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Friday, December 19, 2014

Dear Wal-Mart - oh, nevermind.

Friday, December 19, 2014 By

AUGUSTA, GA. - So, I'm sure it comes as no surprise to anyone on planet Earth that I had a less-than-stellar experience at Wal-Mart. But I'm not writing about it because I'm angry. It wasn't a big deal. I'm writing because it looks like a customer service success, but it's actually a failure of philosophy.

The scenario

I went into Wal-Mart to buy approximately 18 bajillion eggs for holiday baking - and another $3 charging cable for my phone, because I keep breaking them. I've been through four of them in six months. I got mad skillz, y'all.

Coincidentally, I had a coupon for a free package of Chicken of the Sea flavored salmon. Now, one of the last things I need is for someone else to prepare $1.15 worth of salmon, shred it, throw some lemon pepper on it, slather it with preservatives and give it to me in a foil packet. Minus the preservatives, I could have made my own salmon at home, for the same price, using less time and frustration than it took me to go to Wal-Mart to get a package of it.

But.... I had a coupon. For FREE.

So I scanned it and my other items at the number 44 self-checkout register and then scanned the coupon. The cost of the item came off, I dropped the receipt into the receipt slot, and pressed "pay now." I swiped my card, put in my PIN number, and waited for my receipt.


And then it charged my card, printed the receipt, and didn't return my coupon.

First of all, the item totally matched the coupon. Second of all, what if I didn't want the item unless the coupon was valid? What if the item I picked up was a mistake that I no longer wanted?

Now, this was only $1.15. I'm not about to pitch a fit over that. So I turned with a smile and caught the eye of the lone CSR manning the self-checkout. I can only imagine what a special hell that job is.

She did not smile back. Before I could even ask her for help, she snapped, without looking me in the eye: "If it's something that has to be taken off the receipt, I can't do that."

My smile tensed. "May I explain the issue?"

"Go ahead."

I did.

"Well, if you want a refund, you have to go to customer service."

"No, I don't really care about a $1 refund. I was just hoping someone might take note of the issue the machine is experiencing and perhaps put in a repair ticket."

She glared at me: "Well, I can't do that."

I kept smiling and kept my voice even and calm: "Well... who can?"

She sighed and motioned over another employee. I explained again.

"You have to go to customer service," the new employee said.

"THAT'S what I TOLD her," the original CSR snapped, angrily making change for another customer.

The customer eyed me as though I was causing a problem. Y'all, I really wasn't. I wasn't angry, or even irritated. I was just like, "Oh, oopsy, someone might want to fix that." But after being treated like a boil on her ass, I was beginning to get pissed off. I am not entirely certain that my attempt to continue smiling and remaining calm didn't look terrifyingly like a serial killer's expression. But I tried.

"So they can fix the machine? And how will they be able to scan the coupon?" I asked.

The new rep side-stepped, "Oh, they'll send someone over to get it out of the machine."

"Okay, thank you. Have a nice day," I said, and resisted giving the side-eye to the original CSR.

I walked to customer service, where there was - miraculously - no line. I explained again that the register was malfunctioning, and the very sweet CSR asked to see my receipt. I showed her, she punched a few buttons, the register popped open, and she handed me $1.15. Which I never asked for.

"There you go. Have a nice day," she said. "We're sorry you had a problem today."

"Um, well, thank you. But the register...? Is someone going to fix it? It might keep charging people incorrectly."

She stared at me blankly.

Mentally, I gave up. I smiled and gathered my things.

"Thank you. Happy holidays," I said.

"You, too," she smiled back.

So, that's a long story. But I wanted to illustrate some failures of customer service in this scenario.

No. 1: Don't 'anticipate the customer's needs' so much that you ignore what they say.

Yes, many of the issues you respond to will be repeats. But not every customer is the same. Listen to them as though you have never before heard what they are saying. Three people in this scenario failed to respond to my attempt to solve a customer service problem. All of them assumed I was just really intent on getting $1.15. I can assure you that salmon was going to get eaten. It was fine. I just wanted to make sure that the issue with the register was noted for future customers.

No. 2: The answer is never "I can't do that."

Customers understand that people's responsibilities are often compartmentalized. But saying "I can't do that" or "I don't know" should never be the terminal response from a customer service representative. A correct response is, "I'm not authorized to do that, but let me get/point you to/give you the number for/transfer you to the person who is." Or, "I don't know, but I'll find out. Just a moment."

No. 3: Treat people with courtesy.

I don't expect to make a new best friend in the checkout line. And it's okay if you're not delighted to see me. Really. Truth be told, I'm not always delighted to see people, in general. People are where the problems are. But for the love of all that is holy, don't treat me like I am the bane of your existence, and an idiot to boot.

No. 4: The CSR is not always right.

Now, I was not a jerk, but I have Resting Bitch Face that can look like I'm irritated if I'm not actively smiling. Generally speaking, I'm an intelligent, polite, functional adult (well... an intelligence-adjacent, well-mannered-but-sometimes-clueless, and fooling-people-most-of-the-time adult). But it's possible I'm in the midst of a gross misunderstanding. Like most people, I will take responsibility for my mistake and you can make fun of me in the break room later - probably while I'm simultaneously texting my sister to lament about what an ass I just made of myself.

No. 4: The customer is not always right.

The original CSR I dealt with had a clear grasp of this. The customer is not always right. Sometimes the customer is an entitled asshole. But assuming the worst about someone, being snappy, and failing to engage in basic interpersonal communication signals - like eye contact - only makes those people worse and the rest of  us hurt and confused. If you focus on the problem, and how to fix it, you can depersonalize the issue and calm down the jerk in front of you. I worked in food and beverage for many years, and I know that sometimes people are just looking for any slight - no matter how small - to get discounts or free food. But most people are good and kind and want to do the right thing and have a good experience. Don't overlook us.

The horrible people don't just make your job harder; they make EVERYONE'S jobs harder. We're all in this together. Us against the entitled assholes. Let's win this.


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