by María L. Trigos-Gilbert

“Have a good day.” “How are you doing today?” “Did you find everything okay?” “Thanks for shopping here.” Those words are nice after you have spent a pretty good amount of money in any given store. Certainly the amount of importance varieties from one customer to another. For example, if I spend $100.00 in one place, this may not be a big amount of money for you, though it may be a big deal for me. The case is that we all want good service, in spite of the amount of money that we may spend in a store, restaurant, or any other place.

My First Impressions
Part of my roots are from Caracas, Venezuela. Caracas has as many people as China has rice. I do not expect great service most of the time in Caracas because the population index reaches to millions of people. Yet there are places in Caracas where you will get great service. Most of the time the ones giving good service are those who really want to stay in business, or really need the job. Of course, service improves in Venezuela when you get far from the big city of Caracas a city that never sleeps. This is not the case in small towns or rural states of Venezuela. Service in those little towns of Venezuela is really good in comparison to the one given in Caracas.

You may say that this is normal for a big city. Then I agree with you totally. Now the fact is that I am very surprised to put it in nice words when in small towns or rural states of the USA this does not seem to be the case. I live in Monroe, LA. When I first got here, I was super glad that the service was better than the service in Caracas. Yet the more I live here; the more I realize that this is not the case. Without an apparent reason, you may get bad service practically just for the heck of it. This is how I feel and what I have experienced living in Monroe, LA. At times I do not even want to get out to buy groceries because of the headache. Yes, I do get out to buy groceries, but this is not without wondering about the good service or bad service that I may get.

Wal-Mart or Wal-Mad?
When Wal-Mart started its business in the south, many small businesses faced bankruptcy. The elderly people were not eager to go into this change that took place a good while back. I do understand their concerns; I do agree that change is not an easy task for the most part. Yet, when they used Wal-Mart to get what they needed and calculated the good prices that this chain of stores offered, they started to get a bit more comfortable with these new big stores that took their towns, in a way even their way of living and thinking. Time has passed, and if we were to ask those elderly people, who may still exist, their opinion about Wal-Mart, we may find out that they think of these big stores like big swamps, no more no less.

Wal-Mart started with great thoughts. They studied their business and decided to mark out the retailers from their list. So they did business directly with the companies that created all what they wanted to sell in these stores. Certainly the prices had to be good, in comparison to the little stores that bought their goods from the retailers. Wal-Mart gave opportunities of all kinds to their customers, even more Wal-Mart gave employment opportunities to many people. Everybody had a chance with Wal-Mart. People started to love these stores where they found all what they could possibly want or need.

Wal-Mart and Its Present Time
Something is wrong with Wal-Mart. Yes, the prices are still a bit better in comparison to the small stores, but the service has changed. Nowadays customers have to beg Wal-Mart employees in order to get decent service, or any service at all. There are times when one asks for a particular product, and the employee is not helpful by any means. The famous sentence, “I don’t know,” becomes their prayer. This makes customers upset and with plenty of reason. I have heard so many bad comments about Wal-Mart that it is very difficult to put an end to those thoughts. Nevertheless, I will list the ones that I remember the most from some Wal-Mart customers.

Wal-Mart Is… People Say
I once heard a man in Wal-Mart, when I was waiting in line at the cash register, saying that EVERY TIME he went to Wal-Mart he needed a drink before and after. Then he said, “If it wasn’t because my mother needs all this stuff, I wouldn’t be here.” Those words were kind of harsh toward Wal-Mart. Yet I have noticed people in a hurry to get what they want and leave as soon as possible because of the hassle of being in a Wal-Mart store. I will put it as I once was told, “Wal-Mart makes you insane, a serious nervous breakdown.” I have been thinking seriously about all those comments besides the one that says, “I am going to the zoo,” meaning Wal-Mart the zoo.

It is sad people feel that way about one of the most important companies in the South. One of the biggest store in their towns. Of course, as sad as it may be, it is the truth. As Latin people would say, “You cannot hide the sun with one finger.” This expression has a lot of meaning; we cannot physically or psychologically hide the fact that Wal-Mart chain of stores are like a swamp, or a Chinese cookie. It is hard to guess what the Chinese cookie has inside for us from one time to the next. You know that there is a surprise, but you may or may not like it.

Wal-Mart Employees
I am delighted that Wal-Mart gives an opportunity to everybody. A lot of uneducated people work at Wal-Mart. Now do not take me wrong. I am not saying that these are bad people. I am not saying that I dislike Wal-Mart employees. What puzzles me the most, is the real meaning of uneducated people. What is an uneducated person? We could agree that this is a person who may not have too much knowledge about pure science, social science, or literature just to name some of the many possibilities, of what may define an uneducated person. I consider myself in the best sense of the word, and with much humbleness, an educated person. Nevertheless, a very wise person one day said what I truly feel, “The more I know; the less I know.” Yes, this is my case. What makes us people, good people, is not our pure science, social science, or literature knowledge.

Therefore, if Wal-Mart employees do not have a high school diploma or a college degree that is not a problem for me. I would think that this is not a problem for most of Wal-Mart customers as long as they are getting good service. You do not learn to smile, to wish well, and to respect others in college, though they may teach you so. You learn those things at home, and if you have not gotten this human tact or respect at home, I would say that you have to wake up and smell the coffee. The world does not revolve around your desires. The world is for all of us to live in here. So, why not make of this a livable place? Dear reader, do not take this personal; this is for Wal-Mart employees.

When I write Wal-Mart employees, I am not just referring to the cashiers. My list starts from the very top, managers, to the very bottom as so may be janitors. Let me clarify that. I am not trying to put the janitors as the insignificant people of Wal-Mart. On the contrary, if they do not clean well, we will be walking in a massive mess, a very undesirable picture. Now numerically talking, janitors are supposed to earn a lot less than managers earn. Therefore, my list consideration is salary. My list is not about who is the most important, or the less important. I do think and believe that all the employees at Wal-Mart are super important as individuals and as employees.

Bad Experiences at Wal-Mart
I have already mentioned some words that people say about or against Wal-Mart. I do consider that now is my turn to really talk about my experiences at Wal-Mart. I will list them in order. The first experiences will be the ones that took place very recently, and the last ones a good while back (from one to three years ago). So you be the judge, though I will give my thoughts since this is my turn to express not just what other people say, but my ventures.

A week ago, I went to Wal-Mart to buy some groceries. Well, everything was going smoothly until this woman, instead of giving me the bags, started to talk to one of her co-workers. So I had to reach for the two bags because she just kept talking to her co-worker. Of course, I was very upset because she did just the very least. She did not care about giving me the bags as she was supposed to do. She just did not care. Wondering, if she really needs the job, how come she is not taking it seriously? This is very awkward, but true.

Three weeks ago and for three weeks, my husband was not feeling well. He got a bad summer cold, and we needed a thermometer to take his body temperature. I went to Wal-Mart just to buy the simple kind of thermometer, since more likely they had all kinds. I looked around for a reasonable priced thermometer, but the ones I saw were priced $44.00 and $99.00. I was willing to buy the one priced $44.00 since this was not about going to the movies, but my husband being sick. Nevertheless, I did remember that I saw the traditional ones that cost $10.00 or so. So I went and asked a Wal-Mart employee. She looked at me, and then said, “I don’t know. Have you asked someone from that department?” I kept silent for a few seconds, though I just wanted to scream at her. I calmly said, “Well, if I had found someone from that department, why would I be here asking you?” She answered with the truth, “I do not know where the thermometers are.” Yes, she answered honestly. I believed her; she did not have a clue where the thermometers were located! The fact is that her honesty did not help me. So I went to another store in town, a bit more expensive, but better service.

At least one year ago, I went to buy some Swiss cheese, Cajun roast beef, pastrami, and so on. Sometimes during the weekends my husband and I just want to eat something light. We want to go into the country side of Louisiana and have a good time, eating fruits and sandwiches. Wal-Mart started to sell pineapple jam. This kind of jam has a great taste. One day, I did not look that they did not have pineapple jam. I just asked for a half pound of pineapple jam. So one of Wal-Mart’s delicatessen (deli) workers, just looked at me as if I were an alien, and had asked her to give me part of her skin with some pineapple on it. She said to me, “What kind of jam are you talking about?” Yes, that did it for me. I said to her, “Listen. You guys have been selling pineapple jam for a considerable period of time. Now, are you trying to tell me that you don’t have a single clue about it? God help me. This is it.” You are guessing well; I left upset and without the pineapple jam.

Approximately two years ago, once again this took place at Wal-Mart, personally Wal-Mad. I know that the conservative people are super glad that here in Louisiana there is no selling of liquor on Sundays. Isn’t that lovely? Oh come on. This is to be just a real hypocrite. Buy all the liquor that you can afford BEFORE Sunday’s curfews. Yet this is besides the point. The matter is that I wanted to buy a NON-ALCOHOLIC drink. This bottle looked like an alcoholic bottle for my bad luck. I argued with the cashier that the bottle said, “NON-ALCOHOLIC.” So little I understood why she did not want to sell me this NON-ALCOHOLIC drink. It is like forbidding to sell Root Beers on Sundays, just because the name of the drink says, “…Beer.” Is it some kind of beer? Please, it is a soft drink.

I am not saying that they denied me the right to buy root beers on a given Sunday. I am saying that they refused to sell me a nonalcoholic drink just because the bottle looked like an alcoholic drink. They did not care that the bottle clearly read, “NON-ALCOHOLIC.” A woman, perhaps the manager, literally told me, “I am not going to sell it to you PERIOD!” Yes, she screamed that PERIOD. I was pretty ashamed. I felt as if my rights were taken away by people who could not even read, or at the very least accept the fact that I was within my rights to buy this non-alcoholic drink.

Then you wonder so many things about them. They are the kind of people who cannot read, apparently! They are the kind of people who go to church “too” often. They live by that saying, “WWJD.” “What Would Jesus Do?” Well, I tell you what he would have done. He would have gotten upset, called them liars, and perhaps offered a Non-Biblical Sunday School with the purpose of teaching them how to read “NON-ALCOHOLIC.” I am not saying that Jesus would have gotten away from his beliefs. I am saying that He would have taught them how to read. Jesus’ life was pretty practical, though people tend to put him in a crystal box where He cannot be touched or reached. Isn’t that funny or awkward? Personally, I do think so.

The Other Side of the Coin
Certainly I have to say that there are some Wal-Mart customers that deserve the bad service. Before I started to write this article, I interviewed a Wal-Mart employee, and an ex-employee. The one who is presently working at Wal-Mart works in the Customer Service department. The ex-employee was an assistant manager. They both told me their stories, and the truth is that they were honest with their stories. They tried to look at both sides, Wal-Mart and customers.

For the purpose of saving these people’s privacy, I will changed their names. Let the one working at Wal-Mart be Pat, and let the ex-employee be Tom. Pat told me the department she works in is the most amusing place to work for Wal-Mart, Customer Service. This department could make one mad, insane. Some of Wal-Mart customers are real cheaters, the ones that you wonder about their existence. They lie about what they bought or did not buy. Let me illustrate this with what Pat told me.

One day this woman comes with a computer that she bought. She said that the computer was not working properly. This is when Wal-Mart used to sell computers. So the woman wanted her money back. Yet, since this was not a $10.00 deal, the manager decided to try to the computer. He checked it to find out what the computer could have had wrong. SURPRISED, the computer could not function because all the inside parts, which were vital for the computer to function well, were taken out, literally! Yet the computer did not seem to be weightless. It seemed to have some sort of weight. Guess what? The woman had put some sand inside of the computer. Now she had parts of the computer at home or at her office, and still wanted her money back. One word defines such person, SICK!

Tom’s story, he said that being the assistant manager took a lot of his most needed hours of work. So there were times when he had to stay longer than he should had because there were jobs to get done, pending. Yet Wal-Mart does not believe in overtime. So if you are a full-time employee, and you have a lot of work pending, but the clock is telling you that you are in your 39th hour, it is time to go home (in spite of the much work that you have to get done because Wal-Mart will not pay you over time). What was Tom doing all the day long that he could not get done all his job? People found out that the Wal-Mart in Monroe, LA had a terrific assistant manager. These customers wanted to ask Tom all what they could possibly need because they knew that they got a wonderful service. Poor Tom, the other side of the story is that this was getting on his nerves. People wanted to talk to the good Tom, but Tom had a lot of work to do. His manager did not look at that point. Tom was becoming important. He was an assistant manager for the people and with the people. At times without being paid Tom stayed just to get all his day’s job done.

Yes, Tom did a terrific job at Wal-Mart, but Wal-Mart did not look at this. Tom got hired by one of the most important companies in Monroe, LA. He has an excellent salary; his work overtime is appreciated. He has opportunity of investing in this equal opportunity company. They realize how knowledgeable Tom is. Of course, this company wants to have Tom forever. They know that this guy knows his job. He knows how to deal with people. He respects human beings, yet he also knows that there is a limit to the good deeds if he is getting pushed by bad customers. So we are not talking about Jesus, but Tom. This is to say that Tom is wonderful. Yet he recognizes as well as I do that he is just a human being who has decided to do the best of his life.

Yes, the conclusion is that Wal-Mart has good and bad people working in their chain of stores. The bad employees make up for the good ones. The good employees are becoming like gold on the streets, hard and unthinkable to find, and lucky if you find at least one. This is Wal-Mart’s case. On the other hand, bad and good customers Wal-Mart also has. The bad customers make the nice customers to pay for their wrong doings. Do you remember your rights? “YOU ARE INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY?” Well, at times this is not Wal-Mart’s case. We are all guilty just because there are some people out there doing what they are not supposed to do. So the treatment is careless; the service gets to the minimum. Are you getting the picture? I think so, good for you.

I do know that to work with the public or for the public is not easy. Now the thing is that to work is not easy at all. There are activities that we like about our jobs as there are activities that we dislike about our jobs. One of my bosses once told me what she said to her son, “Son, life is tough, and then you die.” Those are simple words with multiple meanings. I think that we just have to take the best out of life. The bad part needs to be overlooked. Yet we must not forget that procrastination and apathy are the worst enemies for one’s realization!

If you think that I have been too harsh with this article, just think about the at least four years of silence, since the first year was more a trial and error activity than anything else. I have been living in the USA five years (last June made five years). Think about the many times that I have gone to Wal-Mart, and left without what I needed or wanted. Think about the many people who feel the way I do. This is not just about Wal-Mart vs. Customer, but even worst Wal-Mart vs. Employee. This is not just about an isolated case, but constant actions. Therefore, there is a constant pain. You may ask, “Why do you go there at all?” Well, Monroe, LA is not as big as Caracas or New York City. The choices are not as numerous as big cities are. On the other hand, why would I stop shopping and getting what I need just because they refuse to give a good service? I pay just what I ask. I act nicely. I respect their policies, but I do think that the time has come for them to respect me as a person and as a customer.

I am not saying that all the times at Wal-Mart have been a serious nightmare. I have had good times, decent times at Wal-Mart. Yet they do not make up for the bad times as disgusting as this may sound. I am to the point of missing my life in Caracas, or in a big city. At least there you know that you are not going to get a good service because Caracas is too big, too many people. When you get good service in Caracas, you feel lucky. Of course, there are good companies, good places to go! Even more Caracas is changing, places are adopting the USA good customer service policy. The detail is that Venezuelans do not know that people in the USA have a lot to complain about customer service. Wal-Mart is just the most obvious example since I life in Monroe plus this is one of the biggest companies to get what you need or want.

I always have a dream. One day I may have employees in the businesses that my husband and I have. I will follow what my father has done for all these years in Caracas, Venezuela with his company. Customer is number one! They deserve respect. Yet my parents have always told me, “Nice treatment must start inside to the outside. If in our company, employees do not respect employees, employees will not respect our customers. Then our customers will not like us, and bankruptcy may knock our doors.” Simple recipe, but it seems to me that some people find it hard to follow.

If Wal-Mart believes that they will never fall from their throne just because these chain of stores are the kings of the kings, I have gotten news for them. They should believe me when I say that I will give them the hardest time that they could have possibly thought of having. There is not Wal-Mart if there is not US, because we are the ones with the money, going to these stores to get different goods.

Remember dear reader, this is not for you, though I do want you to read it! The more we read it and get together to help each other, the more powerful we become as customers around the whole USA. You may think that this does not affect you. Yet you may be experiencing a hard time with a similar store, but a different name, and in a different location. Yet the case is still the SAME! I thank you for taking the time to read this article.