By setting stores in competition against each other for customer ratings, Walmart is placing greater burdens and threats on workers

The writer, who works as an online grocery dispenser at a Walmart grocery store in the US, and experiences social anxiety symptoms, discusses how increased demands and threats are being placed on workers to achieve customer ratings in surveys and to compete in store rankings. This article was first posted on Cherry Northern’s WordPress blog, RaisedByOwls.

In a previous post, I revealed the culture that permeated my workplace. It’s a culture based on company image and competition against other Walmart stores. What this means is that people in my position–online grocery dispensers–must perform their primary roles (deliver customers’ goods to their vehicles in the parking lot) and arbitrary, yet obligatory, roles (convince customers to review their experience in order to boost the store’s rating among the local market and nation). But lately, it seems as if there’s been a shift. Now, the role we thought to be secondary in nature is starting to feel much more essential–both to the future of the department and the future of our very jobs.

Let me explain something through an example. If I were hired as a salesman, but couldn’t land a sale, what do you think would happen to me? I’d be fired, and rightfully so. Now, imagine if I were a salesman and–without much warning–my boss was demanding that I drive an eighteen-wheeler truck to deliver groceries to a wholesale store. First, this would lead to consternation since driving a truck was never part of my job description, nor what I signed up for. But imagine doing the job you signed up for and STILL not being good enough because you’re not performing well in a task that was never supposed to be yours anyway.

Just as in my last post, I still take issue with being pressured to ask customers to fill out online surveys referencing their experience with my customer service. To me, this is salesmanship and is not something I find inherently important to my role. If I had wanted to persuade customers to take action, I would have aimed to become a salesman. Prior to the fetishization of 5-star customer surveys, my job seemed simple and straightforward. You gather the order and take it out to the customer. Done. Easy. Simple. The way I like it. But now, there’s a new social element that is both bothersome to the employee and the customer. And things have become worse.

The boss of my department is a man I respect, and in general, has had a logical head on his shoulders. But something has changed. While I don’t mean to drag his name in the mud, my boss has tasted a bit of success (our store’s ranking is #1 in certain measurements) and has never seemed to come down from the high. I can imagine the stress of trying to stay on top. And of course it must be stressful to lead an entire department. Again, my aim is not to trash this boss of mine.

But I also think that my boss is blinded and has failed to consider the value that we, as workers in the department, bring.

So, where to begin?

Well, lately, we’ve been sloppy. It turns out that some customers have been getting items with poor quality. Things like brown lettuce would rightfully upset any customer. As a result of the sloppiness, we’ve been getting bad reviews. A 1-star review sets us back in a major way when you consider it takes 20 perfect reviews to make up for the damage one 1-star review brings. This metric is sadistic and unrealistic. It only serves to stress people out more. If you ask me, it’s arbitrary.

The boss was not happy about this and left an ominous note on the whiteboard. The note acknowledged the sloppiness and the mistakes. Since dispensers like me are the closest to the customer, dispensers take on most of the blame. For instance, we’re supposed to catch items that lack quality before they’re delivered. The problem is that we can’t catch everything, especially when it’s really busy in the afternoons. And I guess the “pickers” or shoppers hold no responsibility at all? If someone saw brown lettuce, then the lettuce shouldn’t have been picked in the first place. I digress.

A slew of bad surveys has brought down our CSAT score. CSAT is a fancy way to say, “Customer Satisfaction.” This metric is composed of the surveys that customers willingly complete after their experiences with picking up groceries. As you can imagine, the score is low. In fact, our boss made it clear it was the lowest it’s been since the opening of the department. Great. Let me think of something truly sad so I can at least shed a tear and pretend that some Walmart metric matters to me.

Oh, but it matters. It matters more than we know. CSAT is like a holy grail. It is the standard to which we must live. A string of bad surveys and a lower CSAT than usual prompted my boss to really get after the dispensers. He suspected that people weren’t asking for surveys. Or, that people were asking for surveys in “the wrong way.” Now, I’ll admit that I never ask customers to do surveys because my job isn’t to be a salesman for a company that doesn’t treat its employees well. Again, that’s not what I see as my role here.

I think what really bothers me is that I’m being asked to take part in a war I never signed up for. I don’t care how well our store does in comparison to other stores. I also don’t care about corporate reputation or company benchmarks–shit like that is above my paygrade. I don’t worship at the altar of impressing market managers or even the store manager. Yet, we’re supposed to be super involved in the process of making the store look good when customers really only care about getting their groceries and getting the hell away from Walmart.

And now, here comes the worst part. My boss implied that if we don’t get the CSAT back on track, we may see reduced hours. Let me just take this in. Let me soak this information in. Basically, if we don’t get enough good surveys, our wages will be impacted. Less hours equals less income. This, despite the fact that we’ve been one of the fastest (if not the fastest) online grocery departments in our region. This, despite our boss praising us in better times, making us feel valued and treasured. This, despite our hard work, sweat, and issues we’ve had to go through in our time here.

I have my doubts that they would actually reduce our hours. It isn’t like online shopping is going to slow down just because of few bad surveys from isolated incidents. The demand for online groceries and delivery will only continue to climb. So, uh, how can you reduce hours when demand is only going up? That doesn’t make much sense. But you know what? It doesn’t matter whether the threat has substance or not. The very fact that the implied threat was written on the whiteboard in the first place is what I mostly take issue with.

Say they actually did reduce hours. In my opinion, that’s a crime. Once again, there is no indication that business is going to slow down. My boss makes it seem like the very future of the department is in jeopardy because we don’t get enough good reviews. What my boss doesn’t seem to grasp is that bad reviews are not the end of the world–certainly not the end of an industry like this. The utility of the service we provide is worth more than one million good reviews combined. Do you think that people who have had a bad experience at Burger King will swear off Burger Kings forever? Well, do Burger Kings still exist? Do people have bad times at Burger Kings every day? Yes and yes, but at the end of the day, the restaurants provide a valued service that compensates for any bad reviews. A little bit of critical thinking could make this shit so easy to reconcile.

But let’s get to the threat. Because no matter how many times you read that note, it is impossible not to identify the threatening undertone. Of course the note was written in a “professional” way, but we’ve worked here long enough to read between the lines. There’s nothing in that note that proves a causality between a lower CSAT score and reduced hours. Regardless, I’m taken aback at the nature of the note.

As a boss, you don’t do that to employees you supposedly value. That is a crappy way to show your appreciation of our work. Using fear to drive the team to perform in the way you envision? That’s manipulation. Cutting hours for such a minor reason? We’re verging pretty close to “deducting wages” since less hours at work will mean less money earned. You don’t get the respect from your team by beating each person over the head with a pointed message implying dire consequences for refusing to sell one’s soul for a soulless corporation.

Then again, maybe cutting hours was the plan to begin with? After all, we all recently got a raise to $16 an hour. So, we get more per hour, but less hours? Wait. But doesn’t that just mean we’ve evened out? What use is a few dollars more per hour when you work less hours than usual?

Fine. Go ahead and play that game. I don’t really think any hours will be cut. I just don’t see how that would work. However, it’s your conduct that bothers me. What you wrote was disrespectful to all of us. Are we going to have bad times? Yes! Will we always be perfect? No! Have we made mistakes? Yes. Can we improve? Sure, if you let us. But what we could most certainly do without is the micromanaging, the fear-mongering, the pressure you put on us. If anything, you’ve now ensured that I’m not putting in any extra effort. I will do my job. I will do enough. But I’ll be damned if I play into your games and the pissing contests between stores.

To read more from this writer, follow their WordPress blog, RaisedbyOwls.

Author: Workers' Archive

Covering sensitivity at work and beyond on my website:

One thought on “By setting stores in competition against each other for customer ratings, Walmart is placing greater burdens and threats on workers”

  1. Hi Sam,
    Thanks for featuring my post! I think it’s very important not to sugarcoat what goes on behind the scenes. In general, work is tolerable with my coworkers, but it’s always the decisions and plans from higher up the ladder that wreak havoc on what should be so painfully simple. Anyway, thanks again–I really appreciate it.


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