Say what you want about Walmart, they know their customers and they know how to service them with excellence. As Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, authors of Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business explain, Walmart customers want lots of product variety and really low prices. These are the things that are most important to them. Conversely, Walmart does not waste much energy on the things their customers want the least, including personal service and quality lighting and a comfortable, inviting environment.
On the flipside, Frei and Morriss point out how amazingly successful the airline industry as a whole has been at completely missing the boat (pun intended) on the delivery of quality customer service. They are like the USPS of air travel, with one simple directive: Just deliver the package! But they can’t do it. They arrive late, they depart late, they lose luggage, and they treat you like a family burden. In fact, according to Frei and Morriss, only two airlines seem to get it – Southwest and Virgin – and coincidentally they are the only two profitable airlines in the industry.
So, ask yourself right now, what is most important to your customers? And what is least important to them? And how are you delivering on both ends? It may seem counterintuitive or paradoxical, but it is essential to excel at delivering what your customers want most and to fail at delivering what they want least.
And it all begins by knowing who your customers are and what is most important (and least important) to them. Which also means you need to conduct research, and you must be open to the possibility of completely changing your mindset and quite possibly your entire approach to customer service… and maybe even your business model.
But in the words of Steve Jobs, to be successful, you must be willing to think different and if necessary, cannibalize your own business with better products and services – the ones your customers want the most.
Recognizing that American consumers are “under renewed economic pressures”, Walmart CEO is confident that his scenario “could work in Walmart’s favor.”
In short, what’s bad for consumers could be good for Walmart. What a lovely and empathetic sentiment.
Mr. Duke, I wish you could be poor enough for one month to know what it feels like to run out of cash at the end of the month, as you so accurately portray the condition of the average Walmart customer. Do you really think that people who don’t have enough money for gas actually have enough money to shop at Walmart?
Maybe you didn’t mean what you said. Or maybe you didn’t mean it the way it came out. Or maybe you weren’t thinking clearly considering your audience (attendees of the Barclays Capital Retail & Restaurants Conference on Tuesday). I understand that you are a businessman and that your priority goals involve sales and profitability, but dude, show a little compassion.
If you really want to attract more customers to Walmart for all their shopping, and you want to ease their financial pressures, install a few Walmart gas pumps that offer a free gallon of gas for every $20 spent on Walmart products.
In America we call that “give and take.”
What does Walmart suddenly know that no one else seems to know? At a time when traditional retail sales are struggling to even stay in the shadows of online sales, Walmart has decided to increase its base of SKUs with more than 8,500 products it had previously removed from its already cluttered and overstocked shelves.
One might rightly ask: What’s up with that? Does Walmart suddenly care about its customers? I doubt it; this is the same retailer who maintains 30 checkout aisles in every store but only opens four at a time just to remind customers who is in charge. No, let’s be clear, Walmart hasn’t cared about customers since Sam Walton crossed over in 1992. And even he saw customers pretty much the same way P.T. Barnum saw them.
And that is just fine. People and their companies have the right to generate revenue and make profits, just as consumers have the right to avoid them or willingly hand over their hard-earned incomes. We are a free market economy… sell what you want, buy what you want.
But I have a bad feeling about this new Walmart move. I think they finally realized (or accepted) who their primary demographic is and they are now pulling out all the stops to get them back in their stores before it is all over. I think they now know that older Americans who don’t shop online and need somewhere to go during the day are a prime target. I think they know that middle and lower income families who have yet to embrace online shopping are a prime target. I think they know that a huge assortment of consumers looking for deals on things they simply can not or will not purchase online – everything from cotton balls and laundry baskets to cereal and spaghetti sauce – are a prime target. That’s a pretty diversified audience requiring a pretty diversified product line. And it sounds a little more like Sam’s Club or Costco than Walmart.
Then again, everybody loves a circus. So, maybe Walmart really does know something that no one else knows.