When I was young, I worked in a tough, uncensored warehouse. PC had only recently begun to stand for personal computer. Politically correct wasn't even on the radar.
So after depositing a skid of merchandise in the wrong shipping lane, an irritated foreman asked me: “I know you’re a dumb-ass. I get it. Why do you keep proving it to me?”
I want to ask the same question of my employers. But an inconvenient need for food and shelter renders this behavior risky. So I administer yet another self-inflicted bite to my poor, pockmarked tongue.
And my employers continue to see the circular firing squad as the best path forward.
Case in point is a part-time position I landed last spring at one of those big box home improvement stores. You know, the ones with everything from rebar and cement mix to sub-zero refrigerators and orchids. I’m sure there’s one in your neighborhood.
My training consisted of three eight-hour days spent watching videos—in solitaire. Videos about customer service and store procedures and how to operate equipment. Videos about workplace safety and sexual harassment and company policy. And then there were the videos on customer service.
Did I mention the ones on customer service?
I should add that the “hands on” portion of the training was eliminated because of insufficient staffing.
The hard part came when I was to convert the content of the videos into living, breathing, three-dimensional reality. But I spent my first three days in the self check-out area. I'm not sure what I was supposed to learn by watching people check-out, but I'm sure there was something.
Then an entire week passed before I was scheduled to work again. If this makes sense on another plane, it’s a flight I don’t have a ticket for.
A few weeks in, I discovered that the self-proclaimed industry leader who preached customer service non-stop got all obsessive-compulsive when it came to shaving payroll to a bare minimum that would make a stripper blush.
That insufficient staffing I encountered during training? It wasn’t an aberration—it was business as usual. Standard operating procedure.
As a consequence, customers can’t find salespeople. Employees attempting to contact other departments get busy signals when the phone doesn’t ring endlessly. And theft is rampant because aisle after aisle is bereft of even a token human presence.
You don't need the radio telescope in Arecibo to discover what kind of customer service this is. But no worries—Wall Street really loves our rate of return.
However much I enjoy having a customer stare a hole into me because I can’t get another department on the phone, or because the hardware section is completely uncontaminated by hardware clerks, it gets old. Really old.
And it’s not just the wee folk who suffer.
Department managers manage sour and dispirited staffs made up of underemployed part-timers because Wall Street says full-timers get benefits, and benefits are profit-killers.
So instead of juggling eight schedules, they juggle twenty. Instead of informing eight staffers of a new procedure, they (theoretically) inform twenty. And instead of tracking eight people's performance, they track twenty's. It must be wearying.
Then there are the monthly updates, which are little more than a mechanism for disseminating company propaganda.
Last month, the update focused on theft. I mean shrinkage. It offered fascinating statistics on theft, er, shrinkage, and what employees can do to combat it. And like the information contained in the training videos, it made perfect sense.
The problem is that the folks in training never got the memo from finance about payroll, so the gulf that exists between what this company wants to do and what it actually does remains unsullied by anything resembling a bridge.
I mean, I’d love to root between the two-dozen bags of cement mix/potting soil/road salt and grass seed customers routinely buy for circular saw blades, power tools and silver solder—just as soon as the 'wait to checkout' metric is eliminated. Ditto the one for 'cashier friendliness'.
Apparently, this needs to be said: you can’t have rapid check-outs and thorough inspections for hidden-on-purpose merchandise. They’re incompatible. Mutually-exclusive. A wordy oxymoron.
And while I’m at it, you also can’t staff a hundred-thousand square foot store with a dozen people and not expect thieves to have a free-for-all.
Let me know when you figure out what your priorities are. K?
My employer has demonstrated—repeatedly—they’re not about the customer service. They’re about extracting the greatest amount of cash from the store in the shortest amount of time with the fewest possible expenses.
It’s rape as a business plan.
The secret shoppers and the metrics and the marketing can't obscure that hoary old expression about actions speaking louder than words.
But as long as those guys with mansions in the Hamptons and fleets of Ferraris say it’s all good, it is.
Who am I to argue with success?