An Open Goal for 2006

29 December 2005

During 2006 I’d like to interview Mr. Lee Scott, CEO of Wal-Mart for about one hour – in person. All of my questions during that interview will relate to how he views Wal-Mart’s performance in the areas of quality and customer service. Let me explain.

First, I’ve previously written Mr. Scott in an open letter here. That letter was prompted by a bad experience with the automotive department at one of Wal-Mart’s stores. Recently, the scene was repeated with some really bad twists. Yes, I went back.

I like to buy Michelin tires at Wal-Mart, because they are cheaper than anywhere else I’ve found. However, once things began to go horribly wrong in the area of customer service, I asked one Wal-Mart employee, “Do you or any of your co-workers really care about what’s happening to me or these other folks that have been waiting?” The answer came with a vacant stare, “Not really.”

My experience left me pondering Wal-Mart’s particular challenges in the areas of quality and customer service. It seems to me there are three areas where Wal-Mart’s “risks” go beyond merely selling a product and letting the manufacturer of the product handle complaints. Those three areas are automotive services, pharmacy services and food storage services.

If I buy a hammer, hit my thumb with it and want to sue someone for my stupidity, I’d have to look to the hammer manufacturer – not Wal-Mart. However, if I buy a side of beef that has been stored at improper temperatures and the block party sends a herd of people to the emergency room, Wal-Mart might have some exposure. Similar scenarios can be cooked up with pharmacy operations.

Let me be perfectly clear. These are extreme, ridiculous examples. I have no intention of entering into any form of litigation with Wal-Mart.

All of this is driven by a desire to see the company improve. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with so many of the things others are using to slam the company. Outsourcing is fine. Employing people at prevailing rates with prevailing benefits is fine. Making suppliers find new ways to cut costs, become more effective and improve service is fine. Aggressively moving into new markets is fine.

My belief – and what I’d like to talk to Mr. Scott about – is that with some rather simple improvements in customer service practices, Wal-Mart might go further in countering the naysayers than with any public relations budget or morale-boosting campaign.

Continue to be known as the place to go for low prices, but add a touch of kindness and customer appreciation and the sky is the limit.

Clearly, I’m tipping my hand. Mine is not going to be a contentious interview. Rather, I want to have an open dialog about quality, customer service and how he views things. I’m a fan of what of Wal-Mart wants to be. Capitalism is the only way to go. Wal-Mart’s critics and those clamoring for “social reform” must constantly weigh their social causes against the risk of becoming socialists.

I just want to talk about how you bring a servant’s attitude to over a million employees. We can meet anywhere at any time that is convenient for both of us. We can meet in Bentonville. We can meet in at an airport where you’ll be traveling. We can meet at a Wal-Mart store.

To those assuming this is some idle dream, it’s not. If we have a discussion that ultimately makes Wal-Mart one of the friendliest and most convenient places for customers to get great prices and great service attitudes, well, we will produce one of the highest returns on the investment of an hour’s time in the history of free enterprise!

It’s a fun goal. Mr. Scott, let’s talk.

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  1. Mike Winterthieme    29 December 2005, 13:20    #

  2. Steve    29 December 2005, 13:35    #