On the front page of The Wall Street Journal’s Business and Tech section, June 19th, was an article, “Welcome Back, Wal-Mart Greeters” subtitled, “To deter theft, and improve its customer service, the chain is bringing back a Sam Walton invention.”
Greeters are returning not only to say welcome with a smile, but also to act as “asset protection customer specialists.” What exactly does that mean? The Greeters are supposed to greet and make sure no one is leaving the store with any unpaid items. In other words, the Greeters are there to deter theft. In my line of thinking, the concept is an oxymoron. It’s impossible to check receipts as people are exiting at the same time as saying hello and helping them to find what they need. If Wal-Mart wants to stop shoppers from stealing as the article portrays, security guards should be hired, like those employed by Home Depot or Bed Bath &Beyond. It should go without saying that the security staff should be friendly and respectful and focused upon customers leaving the store, not coming in. Greg Foran, Wal-Mart’s new CEO, told employees at a town hall meeting that they should walk the customer to the department after greeting them. That is customer friendly. But, I’m not sure how that’s going to work if they are primarily at the door to check receipts.
The author of the article reports, “The company is also boosting wages for some employees to give them more incentive to be more helpful and attentive.” I am a big believer in paying bonuses, but not for staff performing their everyday responsibilities. Associates should be hired who are natural relationship builders. Policies, procedures and training must be in place to further the effort. Unfortunately if staff is paid minimum wage or slightly above, the pool of talented people will be less.
In my opinion, all box stores should place their staffing, training and budgets around hiring people to check-out customers, who are passionate about service, know the stock, have great memories for regular buyers and interact with customers person-to-person. The most important position at any Wal-Mart store is the associate at the checkout counter. That employee should be well compensated. After all, the associates at the checkout counters are the only staff who consistently interact with customers.
It is the same with any grocery or food chain. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods certainly employ people who are highly capable of having a conversation with customers. Wal-Mart has experimented with scanning and in-side store kiosks where customers could checkout in advance, all to no avail.
Wal-Mart should not bring back Sam Walton’s invention of the greeter. Greeters were never supposed to act as security patrols anyway. Instead, make the checkout counters into welcomer-counters. Especially with Wal-Mart building smaller sized stores and stocking grocery items to encourage regular visits, having associates who know the customers’ names, buying preferences and when their kids will be graduating from high school would make Sam Walton smile.
What do you think?