On Tuesday, 8 May 2013 I was in the Elk City Walmart. I try not to go there much anymore as these encounters always have some unpleasant experience associated with them. At this location it is usually the mandatory 30-minute wait. That does not mean I have stopped shopping at Walmart. I just go to the ones at Weatherford or Altus most of the time. I have been to Walmart’s in Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee where the store employees actually are glad to see you shopping and bringing business to them.
That is just not the case in Elk City, Oklahoma.
Why am I picking on Walmart? I’m not. I give them plenty of business, know many people that work or have worked there—some of them even managers, and use their photo services on a regular basis.
Picking up pictures was what brought me to the Elk City Walmart on this occasion. I grabbed a few items while I was there to include an impulse buy on fresh asparagus. The price was listed as $2.98 each for a small bundle that weight approximately 1 pound.
I noted that the price was per unit and not per pound. This was not my first Walmart rodeo. I was pleased that the laws of the universe had been temporarily suspended for part of this day and I did not have to wait the obligatory half hour in line. As I placed my items on the conveyor belt, I said, “Hello” to the cashier. Her nametag read, “Mary.” She looked at me without response.
She rang up my items in silence. Then came the asparagus. It rang up $3.48. I asked her if the $3.48 price was for the asparagus as the items were sliding across the scanner very quickly. She looked at something on her side of the counter and said, “Yes.”
I told her that they were marked $2.98 each. She said nothing, but went on ringing up the remainder of my items in silence. At the end of my items she said nothing, so I asked her if she could correct the price of the asparagus. She said that she could not.
I asked if she could find someone who could correct the price. Silently she flipped a switch on a pole next to the register and walked away. She was gone for a minute or so. While she was away, I told the people behind me that I had not planned on slowing them down. The couple both replied that they understood and frequently made the same request to correct the price.
I still felt a little awkward because they had to wait. I had broken the laws of the universe by not complying with the mandatory 30-minute waiting period in the line and now I was going to be the cause of the wait for all those behind me.
Finally, Mary returned with a manager. At least I thought he was a manager. He wore no nametag, but was a kid with a key. He put his key in the register and pulled up the item and told me that the price was $3.48. I told him that the items were marked $2.98 per bunch. He said that the price was $2.98 per pound. I asked him if he was going to change either my price or the price displayed in the produce section. He said nothing and began to walk away. I told the clerk to just remove the item from my purchase.
Ouch! The kid with the key had to stop after a couple of steps, come back, re-insert his key, and take off the asparagus. Still not a word from him or the cashier, but then again, it is tough to get anyone to work these days.
But that answer is not acceptable. Stores have managers, so I looked for the number for the Elk City store manager. Previously, there were signs with his name and number posted in conspicuous locations. I found none, so I would just look up the store online when I got home and call t he manager.
After loading my purchases (sans asparagus) into my truck, I decided to check my receipt. Sure enough, the manager’s name was on the receipt. It was Dustin Pfahler. I called the number next to it. I think the phone rang at the service desk.
I asked to speak to Dustin Pfahler. After a long silence, I was told that he was in a meeting. I asked to leave a message. You might have thought that I was asking the woman on the phone to come to my house and assemble a 244 part swing set. The request went immediately into the unmanageable category.
The person on the phone said that she was going home soon. That’s fantastic information but how in the world does it preclude someone from writing a simple message. Call this man at this number. After a repeated request and response as to why this woman would rather tell me why she couldn’t complete a 20 second task instead of doing it; I asked if she would put someone on the phone who could take a message.
After almost 2 minutes on hold, I hung up.
Why is this such an issue to me?
We the consumer set the standard for acceptable customer service. If we do not object and ask the local management to correct the situation, then the only other choice is to take my business elsewhere. I can’t think of a week where I did not spend at least $100 at Walmart. I am going to do my best to spend less than $100 at this Walmart for the rest of the year.
It is a mix of apathy and incompetence coupled with no concept of integrity that gets my goat. If I need to go to Walmart, I will go to Weatherford, Altus, or Yukon, or even the small one in Hobart.
Is this a lifetime commitment?
No. One day I will see if the management has changed or the manager has grown into the job, but my tolerance for incompetence is much less. I will not hesitate to walk away from my cart. That seems to be about the only language that some places understand.
In contrast to this dismissal example of customer service and nonexistent management, I offer the United Supermarket in Cordell, Oklahoma.
I am always greeted by every person in the store. These people enjoy their jobs. They are glad to have them. They are genuinely glad to see you in the store and to help you with even the smallest request. If something is not right, they insist on fixing it.
They cannot always compete on price on every item, but they are competitive on enough things that if I need grocery items, they are my first choice. I don’t live in Cordell or Elk City. Cordell is a little closer, but I will drive to the Cordell United over Walmart 9 times out of 10 and 99 times out of 100 if it is the Elk City Walmart that is half of this dichotomy.
How can 2 businesses that draw from the same labor pool produce such different outcomes?
I can think of a few reasons:
· Pride in workmanship
· Genuine concern for the customer
I am not ready to accept pitiful customer service and the absence of integrity as the new norm. I did return to the Elk City Walmart 2 days later to pick up pictures once again so I swung by the produce section to see if anything had changed. The price was marked by unit but had been raised to $3.78 each. I bet they still don’t ring up as listed, but I won’t wait in line half an hour to find out.