A National Disservice: American Business vs You

I did a very un-Christian-like thing in Wal Mart the other day. I left my loaded cart standing in the middle of the check out aisle, telling a young employee “It’s all yours dude. Have fun with it.” Oh, and the cart had two gallons of ice cream in it. Good thing I don’t wear Christian tee-shirts anymore.

I’ve finally had it with Wal Mart. I have been forgiving their execrable service for too long. This visit was typical: Most of the items that interest me are missing prices. After hauling the items around the store looking for the poorly marked price scanner I find the device broken, yet again. In the music section none of the ‘convenient’ listening posts are very helpful with my selection. They are all broken and apparently have been since they were installed. Approaching the cashiers I am confronted with very long lines. It is mid-afternoon on Saturday, the busiest time of the week, and they have less than half of their registers manned. Some of them even have their lights out – the cashiers are going on exceptionally well timed breaks.

Choosing a smaller self-checkout line I wait about 20 minutes until it is my turn, all the while listening to a loud recorded voice repeatedly recite “You have activated Wal Mart’s security system! Please wait for assistance!” as hapless innocents are cavity searched for contraband. Finally I am at the register and after the third time the computer tells me that there is an “unknown item in the bagging area” I throw up my hands and leave. Thank God Wal-Mart is there to provide us with the best prices available on Chinese made goods. How in the world did we survive before they ran off all those uncompetitive local merchants?

So I go down the road to Sears (K-Mart in disguise) and I am pleasantly confronted with a very uncrowded store manned by a sharp looking sales staff in crisp uniforms, all eagerly awaiting an opportunity to serve me. I am sympathetic, having worked for commissions myself in the past. I peruse the hardware section (terribly expensive Craftsman tools presented along side very cheap looking K-Mart offerings) and I am again plagued with missing price tags. Their ‘convenient’ price scanner is down as well. Meanwhile the crisp sales staff are standing about awaiting the arrival of customers. I am no longer so sympathetic. Perhaps their down time could be spent putting price tags on the shelves? Anyway, S-Mart doesn’t have what I want and I split.

I consider going to Home Depot but they are mobbed and it is absolutely impossible to just run into that store, find what you need, check out and leave in under 30 minutes. You need a map to locate your potential purchase, often it is down an aisle they have blocked off with orange gates while three of them try to figure out how to operate a fork lift and the only check-out aisles open are the four self-service types, one of which is always broken.

(If you think that poor service is a only a product of discount chains you have never been to an Apple store. Last year I spent an hour in one only to be told that there were no “Geniuses” available to replace my faulty IPod with a used and rebuilt one (fully warrantied yet they only replace them with used product…hmm.). You need to be a genius to exchange boxes with someone?

Meanwhile my car is in the shop having a new (used) engine put in, to the tune of $1500. One reason that I bought this Saturn LW200 (they changed the name every year, to fool us) was because the engine uses a timing chain instead of a belt. Unlike expensive rubber timing belts, steel timing chains are designed to last as long as the engine. Except for Saturns, that is. My chain broke at a little of 70,000 miles. Over 42,000 incidents of timing chain failure with this model Saturn have been recorded (which is estimated to be less than half of all incidents). The NTSB is looking into a safety recall and there is a class action lawsuit in the works. I just signed on.

What does GM/Saturn have to say about this? “Gee, that’s too bad. It must be due to owner negligence – too infrequent oil changes. But heck, even though we just insulted you let us put in a new engine for only around six grand“. Which leads me to ask the question; Why are Saturn owners so damn negligent? Have the plastic body panels lulled us into a false sense of automotive immortality? Interestingly all their service managers received a factory bulletin telling them that as of the 2004 model year there were changes made to the engine for the purpose of rectifying this ‘non-existent’ problem. I was going to buy another Saturn, trading in my wife’s van for something a little smaller. I’m driving a Hyundai now and you know what? Not only is it less expensive it’s built a hell of a lot better than what’s currently coming out of Detroit.

There are a few American companies that stand out well in the area of customer service, though right now I am having a hard time thinking of any. Why do we keep on taking this crap? With me, I’ve been working under the assumption for the past few years that angry and irate does not come under the heading of “Christ-like” behavior. I think now it’s time to start tipping over some tables, slinging some rope and abandoning more carts in the aisle.


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  1. #1 by Ricky on May 24, 2008 - 10:21 am

    Haha. That was a great post, and that’s mostly why I never go to Wal-Mart for anything. As well as Sears; I don’t like stores that have employees paid on commission.

    Also, I work at Best Buy, so I hope that we have never given you any bad experiences if you’ve perused our stores.

  2. #2 by Christian on May 25, 2008 - 8:23 am

    Nah Ricky, Best Buy is cool – so far 😉 . And I’ve even had good experiences at WalMarts in other parts of the country, even other ones in Maryland. Commission is always bad – if people use the system correctly. Don’t buy it if the the salesman is rude or incompetent- just go down the street. And don’t tip for bad service.

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