Thanks to recent teacher layoffs and the miserable job market, I’ve gone from substitute high-school teacher (baby-sitting the region’s medicated teenagers) to Walmart associate (baby-sitting their drugged-out parents).
Teaching gave me weekends off for more pleasurable activities, like annoying the roommate’s cat or plucking my nipple hair. But this Sunday, I spent eight hours playing Avoid the Customer. It’s a challenging game where at the end of the day, I reward myself by not committing suicide.
Why do I play this game? Sanity. This weekend, for example, a middle-aged woman wandered into my bicycle-filled work area, and after seeing me seated behind a half-built cruiser, wrench in greasy hand, asked, “What do you do back here?”
Mostly, the game involves walking the least-trafficked routes through the store. When heading out to lunch, I took the path of least annoyance: through furniture, automotive and sporting goods (no surprise on that last one; many customers have at least one “X” on their clothing tags).
Next week, though, I’m adding a new trick: When asked for help, I’ll respond, “No hablo inglés.”
I didn’t always play this game. When first hired, I followed founder Sam Walton’s 10-foot rule: Whenever a customer wandered near me, I smiled, greeted them and asked if there was anything I could do to help.
But that was before the guy who was looking for blenders in the garden section. Or the woman who left her half-finished generic soda sitting in the toy section. Or the guy who shoved another customer’s kid out of the way to pull a pillow off the rack. Or the morbidly obese man who naps while charging his scooter in the store.
Even my supervisors, whose qualifications generally include being white, male and sporting unfortunate styles of facial hair, do their best to avoid the pawing hordes that make their miserable jobs possible.
A couple of months ago, Consumers Digest ranked Wal-Mart Stores Inc. dead last in customer service among big-box retailers. So was it coincidence that Sunday I spent a half-hour on a computer training video on customer service?
I tried not to gnaw my arm off as Gas-X commercial rejects enacted examples of less- and more-effective customer-service examples. We’re not supposed to act as though customers are interrupting us from our tasks, even though that’s exactly what they do.
Walmart keeps hammering it into its employees that we’re here for the customers. Bullshit. I’m here for a shitty paycheck so I can buy beer and rehash the life decisions that brought me to Walmart in the first place.
Walmart is America: underpaid workers cleaning up after malnourished customers purchasing Chinese sweatshop goods.
Save money. Live better.