For decades, Walmart (NYSE:WMT) customers were met by a "People Greeter," an employee positioned near the front door whose chief responsibility was welcoming folks to the store. Their presence was intended to make the sprawling retailer feel friendlier -- an actual person smiling and saying hello before you entered the vast shopping space.
Walmart, however, decided late in February to eliminate the greeter position, and replace it with the new role of "Customer Host," a job with greater responsibilities including "handling customer refunds, scanning receipts, and checking shopping carts," according to a blog post from Walmart U.S. President Greg Foran.
It's actually a big change, and one that shows the retailer understands how its customer base's needs have evolved. Being welcomed to a store is a nice thing, but in an omnichannel world, satisfying consumers requires more.
What is Walmart doing?
The Customer Host position is essentially a form of retail triage. Instead of making people wait to be helped, or head off into the store not quite sure where they should be going, the hosts will point them in the right direction or even solve their problems on the spot. In theory, that more-efficient shopping experience will lead to happier customers.
The challenge for the retailer will be in the execution. These hosts will have to manage the needs of the hundreds, if not thousands of shoppers who walk by them each shift, and focus on serving the ones most in need of help. But it will be easier to spot a customer trying to make a return, for example, than one trying to figure out where the in-store pickup kiosks are located.
A smart move for today's customers
"The greeter role was never particularly productive and eliminating it in favor of this new multi-tasking position is sensible," posted Global Data Managing Director Neil Saunders on Retailwire. "Taking the friction out of making returns is a real benefit. This and the other services provided by the host should increase convenience for the shopper and will help make shopping at Walmart more efficient."
This is the retailer acknowledging that the reasons people visit a store have changed. It's no longer all about traditional shopping or returns. They could be picking up online orders, browsing so they can order an item online later for home delivery, or some combination of those things.
In some ways, the strategy behind the Customer Host role runs counter to past retail logic. A customer whose needs are met right at the door may never make it to the shopping floor, and therefore won't be exposed to the huge array of product displays designed to promote impulse purchases.
Walmart management, though, clearly understands that customer satisfaction means more than selling an extra Snickers bar or whatever else might catch a wandering shopper's eye. So they have taken a job position that had outlived its usefulness and replaced it with a 2.0 version. Other retailers may want to take a cue from the world's largest, and examine whether they too, could be deploying their workforces more effectively in pursuit not just of short-term profits, but of happy repeat customers.