Category Archives: Social Media

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.

The Observation of ‘There’

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I see or hear people say, “Those drivers in so-and-so! What idiots.” Or, “People in so-and-so are so mean!” Because it’s a sentiment commonly seen and heard, it doesn’t sound that odd to most people. Most of us have our own particular ‘there’ in mind. I recommend that you imagine Dallas on a Friday afternoon, or the DMV between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., anywhere in the United States.

There are exceptions, of course, but in general, people are similar regardless of geography. Southerners are no more polite than those from Wyoming and drivers in Arkansas are no less idiotic than those in Pennsylvania. (Except for Josh. He really stinks.)

Most of the time, the grouchy people in question have traveled with their own geographical prejudices. If you listen closely, it becomes more apparent than ever that there is as much fault in the observer as the observed.

Anyone can pinpoint a particular place and time, inhabited by a shifting mix of people and situations and say, “Well, this case is different because of so-and-so…”

This particular scenario occurs in every nook and cranny of this country, each and every day. No travel is required to see and hear people behaving poorly.

“Those” people there, wherever there is, are no different than you or the people who live around you.

“They” see us and shake their heads at us and our impolite stupidity and our inability to drive in a straight line without flipping our vehicle upside down – while parked.

The circle of complaint is eternal, each of us pointing to those idiots elsewhere.

Even though we’re all the same, each of us struggling to minimize just how much stupidity we individually generate.

The struggle is real.

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.

A Home Remedy For the Grammer Police

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NSFW. Contains language about language.

*Yes, I know how to spell ‘grammar,’ but that’s the point.

 

The world is a small place sometimes. It’s hard to gauge where my ideas might reach. In places where people don’t know me, my ideas seem plausible. In others, people point to what I’ve written as a short-hand to get their point across. They write, “This,” with a link, or “This reminds me of you.” To be fair, many people also tell me I’m a moron, but with a lesser frequency that I would have otherwise expected to be the case.

When I write about people having the freedom to take back their own languages and use and abuse them as they see fit, most of the response is overwhelmingly positive. There is indeed a time and place for exacting language – and that time and place is normally one which doesn’t require our presence, much less enthusiasm, for it. The responsibility for language’s needless complexity does not fall upon the average user.

On one of my alter-ego projects, someone wrote me. She was irritated at a few of her well-meaning and passive-aggressive friends and family, some of whom apparently rejoice in being grammar police. She told me that several of her friends and family were afraid to post anything and sometimes say anything, anticipating the overzealous criticism. She had tried ignoring them, politely asking them to stop and finally, in a last-ditch effort, she started lashing out at them. She saw some of my craziness on someone’s blog and decided to offer me a chance to weigh in.

My appeals to tell those who think English is a fixed target should go jump in a frozen lake struck a chord with her. She said she had never thought of Standard English as a formal and shared means to learn a dialect that no one learned at home – or that spoken language drives the language no matter how many cries of anguish we hear from those invested in “correct English.”

“I need a way to get my point across, even with a sledgehammer, if necessary. What do you recommend?” she wrote.

“Well, if you’re all adults, I recommend avoiding behavior which invites more contempt. They’re not going to change, that much is obvious. It’s not a ‘you’ issue, not really. They need to gain esteem by policing other people. You can’t fix them, so you need to focus their attention away from you.” So far, so good, as I wrote back.

“First, it’s important that you politely tell each person who has been a pain in your rear to please stop and that further trolling is unwelcome. Then, each time one of your friends, family, or acquaintances pulls their grammar nonsense, send them this,” I wrote:

<To the grammar police: You put the ‘dick’ in ‘dicktionary.’ Regards, Don’t Care >

 

I told her to write it every time someone pulled out their bag of tactics on her – after they ignored one more final polite request to please stop. If they responded with anger, write the same thing, over and over. If they tried to police her in person, I told her to say it out loud, even in awkward social situations. I pointed out that her social faux pas was no greater than theirs, that of policing other adults in trivial matters.

“If that doesn’t work, let me know.” I wished her well and told her to follow through every time her hackles went up. I reminded her that it was senseless for her to get upset and to instead transfer that irritation back those being jerks. I warned that it would take time. She told me that a few of her friends and family had been torturing her for years and that a few weeks of concerted effort would be better than living the rest of her life under the thumb of a bunch of control freaks.

Several days later, she wrote me and told me that at first it really bothered her to be discourteous. After a few times, though, she got invested in the reaction. She had one last hold-out, though, a family member who tended to lash out about any topic, whether it be politics, religion, grammar, or how to fold towels in the guest bathroom.

I asked her to send me the name of the family member so that I could get a picture from their social media. After she did so, I told her to check her email and follow the instructions and to only follow them if the person torturing her didn’t heed one last polite request to please stop bothering her.

Over a week later, she wrote back, to tell me that it had worked beyond belief.

Her family member had become irate and sent an email and social media messenger blast to all their mutual friends and family, accusing her of lashing out without reason. Her family member didn’t stop to realize that it provided the victim with a list of everyone affected. She wrote back to all of them, asking them to let her know if they were interested in knowing the real story. Most did and after reading her explanation were completely on board. Almost all agreed that it would be better for everyone to ignore what they perceived as errors – and to certainly not condone those who continued to be jerks after politely being asked to step away or to bother someone else who had no objection.

The picture attached to this post is what she emailed, after begging and politely requesting relief at least a dozen times…

 

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P.S. It’s important that anyone reading this understand that at each stage I insist that the first course of action is to respond with politeness and courtesy, even if the person making your life a living hades is beyond redemption.

P.P.S. I didn’t invent the word ‘dicktionary.’

 

 

The McDonald’s Flambé Life

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I was asked to write an unsolicited rebuttal of something frequently witnessed on social media. These words and thoughts aren’t perfect, nor do I intend them to be.

Each time I see someone complaining about social media being too bright and shiny or unrealistic, I try to visit those people’s social media page(s).

As you can guess, when I visit the social media of the person mentioned above, it is difficult to find any posts which reveal the soul or character of the person – and almost all of the pictures are polished Kodak moments, with $10,000 smiles filled with perfect teeth. Most are devoid of crafted personal stories or substantive glimpses into their days as human beings. There’s never a picture of them enjoying a delicious bite of questionable food over a dimly-lit sink, wearing mismatched cat socks, or an admission of honest tomfoolery or klutziness. You’ll find an album of 178 wedding day photos, but none of the family on the day the judge finalizes the divorce. Nor will there be a copy of the mugshot of the husband for his second DWI. People rarely discuss their honest doubts or openly share the beliefs they hold which trouble them. Tears are always joyful and never from injustice, defeat is a happy lesson, and houses always pristinely decorated and sleek. (Even though we know you have a room, closet, garage or attic filled with some erratic craziness that you don’t like people seeing.)

 

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I don’t know how to say this artfully or with aplomb, so I’ll just say it: most of these refrains are from people with double-car garages and more than one kind of coffee machine in their homes.

Life is messy, with moments of breath-taking beauty and also days of anguish.

 

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….more house shoes than Versace and more plain spaghetti than vermicelli.

Somewhere between the extremes, though, is the balance of the two in which you live your life and upon which most of your memory rests.

Social media is based on the most democratic of ideas: each of us can share, interact, and express ourselves within the boundaries of the parameters we ourselves define.

 

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Like so many other things, most of the flaws of social media are worsened by use, one comment, post, or picture at a time. We decide what kind of social media we want. I’m confused by complaints about social media when it is literally that person’s choice to reflect his or her preferences on their social media pages.

Social media isn’t a glossy magazine; it’s the flyer someone hands you on the sidewalk, one constantly adjusting to us. The difference is that all of us create its content.

If you don’t want to create or share, of course that is okay. Withhold your snark about the content other people choose to share or your opinion that it’s all shiny and unrealistic snapshots of other people.

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If you seek a different way, light the way ahead and we will follow your lead.

I’m guessing that the posts complaining about the phoniness of social media will never abate, just as people will invariably watch “The Bachelor,” yet glibly tell you that they watched, and loved, the latest installment of “60 Minutes.”

An Imperfect Note Regarding Jimmy Fallon and Redemption

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The meme regarding Jimmy Fallon in his “Man Show” era versus now in his redemption and entertainer role does contain an element of harsh truth to it.

It also contains an oblique admission on your part, though, if you share it.

Jimmy’s former show ended about 15 years ago. That’s approximately 5,500 days of opportunity to transform oneself.

“You’re not the person you used to be,” is one of the best compliments someone can give me.

I hope the same is true for you, too. It’s almost as important as the cliché, “My opinion changes with new information.”

It’s easy to fake a change of heart, especially if ambition, power, money, or politics shape your enlightenment. We fall toward vanity and greed with too much ease at times.

It’s a complicated and fluid process to gauge another person’s transformation and soul. Many religions confer redemption merely by accepting a central tenet of faith. Most adults, however, in their personal lives, require penance, punishment and a long learning period from those seeking redemption.

Skepticism rules in regards to other people, even as most people demand acceptance for their own stories and changes while doubting the changes that others profess.

By outright refusing to concede that it is possible that Jimmy Fallon may indeed be the person he professes to be, you are also indicating that you doubt that personal transformation is possible.

That’s a strange, cynical point of view from where I’m standing.

Keep in mind that I’m not a big Jimmy Fallon fan, nor defending the criticisms toward his previous alter ego.

A few years ago, Tom Cotton, someone who I dislike intensely, suffered a backlash from some regarding his writings when he was much younger and attending Harvard. Many screamed without knowing whether those words reflected who he is today. That denial of possibility is a problem for me.

I think back to my youth and all the indoctrination, fear and shame I had to work through to thrive. All my errors, ignorance and stupidity were indeed mine. To create a timeline which fails to reflect my transformation would be a disservice to me and anyone else who has shed their previous skin. I don’t defend some of the stupidity I said and did.

Even if I attempted a defense of who I once was, I wouldn’t be defending myself.

While my personal views about redemption aren’t religious, I continue to hope that anyone can stop and reboot if self-recognition allows it.

I would hate to think the world wouldn’t encourage anyone to turn away from their past and renew.

It’s okay to be skeptical of those who’ve wronged us or behaved like the Cookie Monster at a bakery convention. As we do, though, we should remind ourselves that some people do in fact change.

 

 

 

The Brown / Hat Conundrum

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The Brown / Hat Conundrum

As you comment to tell me that what I’ve said is stupid,
remember that you decided to waste a precious sliver of
your finite life to denigrate me or my opinion.
People angrily comment when they either recognize the
truth in a contrary opinion or they are insecure about
their own tenuous hold on the world. Lashing out at
another for expression is a self-accusation and an
acknowledgment that your beliefs don’t sustain scrutiny.