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Walmart.com To Customers: Don’t Call Us. We’ll Call You

Written by Evan Schuman
October 3rd, 2007

WalMart.com wants to make it clear: they’re not shutting down their online phone support. They’re just hiding it.

In an effort to force their online shoppers to use their online tools?and only their online tools?Walmart.com has decided to continue its online telephone helpdesk, but?I swear I’m not making this up?not tell anyone the phone number.

In the most literal example of “don’t call us, we’ll call you” attitude I’ve seen it quite some time, Walmart.com’s customer service people?at their discretion?may call some customers who are having difficulties, but they won’t disclose their phone number, which is a fairly effective way to discourage callers.

When pressed if there was any way customers could still call the online helpdesk, Walmart.com spokeswoman Amy Colella said that the old phone numbers still work, if you happened to have written them down.

There was ambiguity about whether 1-800-walmart?the number intended to support the brick-and-mortars?would help online customers, but there appears to be a prompt for them. (No one answered, though, when I tried.)

To clarify, Walmart.com isn’t pulling the plug on their phone customer service in two ways. If you happen to remember or can find their number, they’ll still answer, Colella said. The second way is that customer service reps who are reviewing may choose to call customers. How often? “We’ll escalate calls (to phone) as needed and as necessary,” Colella said. “We feel this is a good thing for our customers.”

When asked why it’s a good thing, Colella talked about the improved online tools. When asked how customers are likely to react to Walmart.com playing this strange “Call Me If You Can” game with them, she again talked about the new and improved online tools.

Walmart.com has traditionally had a policy of responding to E-mails within 24 hours, she said. But how can a 24-hour promised response time cut it on the Web, when rivals are quite willing to answer questions right here and now.

If a customer is trying to place items in a virtual shopping cart and the item won’t stay in the cart, will that customer want to wait 24 hours for an answer? What if an item says “10 in stock” on one screen and “out of stock” on another, how can the customer figure it out?

Walmart.com has stressed that they have a very effective shipping status app on their site, which they do. But what if the data isn’t correct? I had a situation a few months ago where the screen said an item had been delivered to my home and I knew for fact that it hadn’t been. Only a phonecall can resolve something like that. (Turned out FedEx delivered it to a neighbor two blocks away.)

That all said, Wal-Mart’s goal?to get customers to use the online tools and only to call with questions that can’t be handled online?is a worthy one. But instead of hiding the customer service phone number, perhaps it would be more effective to offer consumers tiny discounts whenever they place an order entirely using online tools?

If the goal is to push more activity online, that seems like a more effective approach.

The problem is that Walmart.com is starting to drink the Wal-Mart Kool-Aid.. Unlike the physical stores, Walmart.com doesn’t have any great hook. You upset a customer, they’re a mere click away from some other national retailer that will take their calls.


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2 Comments | Read Walmart.com To Customers: Don’t Call Us. We’ll Call You

  1. Jose Says:

    the is 800-925-6278 then press 1/3/1. :)

  2. Ed Says:

    I suspect that this is a continuation of the new retail ethos: It’s cheaper and therefore better to lose a few customers than to spend the customer-service money to keep them.

    Computers answering telephones and forcing callers through endless (and often broken) menus until they give up and go away is almost as effective as hiding the phone number, and it looks like Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart.com have adopted both strategies.

    Wal-Mart et al appears to be only one of many companies that have learned that they can dump buckets of stinky stuff on customers and we’ll keep coming back… or if we don’t there are ten customers in line behind us who will.

    With that many folks knocking the doors down to give you their money why spend it on customer service?

    Wal-Mart is rich and I am not, so they must know more than I do. One thing I suspect they know is that I and millions like me will keep coming back. Not much impetus there to improve customer service!

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