Saturday, November 12, 2011

Trying to Spend Money at Wal-Mart? Good luck


I love a good sale; there’s nothing like saving money—especially when you don’t have to spend money to do it.

Still, lately I have been having a hard time actually spending money. No, not because I’m adhering to a budget; not because I’m debating a large purchase or even haggling over prices: The store just won’t seem to take my money.  It’s an odd problem to have. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t complain, but these circumstances aren’t quite normal.

Last week I visited Wal-Mart to purchase new tires. On one hand I had reservations about purchasing tires from the same place I can purchase sweatpants and toothpaste; but, there’s a certain nostalgic quality reminiscent of Sunday shopping with my grandmother decades ago that eases the uncertainties. Back then, she shopped at Two Guys, a long gone “everything” store similar to Wal-Mart and perhaps more adept—though their bankruptcy would say otherwise—at taking money. So I was able to rationalize shopping for tires where I shop for life—at first.

When I stepped up to the counter it was like stepping into a sitcom. The customer in front of me had moved around the country; it seemed the only things that remained consistent over the past year were her love of mobility and her love for Wal-Mart. The employee searched for her client information using three different phone numbers before giving up and setting the customer up with a new account.  Ten minutes later, when it was finally my turn, another employee searched the computer system for my tires and found nine in stock and many more in stock that were higher than I wanted to pay.

The next part is a communication whirlwind. I say, “if I need four tires, I want four tires; if I only need two, put on two.”

They hear, “blah, blah, blah…two tires.”

About an hour later a somber faced mechanic comes out. He has broken the screw to the sensor and it looks like I am going to need a new one. I stare at the screw and the valve and then at the sensor and the mechanic. It seems an odd thing to show me, but he is intent that I see the connection: the gold-plated stub wedged between metal—yes, I see it.  The need for me to purchase a new one—no, I don’t.  First he says I need a new sensor. My sensor is broken? I ask. No, just the screw. And they don’t sell the screws? I ask. Well, I broke it, he explains—again.

He seems ready to launch into a complicated answer, instead he pauses reconsidering. “Let me check.”

The thing is we both know I’m not going to pay for a new valve or a new sensor.

Five minutes after a discussion with his supervisor, work begins again on my car.  Thirty minutes later it’s finished.

“You’re going to need two more tires really soon.”

“You didn’t put them on?” I ask.

I re-explain my explanation. “We can put them on but it will be another hour and a half,” the mechanic says. My car would be put back into the loop—I mean, in the back of the loop.

Against my better judgment, I decided to come back another day.  When I came back I was told it would be a one hour wait. I waited. Almost one hour later my car was still parked where I had left it neither finished nor worked on.  Still, my sense of “how can this happen again” drove me to try one more time. The last time I went, the attendant looked for my tires for ten minutes without finding them. If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it. He searched each tire on each shelf, even using the rolling ladder and a coworker.  Of course, he was looking for the exact tires I purchased last time without asking if I wanted a different brand.

The store manager recommended I order the tires online and have them shipped to the store for them to put them on.  I decided to go elsewhere.  I will stick to sweatpants and accessories for Wal-Mart and leave the car parts to companies who specialize in cars and servicing them.

Are your employees costing you money? If your employees won’t listen to your customers, someone else will. Train your staff to listen to your clients and address their needs; remind them to ask questions when they don’t understand and to give honest feedback when they do. Don’t let lack of communication cost you your clients; your competitors won’t.


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