Sunday, January 23, 2005

Customer service over the phone hits a Wal

I call Wal-Mart to ask about a vacuum, and the woman who answers mumbles. She forwards my call to "domestics" (strange name, probably internal terminology?). The man who picks up in "domestics" greets me with: "Hello?" Hello? I ask if he can tell me about whether a specific vacuum is in stock, but before I get to tell him the name of the vacuum he says, "Hmm, hold on...." I'm on hold. I hear clicks. I'm disconnected.

Call back. Mumbling woman answers the phone.
"I just called about the vacuum...."
"Oh, did domestics pick up?"
"Yeah, but they hung up on me."
"Oh, let me try again."
"Well, domestics isn't picking up. They might be out to lunch. We're a little short-staffed." They might be out to lunch?

Ari Weinzweig, in his nifty little handbook "Zingerman's Guide to Giving Great Service", points out that being short-staffed falls squarely into the category of the business's problems, not the customer's.

I ask about getting inventory information from someone outside of "domestics" but I'm told that only managers have access to store-wide inventory. So where's the manager on duty? Out to lunch.

How does the episode conclude? Ms. Mumbles asks me if I can call her back. She should have taken my number and called me back when she's ready.

Of course, this is Wal-Mart. What can I expect? Better. Is it impossible to motivate a huge workforce like the front-lines at Wal-Mart? To have a culture of quality service, even at their price point? But money talks, especially at the Wal. Couldn't they do even better business if they did? How would such an influence affect communities surrounding these stores? Rather than resorting to publishing open letters and setting up a PR website to defend Wal-Mart's spotty reputation as an employer and corporate citizen, CEO H. Lee Scott, Jr. could let a positive culture of service speak for itself.