The purpose of this article is to help anyone in customer service avoid a common pitfall. My recent experience at Walmart gave me the perfect example of what not to do.
I happen to be a fan of Walmart. They don’t mess around. They offer lower prices. Period. Their massive workforce is diverse and relatively competent. Like every other retailer in this world, they are far from perfect.
Looking for an update on Walmart, I checked their website this morning and read the first paragraph under the “About” tab:
From our humble beginnings as a small discount retailer in Rogers, Ark., Walmart has opened thousands of stores in the U.S. and expanded internationally. Through innovation, we’re creating a seamless experience to let customers shop anytime and anywhere online and in stores. We are creating opportunities and bringing value to customers and communities around the globe. Walmart operates approximately 10,500 stores and clubs under 46 banners in 24 countries and eCommerce websites. We employ 2.3 million associates around the world — nearly 1.6 million in the U.S. alone.
It’s a legendary success story that continues to evolve. They are truly the behemoth in the retail sector.
There’s a lot to be said for being the biggest. It allows them to offer “Everyday Low Prices” and to invest in technology that helps the company maximize efficiency. I want Walmart to continue to be successful, especially considering how many people they employ.
Our Recent Experience
Last week my wife, Susan, and I had an unusual experience with our local Walmart’s customer service department. I think it is worth sharing so your organization can avoid falling into a similar trap.
A couple weeks before Christmas, Susan ordered a carpet shampooer online. They didn’t have the one she ordered in stock. Apparently, if Walmart doesn’t have the exact item available, they will substitute and send something similar. Upon receipt of said “similar” item, they sent a significantly lesser model, which was unacceptable. Susan went back online to see if the model she had ordered originally was now in stock. It was, she ordered it, and to Walmart’s credit, it arrived on our doorstep the next day (with a broken part). It was obvious Murphy’s Law was in full effect.
She went back online to get instructions on how to return the two shampooers and received instructions to return one at Walmart curbside and the other at Federal Express. When she shared this information, I said, “We aren’t doing that!” Instead, we loaded the half-opened boxes into the car and headed to the customer service counter at our local Walmart.
Cluster at the Counter
I was thinking this should be a “no-muss, no-fuss” return. Remarkably, the line at the customer service counter was short, allowing us to speak with a representative within minutes. This was an encouraging start.
At the counter, Susan began the dialogue with a “less than happy to be there” customer service person. Her effort to assist us with the return was feeble. Ultimately, she directed Susan to call customer support. It’s a miracle I didn’t draw blood from biting my tongue. I wanted to butt in and say, “Wait a minute, it says CUSTOMER SERVICE in big letters just above your head. Why in the world would we have to call customer support when we are here in the flesh?” The rep provided us with a weak reason why this step was necessary. Susan obliged and dialed up customer support. Surprise, surprise, a computer placed her on hold. After a brief hold, she was forwarded to a bot requesting her ID#. WTH? We had no such thing, and there was no option to speak with a human.
At this point, I was ready to leap over the counter and strangle someone, but instead, we calmly asked to speak with the manager who was scrambling around helping others. He took a minute to put a new rep on the case and instructed her to call customer support. Seriously? She, too, was put on hold and forwarded to a bot asking for an ID#. As the great philosopher Yogi Berra would say, it was deja vu all over again. Now we are approaching the 1-hour mark without a solution. The new rep, visibly frustrated, turned to the manager and suggested they handle it like an in-store product return (instead of an online transaction). We followed her to a vacant checkout aisle, where she processed the transaction in less than 5 minutes. Yahtzee!
I have not embellished this story. Clearly, I’m not capable of making this sh*@% up. I share this story because some organizations are still committed to processes that compromise their ability to deliver outstanding customer service. Customers could care less about your process. All they want is a fast, fair resolution. The good news is the 2nd rep was proactive and willing to confront her supervisor. The bad news is what should’ve taken 15 minutes took an hour.
As a customer, have you ever experienced a situation similar to this – where the process gets in the way of customer service? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. As always, I appreciate you reading my stuff. Thank you! Until next time…