"No, I can't help you": A story of Walmart and the death of Customer Service

"No, I can't help you": A story of Walmart and the death of Customer Service

"Aim at perfection in everything, though in most things it is unattainable. However, they who aim at it, and persevere, will come much nearer to it than those whose laziness and despondency make them give it up as unattainable." - Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield 

The art of customer service is not one of perfection. Crank customers, tightwad bosses and lazy co-workers make life harder when one resides in a world of retail joy. I've never worked in a retail store or really any job that requires direct contact with customers or patrons. What I am armed with is common sense and, spurred on by the following story, I decided to write this critique.

I was at the Walmart Store in Glen Ellyn, IL, casually wasting time before a singing gig at a nearby church. I was mindlessly browsing in any section I fancied until I remembered Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman was released in paperback not too long ago. Since I collect Lee's books, I decided to go to Walmart's book section to investigate.

For those of you aren't frequent customers of Walmart's book library I need to tell you that it is one of the most pitiful in retail history, mostly consisting of the newest hits from the gruesome grinders (i.e. Danielle Steel, James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks, and the like) and the most common religious books and teen novels. I had seen the paperback I was looking for at a different Walmart earlier in the week and I was dismayed, once I got home, to learn that I'd forgotten to go back and buy it.

When I reached the section, I was greeted with disorganized chaos, different volumes stacked in from of each other and half of them in the wrong places to begin with. After fifteen minutes of searching through the mire, I decided to consult my phone and check Walmart's website to see if it was in stock in this particular store, and it was.

Since it wasn't on the shelf, I decided to go ask one of the employees to help. There were two men wandering around the entertainment section, so I decided that was the best place to start. I approached the first employee, who I clocked to be able 25 or 26, and told him about my search and that their inventory said they had a copy in stock.

"Oh, you can't trust the website because it isn't updated enough," He said. His next question was, perhaps, the most infuriating: "Did you check the book section?"

Ignoring the obviously rhetorical question, I asked that since he didn't seem to be doing anything but leaning against a desk, if he'd be willing to check the stock in the back of the store to see if they had a rogue box of books that hadn't been shelved yet? Turning to his co-worker, the other man I was going to ask if my entreaties couldn't be met by this lad, he shouted, "Hey, we got any boxes of books in the back?"

The gruff older man, who I analyzed as anywhere between 65 and death, grunted that he didn't think so. Since the answer was vague, I asked the younger man to please check the stockroom to check that they didn't have any boxes of books. The result of my five minutes of conversation was summed up in the words of the employee (or should I say word?) And that word, surprise surprise, was "No."

As I was in the process of leaving the store, I took a shortcut through the clothing section. An employee, noticing my determination no doubt, approached my and asked whether I needed help finding something. I said, rather peeved, that since two of her fellow workers were unwilling to go the extra inch to help me, I didn't expect anyone else to either. I left, chuckling to myself, but seriously concerned.

This story sums up my opinion of Walmart in the most parabolical way possible. I had a simple request, one that could easily have left a better taste in my mouth even if they didn't have the book I wanted. My mother, who used to work at Walmart, summed up perfectly what a Walmart Employee should do in that situation. She said that, if a customer asks for an item, even one that they employee knows is out of stock, they should go back and check. It may be a pointless and fruitful mission but it will leave the customer with a sunnier disposition than flat-out denying them.

Laziness in employees runs rampant in these stores. I've seen everything from an employee dropping food on the floor and putting it back in the container to managers who weigh about 670 pounds struggling to walk and with dispositions that would make The Grinch balk. These employees are simply unwilling to go the extra mile for the customer.

It used to be that the pride and joy of an establishment was the help they hired. If you went to a country store in 1876, if you were so coldly turned away by an employee that employee wouldn't last they day, let alone 25 years like some hapless Walmart Employees.

Another time I went to Walmart and was utterly crushed was a purchase that was much more expensive than a book: A laptop. I saw a model I liked and decided to ask the employee standing nearby to see if they had any boxes of this specific laptop in the back, as they boxes under the display were empty. Let me state that, all levity aside, this employee looked one mental step above a lobotomy patient and had the personality of a house plant. Every simple favor I asked was greeted with gruff denials and shoddy customer service. I left saddened and discouraged.

It doesn't take much to make a customer happy and, as an employee in a retail store that you decided to work at, it is up to you to show even the barest semblance of trying to please those who buy the items that fuel your machine. I don't expect to have my rear-end fluffed, but I do expect a smile and a soupçon of effort. Walmart truly needs to reevaluate their hiring processes and screen better, so these types of degenerates wouldn't make it past the application process. Experiences like mine aren't uncommon either. The two stories I've outlined today are the norm in every single Walmart I have gone to and I am seriously considering giving up going to these dens of sloth.

I implore all of you who shop at Walmart to demand more positive customer service from their employees and try to get them to institute real change in an organization that has the potential to be a truly wonderful place to shop. This blog will be sent to Walmart's Corporate Representative. If you wish to email them as well, this is the web page that will best suit your needs: https://corporate.walmart.com/contact-us/store-corporate-feedback

And, for those of you who were wondering how this cliffhanger would end, I bought the book at Target.

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  • I worked in customer service for a drugstore chain in high school and college handling returns and processing film (yeah I know I'm old) plus I've been to that Walmart in GE so I was curious to read this.

    While I agree that particular Walmart is depressing - only went there twice when the power was out at Jewel and needed to get dinner and when my kid needed project materials - not much has changed in 20 years and it's not just Walmart. Personally I think most of us tried but got burned out on bending over backward for customer requests. Yours was very reasonable and at most stores would be accommodated quite easily but some I dealt with were just ridiculous.

    If you haven't already, definitely watch the movie "Clerks" sometime. They take customer indifference to a whole new level.

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