was howling at 4 in the morning.

I couldn’t help but laugh, which probably amplified how crazy I looked and sounded.

“I’m sorry your corporate overlords put us in this situation, but there are no checkers,” I told her.

She turned and bellowed to someone, “You’re gonna have to do his checking for him.” To me, she said, “#11 is open. She’ll do your checking for you.”

“If I do YOUR job and check myself out, this cat food is clearly buy one get two free. Also, if the moonlight hits me directly I am uncertain as to whether I can control the werewolf conversion.” Yes, I amused myself.

As the other lady came to check me out I asked her if she believed in werewolves. She laughed and laughed.

In the background, I could hear someone on the radio asking for another pair of hands up front. Whether for work, weirdos, or werewolves, I can’t be sure.

Today, I was the victor.

I hope the run-and-hide lady knows I was joking.

S-Hook, Lime and Sinker

Just off  I-40 in Clarksville, Arkansas, there’s a Tex-Mex restaurant adjacent to the interstate. We’ve eaten there a couple of times. It’s inexpensive and we usually find ourselves pleasantly surprised by the speed, quality, and cost of the meal. Typically, we compensate by over-tipping by a wide margin. This is in no way related to the fact that the workers invariably point a machine gun at us as we pay. I’m just kidding about that last line. I just wanted to ensure that you’re reading closely. The pico de gallo, which all Tex-Mex eateries should be judged by, is delicious.

As we went to the front counter to pay, I heard the older gentleman who seemed to wear several hats of responsibility at the restaurant ask in Spanish, “How’d THIS get here?” I turned to see him holding the ‘S’ hook, inquiring toward our waitress and another waitress from the other half of the restaurant. As we exited the table, I had placed the hot hook on the edge of the large salsa dispenser at the edge of our table so that it wouldn’t be missed.

Toward the end of our meal, my wife had picked it up out of the bowels of the chip basket, not realizing how hot it had become in the warmer. We weren’t disgusted by the discovery of the thick metal hook, just intensely curious. I imagined that it had fallen from something at some point, but couldn’t place what the mysterious piece of machinery or structure might be. Such an ‘S’ hook typically is used to support two chains. Unless you’re at Applebee’s, one wouldn’t expect such random pieces of metal to be in one’s food.

So strange was the look on the older Latino man’s face that I felt compelled to walk the few steps back to our table and explain. In Spanish, I told them it was indeed inside the basket of chips as we ate, that we weren’t upset by its presence, and to have a great day.

“I’ve been looking for this darned hook since yesterday!” the older gentleman told me. “How did it get in the chips?” He wondered aloud.

“Suicidio,” I joked in Spanish and he took a moment to stare at me as if I had just sprouted a large tree from my forehead.

The other two waitresses looked at me quizzically, still confused by the large metal hook and the fact that I was suddenly speaking coherent Spanish to them. I think that the waitress for my table suspected that I spoke a few words in Spanish but it dawned on her that I had probably understood all their shouted conversations during my visit. (Yes, I heard their conversation about North Carolina. I wouldn’t move there, either.)

Mistakes happen and my wife and I weren’t bothered by the metal hook being in the basket of chips. At another restaurant, one staffed by less personable employees, it might have escalated into a full-fledged verbal duel-to-the-cash-register situation.

As it is, though, I find myself still wondering how the hook fell from whatever it was attached to and into the chips. I’ll bet that the older Latino man is wondering, too.

 

The Great Tortilla Chip Famine of April 26th

 

My wife Dawn & I have a ritual of eating Mexican food on Thursday, when possible. Since we are eating considerably healthier than what used to be the case, there are times when it feels as if we are at risk of starvation by the time we reach the magical doors of the selected Mexican eatery. Today was such a day. Dawn has lost a lot of weight in the last weeks and I had to make another hole in my belt earlier this week. To say that we were anticipating our trip of culinary indulgence would be an insult to the word “exaggeration.” I was salivating so much on the way to the restaurant that I thought I might need to hang my head out the car window as I drove, much like a large and enthusiastic dog might. I had my extra bottle of Tajin seasoning next to me. (If you don’t know what Tajin is, please accept my words of pity and condolences for you.)

My stomach was not only growling but also filling out complaint cards of protest. A few things to note… We tip exceptionally well. I have tipped over 100% at some Mexican restaurants. If the staff plans just a little, they only need to visit our table once. (When it’s just us two, we never want a refill, for example.) Also, my favorite food in the world is pico de gallo, eaten in bulk and by using the food shovel of a chip to consume it. I constantly tell staff to feel free to charge me for an order of chips and salsa as most of the time the entrees aren’t interesting to me. I’ll order one for appearances but my heart belongs to pico de gallo and chips and salsa.

We’ll forgive any recipe disaster, including eyeballs in our rice or long dark hairs in our cheese sauce, as long as there are sufficient chips and salsa. I’ve been known to keep the wrong food if it’s brought to me or pay the bill even if I’ve been over-charged. Mexican food is that important to my mental well-being.

Today, we went to our ‘go-to’ eatery. In a bizarre twist, it wasn’t busy. It started out great but deteriorated from there. In a nod to those suffering First World Problems, we only had one less-than-full basket of chips. Given the volume of pico de gallo I requested, I hadn’t anticipated such a dramatic turn of events. The precise math necessary to calculate chip-to-pico enjoyment is difficult but it can be best summed up by the words “always over-estimate.”

We hit the bottom of our chip basket well ahead of schedule. Dawn and I exchanged horrified looks, as we had missed our opportunity to beg for a refill when the waitress walked away. As far as I know, she may well now be featured on a milk carton, so quick was her exit and noticeable her subsequent absence. Given the lack of chips, I had no choice except to eat from my actual entree. This is an unconscionable abomination. So disinterested am I in the entree selection that I’ve started almost ordering randomly.

For my selection today, my plate included a ‘chicken enchilada.’ Like the expectation of a loud scream or being startled by some unseen animal or person at the beginning of a horror movie, it did indeed contain that most vile concoction of shredded chicken, the kind that always smells like putrid chicken-in-a-can and looks like what a buzzard might regurgitate to its young. It is a rare thing to find shredded chicken anywhere that I can’t almost see the smell-waves emanating from it. Shredded chicken is too chickeny, in other words.

As we finished our available selection of edible portions on our plates, I noticed that it seemed as if our table must have an invisible solar eclipse above it. No one would look our direction. I stacked our plates on the outer edge of the table, an invitation to the perplexing “let me make room for you” offer that staff inevitably makes, even though the plates are never in fact in our way. No one succumbed to this universal call for retrieval. The plates and utensils remained there, stacked and immobile, adjacent to the forlorn and long-empty chip basket.

“We might as well go. We’re like people wearing Trump hats in here,” I told Dawn.

We both managed to avoid breaking out in tears. Our mouths watered with the mirage of further tortilla chips and salsa.

We drove home in silence, both of our faces locked in somber reflections of the meal that almost was.

Just kidding about that last part. We speculated about every possible scenario for the ‘why’ of The Great Tortilla Chip Famine of April 26th. My best guess is that on a sufficiently long enough timeline, you’ll not only be cheated out of enough chips and salsa, but also have to endure the presence of that vile ‘food’ known as shredded chicken.

P.S. I took my shredded chicken home in a folded napkin as an experiment. I threw it to a pack of wild dogs near the edge of Sonora. The dogs became so enraged at me for putting it anywhere near them that they almost tore my left arm before I could run and dive back into the relative safety of my wife’s Honda. As I drove away, I watched the dogs paw at the ground and bury the remains of that monstrosity known as shredded chicken.

A Great Customer Service Story

As much as I like the pursuit of a bad customer service issue, I’ve found that people overlook those times when I highly recommend a business or service.

Today, one of the owners of Oasis Property Maintenance personally reached out to ensure that he could answer my questions and make things right. It was a literal delight to hear someone directly address an issue and offer to make it fully right, even if it bit him in the pocketbook.

I reciprocated and told him to pay it forward instead and that I didn’t want any refund, credit, or compensation. Just knowing that he was willing to go to that length to ‘fix’ a mistake was enough for me. It would have been a costly fix for him. As a consumer, I should have caught the issue when I bought this house, but didn’t.

Oasis is mainly a lawn company, one which charges based on lot size. They do online billing, which is a massive benefit to those of us who are antisocial. I’ve used them since they started. They’re not perfect, but they listen if there is an issue. Taking cost and intangibles into consideration, they are almost unbeatable, unless you have a cadre of teenagers to force to do your yard work.

If you currently have a lawn service, you can look online and ‘see’ what they will charge you without any misdirection. Oasis Property Maintenance

Even though you might not see or hear me doing so, I try to thank, reward, and appreciate good businesses. Thanks, X

No Cashier For You

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“1) Will a cashier always be available at the local Neighborhood Markets?” The answer is “No,” if Walmart has its way.

By the way, this hasn’t been answered by any of the dozens of emails, tweets, or direct messages I’ve exchanged in the last few weeks. Luckily, the corporation is staffed by human beings, ones who exist in the real world – and who share our misgivings about achieving cost reduction by eliminating jobs (and people) at the expense of customer convenience. Despite my complaint regarding being coerced into using self-checkout, even for large volume grocery shopping, the bigger shadow will come from passive scanning technologies which are designed to eliminate almost all interaction between shoppers and employees.

To all those with physical limitations or who dislike being required to be their own cashiers for one of the largest corporations in the world, please accept my apologies. Walmart will imply that their “Store Pickup” system will address these concerns. They won’t, at least not in the immediate future. From listening to people I know who’ve tried the order ahead and “Store Pickup” system, they love the idea of it but have universal frustrations with the implementation. Most of the hiccups are from, you guessed it, human error and insufficient staffing to provide a worry-free grocery experience. Warm ice cream? Shorter expiration dates on your dairy? Less appealing merchandise compared to what you might choose? Scheduling and logistic issues? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

If you have a disability or limitation, I can only recommend that you insist that all retailers accommodate you. If you resent being less valued as a customer, I can only advise that you seek a retailer which honors your request.

Most of us will gladly embrace self-checkout for some situations. We’ll even use the ‘scan as you go’ apps in most cases. Equally true, though, is that we’re not going to accept a multi-billion dollar corporation’s insistence that we do a job better performed by an employee of its organization, a job for which we are already being charged. There are times when we want a cashier, especially when we’ve accumulated a few dozen items in our shopping carts.

As for the customer service reporting system, Walmart’s is broken. As it turns out, it is deliberately designed to function that way. In the last few weeks, I’ve exchanged hundreds of emails, direct messages and fruitless tweets and posts. None of them came from an identifiable person. With each promise of contact, I’d be sent back to the starting point of the broken carousel. I could almost hear the crackle of laughter behind some of the redirects. Walmart insulates itself from marketing glitches by pushing everything back out to the local branches, as if the store manager is the one wanting to reduce his or her staff. In a moment of candor, I had a store manager tell me directly that he/she blamed all of it on corporate’s sole focus on cost, even though the metrics of customer satisfaction skew away from cost as being the sole factor.

Officially, no one at Walmart had the courtesy or professionalism to answer any of my questions, even when I reduced it to the one question which starts this post. Their failure to answer me is a testament to their proven ability to ignore most pushback and to their own belief that they are too large to fail. I can’t blame them, not really. Arrogance of that magnitude is almost inescapable when scaled to their size.

One thing I found out for certain is that Walmart is slowly transitioning to self-kiosks while simultaneously avoiding any blanket statements about their future. A bigger part of their vision involves using scanning technology or customer-driven input, which either passively tracks what we pick up at every point in the store or requires our input to scan or tally the selected merchandise. We are the proverbial frog in the slowly heating pot of water and we won’t realize that we can’t turn back until we’re too boiled to hop out. Walmart is counting on our complacency to reach a point of no return.

Between initiatives like Project Kepler and Code Eight, Walmart is investing heavily in technology which reduces labor by removing Walmart employees from the process as much as possible. For cost reductions, it’s smart. For human relations, it is less than ideal.

If you don’t want to use a self-checkout kiosk, the best option is to politely say “No.” If you’re told something you don’t like, try to remember that employees are either badly trained, which is management’s fault, or they are only parroting the words and procedures given to them, which is also management’s fault. They are still people first and employees second. This is ironic when you stop to consider that these very people are the ones Walmart is eliminating to save you money. Truth be told, most managers don’t have any real ability to control these types of issues.

It is a certainty that many retailers will follow suit and use technology to push our shopping habits in a new direction. As I’ve said all along, such technology holds a place in our future but it shouldn’t be forced upon us for all situations.

I started all this weeks ago by saying that Walmart and its smaller food markets in particular is a business model I very much want to embrace. I love technology and welcome both self-checkout kiosks and “as you go” systems. I resent the idea, though, that I am becoming an involuntary employee of the organization I’m rewarding with my business. For those who are older or with physical issues, I am especially concerned.

Locally, most of us will have choices through smaller grocery stores and chains. They’ll face the same price pressures, though, at some point.

I realize that this isn’t the most well-written post but perfect is the enemy of the good. If a billion dollar company can wing it, I see no reason to hold myself to a higher standard.

P.S. If you write me, I’ll be sure to forward that to my compliance and correspondence officer. Or Tier 3. Or Reader Spark. Or that guy Jonathan sitting in the basement waiting to help you. Please give me at least 24 business days to ignore your message.

Walmart Neighborhood Market and the 7-Circles-of-Catch 22

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I originally planned on posting a picture of a vacuum hose; it, like Walmart’s customer service system, has a great deal of suck. Good people, terrible system. As a Walmart employee told me, a great portion of their job is to insulate management. It’s true in many places and it should be no surprise that large impersonal corporations would be the same. Everything about their complaint or issue system is designed to weed out the crazies. It also, unfortunately, weeds out the authentic questions and concerns. (I realize that in many cases I qualify in both columns.)

I forgot to mention something that a lot of people don’t know: I used to teach quality and customer service classes, in 2 languages, at another large, impersonal private corporation. Traditional methodology doesn’t work; people silently vote with their feet.

Corporate complaint systems are similar to Yossarian’s Catch-22 of circular logic and disinformation. Because I love Catch-22, perhaps it is why I occasionally enjoy a foray into the wonkiness of broken corporate structure, even when I fully realize that it’s like a symphony of interconnected voices, except in this case, everyone is screaming in medieval Italian.

“Men Are From Mars, Walmart is From Uranus” might also be a good meme theme to address the dismal communication channels.

People at the local level told me contradictory things, most of which can’t be verified, with each pointing fingers up the organizational chart. A couple were careful to imply I was lying, which was an additional bonus. I expect a call from Robert Mueller any day now.

A 5-minute call with someone in the corporate structure would have been the extent of the issue. A couple of emails with someone other than a drone would have also been perfectly adequate. A bucket of water thrown on me would have been unhelpful, but amusing.

Then, something curious happened.

I found out that Walmart had already read my post on social media and on my blog. They have staff who monitor these things for mentions. Much of it is automated, as with Google alerts. They don’t directly acknowledge this, even though it is an open secret that many companies do this. All of the large ones do.

Things like ” #Walmart ” help them find mentions much more easily.

It’s fun to think that someone from Walmart is reading these words in their head, probably with an increasingly strange look of realization dawning on his or her face. I hope that person’s name is Amy, Jake, or Alonso, for reasons I can’t disclose.

I remember when my Aunt Ardith, who worked for SW Bell/ AT&T at the time, did the monitoring for a short period back when newspapers were the most likely mining resource for mentions of a company or person. Later, after the death of a family member, I found out the hard way that banks often monitor public records, obituary notices, and other similar material and often take pre-emptive action, even if this behavior isn’t strictly proper. Not everyone can have a good degree: those people who don’t go to careers in Marketing. (Ha!)

So, I now know that several Walmart employees have read about my both my issue and the lack of followup from anyone willing to communicate about it.

Meanwhile, I exchanged a slew of emails. The promised ‘person’ who would be my salvation again turned out to be a generic and nameless email and contact phone number. I had been Rick-rolled.

Even though at this point the company acknowledged there were ADA-level implications, no one reached out or returned their calls as promised. I can only assume that this means that every person they know is 100% healthy and loves doing the jobs that were previously included in the price of the goods or services they buy. The circular emails and messages, however, continued, probably in hopes that I would put a large dirty shoe in my piehole and go away.

I found myself reading the entire tax code for fun, hoping to distract myself from Walmart’s inability to reply to a simple question.

Because people in the hierarchy have seen my posts, I assume they know that customers are watching what they do and how they address labor shortages and automation in their stores. A lot of us have a few basic questions we need to be answered before we make a decision to turn from apathetic toward resentful.

They’ll read this post, too, and know that I know that they know. I’m watching them as they watch me. (Think Rockwell, except without the creepy shower scene.)

As a reminder, this issue started because someone I know was mistreated by a local Neighborhood Market. Out of character, I went to find a manager and talk about it to try to get answers for all of us – and hopefully, help the company and its customers. Next time, I’m going to do what I know works: roll my hair in used cat litter and go to the store asking where they keep the duct tape.

Stupid me.

Jeesh, I certainly hope that #Harps is monitoring all this stupidity, too.

For the record, though, I’ve simplified the questions for Walmart executives:
1) Will a cashier always be available at the local Neighborhood Markets? 2) If not, would it be a burden for Walmart to clearly identify the hours and/or stores which will have no cashiers present? 3) Absent a cashier, does a person with an issue or disability need to disclose his or her private medical condition in order to get an employee to perform the job of cashier? 4) If you remove cashiers, do we get an additional discount? P.S. I’d rather pay a little more and keep more people employed and all of us happier. Otherwise, I’m going to forget to scan about 22 bags of cat litter as you force me to do the cashier job for your employees. You’ll get the cat litter back, though, one bad hair day at a time.

So, Amy, Jake, and Alonso, this post is finished. You can relax.

My ‘Ladder’ Problem at Walmart…

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A few people questioned the validity of the email screenshot I posted over the weekend. While I appreciate the idea that I love the ludicrous more than the next guy, it is 100% true that an actual human being from Walmart (Neighborhood Market) replied to my emails by inquiring about my ladder problem.

For anyone concerned, my ladder is in the garage, safe and sound.

I’m up to 84 interactions with Walmart help, customer care, and corporate.

It seems like it would just be cheaper (and smarter) for them to put me in contact with someone in Compliance, wouldn’t it? I’m not in charge of a multi-national corporation though, so it’s possible they know something I don’t. #walmart

P.S. Walmart really is the Cable TV of groceries, too. 2000 channels and nothing to watch. 2,000,000 associates and no one to listen.

Walmart Neighborhood Market Is The Cable TV of Groceries

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(This is a long one. Don’t attempt to casually read this if you have an actual life. 🙂  )

After work on March 9th, I stopped at the local Neighborhood Market to find a manager. I breathed, “Be nice, be nice” to myself before going in. The managers have a history of inattention to complaints or requests, no matter how professionally presented. I would be unable to manage one of these stores. The Neighborhood Market does a lot right, I’ll be the first to admit. Their worst issue is that they do much to complain about too, and when we come forward, the eye-rolling or stonewalling is epic. I ‘want’ to love Walmart Market.

My wife Dawn had a terrible experience earlier in the day. It was so bad that my phone translated her entire text message to read: “$%#&% $$$%%$ !” She’s very patient and kind in general but after her experience, I thought that Walmart had probably misjudged her building wrath. I decided to go in and see what the manager might say before Dawn opted to recreate a battle scene from The Avengers. Being a patient voice is not a role I often assume. There are times, however, when I approach an issue like I would a hobby just to see how bad it can go awry, even when I’m being polite and patient. (Dawn will tell you that most of these interactions culminate in a resemblance to any major Civil War battle scene.)

During Dawn’s earlier visit there were no checkers up front unless they had recently purchased invisibility cloaks. When Dawn asked for assistance, the girl she asked literally shrugged, said “I dunno,” and went back to ignoring her. Dawn’s cart had $200 of groceries in it. She wanted to just abandon it after piling it on the conveyor belt at the self-checkout, but she’s not wired that way. The person allegedly responsible for keeping an eye on the self-checkout of course magically materialized and intermittently was as minimally helpful as possible but did not do Dawn’s checking for her, as is supposed to happen. It was his job at that point to step up and use the self-checkout lane to cashier and handle the checkout for Dawn. (The managers have told me this more than once – before anyone asks or questions this. If this policy has changed, management needs to tell both the employees and the customers.) Dawn had to unload, scan, bag and reload the massive pile of stuff herself, while the gentleman who was monitoring jumped in and interfered instead of helping. Dawn had to run home to work, as her store trip had morphed into an epic misadventure. What should have taken 30 minutes dragged on to almost an hour.

Had I been there, you can be sure that the entire scenario would have played out differently. I’m sure it would have been entertaining to watch on replay through the security cameras as I creatively made my point. There’s a reason my driver’s license has a picture of a jackass on it.

This store recently upgraded to include many more self-check stations, as well as aligning the store to be an “order ahead” hub. The manager told me that they had asked corporate to put in fewer self-checkouts but were rebuffed, as they were out of touch with their customers and their own stores. (Her words, not mine.) Dawn’s had issues with this store before. The issues affecting it have only worsened. I’ve written about a few of them before, as some of the stories seem unlikely. Human behavior in impersonal organizations is staggeringly strange.

I went to the store and politely asked for a manager. The customer service person wasn’t thrilled with my minimalist request to wait to speak to a manager to voice my concerns. I waited several minutes. Finally, a woman with shoulder-length black hair came out and introduced herself as the manager-on-duty.

The purported manager I spoke with listened to me and I listened to her. She was less than pleased about hearing of the employee who had blown Dawn off, and about the gentleman watching the self-check who didn’t step in to assist. I told her that social media had been brutal to the store in question lately, and not only because of the remodel. She wasn’t as receptive to my criticism of the reliance on self-check, even as I acknowledged that I knew corporate was the villain in that equation. She was also dismissive of people’s complaints on social media. But I did my best to imperfectly express to her how bad the experience my wife had was. She did at least listen to me, regardless of whatever mental gymnastics might have been going on behind her eyes.

The woman I spoke with had trouble getting around the idea that there we no checkers, because “There always is at least one.” She was very adamant about this, despite our observations to the contrary. I told her that if the store advertised that it was ‘cashier-less,’ the negative reaction would be lesser, as we would either adjust or choose the competition. The purported manager also insisted that we should be very aggressive in demanding customer service and about demanding someone to speak with if things weren’t handled correctly. It’s a common expectation for businesses to hope that customers will somehow overcome the natural tendency to just ‘let it go,’ even as the employees of that business become belligerent or fail to do what they are supposed to. I was standing in the store that afternoon talking to her, precisely because the other methods of direct and indirect communication weren’t working.

I’m not “anti-self-checkout,” by the way, not at all. I know the demographics of preferences regarding technology and access. Self-checkout has its place but only as a component, not as a replacement. I love having the option. If Walmart stupidly wants to trust me to scan my groceries, woe unto them.

Of all criticisms regarding my interaction with the manager, I would have to say it might be the blindness toward the level of frustration and bad experiences people collectively have. This manager would have had no idea about how angry my wife was about her experience had I not walked in and waited. It takes a massive and ongoing problem for Dawn to get flustered. Managers focus on issues, day in and day out, but most of the problems that we have as customers never reach their eyes or ears. Part of the problem is that it is too difficult to talk to someone – and if we do, our words tend to slide through ears or onto forgotten paperwork. Everyone is busy and corporations have wrongly reduced labor by taking away people’s available time to engage with other human beings.

One critical issue which businesses seem to share as they grow is that they somehow begin to agree that customers bear most of the responsibility to come forward with complaints or criticism. Most don’t, however, because most of us don’t really want to complain. If we have the chance, we communicate with our feet and find a new way to do business. It’s exceedingly more expensive to find a new customer than it is to retain an old one, yet most businesses fall into the ‘more’ trap, failing to the see the pyramid scheme of available customers as the bottom falls away.

Walmart’s size and prices are responsible for people not walking away forever; they are the cable TV of groceries.

I sent out emails and tweets to Walmart and some of its tentacles, hoping to engage with someone high enough in the byzantine corporate structure to listen to me. They make it easy to ‘shout’ at them, but it is a miracle to find a connection who will respond with interest or in a timely manner. Our irritation is built into their cost of business. Walmart holds us mostly captive within its market share.

Before bed, I noticed that a social media friend had posted about this very topic, except the story she shared was one pushing us all to refuse to use the self-checkout whenever possible. It’s strange how small the world is. I hadn’t realized that so many people agreed with this sentiment. Some of their arguments are powerful and they are experimenting with several creative ways to force businesses like Walmart to take their concerns seriously. I’m curious about the details and can see that I’ll be doing a lot of further reading about it.

On this side of town, we have a Harp’s grocery, one which we wish were at the quality level of the Harp’s on Gutensohn but still has some endearing qualities. They don’t use self-checkout. We’ve had problems with this store too, but someone has always intervened and addressed them. They feel approachable. It’s their most marketable quality, even if they don’t use it appropriately in their marketing. We want to love it and we try. By the way, Harp’s bags your groceries and puts them in the cart. If you ask, they will always find someone to help you to your car and put the groceries in it for you.

Walmart says Harp’s has no self-checkout because they can’t afford to. The manager I spoke with told me this as if it had been repeated as truth. I know that to be untrue, though. Harp’s has a different focus on the customer and it’s a focus that might destabilize Walmart as it tries to compete with the likes of Amazon.

The manager also didn’t know how to address my point of Walmart needing cashiers to assist the disabled, especially those without a visible disability. How does an elderly or disabled person shop unless an employee is present to do their job? Walmart owes it to their customers to advertise the store so that those needing assistance will not go there.

I don’t need to wish any ill will on Walmart because from my point of view, it is its own worst enemy as the economy changes around it. Size creates deafness.

The fact that I stopped to talk to the manager helped diffuse Dawn’s frustration. I pity the fool, however, who ignores Dawn should she choose to give the Neighborhood Market another try.

P.S. I followed up on the twitter and emailed inquiries, but gave up after realizing that the people or bots I was dealing with had no interest in real communication. Anyone who knows me also knows that I enjoy this sort of tedious exchange, so it is a fact that the corporate side of customer interaction is built to protect the hierarchy rather than engage the customer.

P.P.S. For those who wonder, “What good does this sort of thing do?” I would respond by saying that you should imagine if I write this many words to get something out of my head, imagine what I do behind the scenes to get my point across. Saying nothing will guarantee that no one listens. It also tends to invalidate my right to expect change if I don’t ‘waste my time,’ even at ridiculous windmills like this one. I could be watching “The Bachelor,” instead.