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

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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