Northern Lights: Meet the Warm-Hearted Associates of Alaska

By Walmart Staff
March 8, 2017
Alaskan Associate

It takes a special team to stay happy in one of the coldest, darkest places in the country.

Even at temperatures of -30 F, associates in Alaska keep customers — and each other — smiling by taking outstanding customer service to the extreme.

Braving the Elements
At -30 F, common tasks like unloading trucks become an arctic adventure. Five minutes into the job, icicles are already forming on the flushed faces of these associates.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an assistant manager or a sales associate,” said department manager for fabrics, crafts, and stationery, Chelsea Campbell. “We all share the responsibility of getting the job done for our customers.”

Service for Those Who Serve
This February marked 30 years of service for Command Sgt. Maj. Vento Collins, customer host at Store 2722 in Fairbanks, who started at the store in September as part of his transition away from active duty. The area’s strong military presence means that many families in Fairbanks are from other places.

“They’re not used to the conditions up here,” Vento said. “So they count on us to help them prepare for life in Alaska’s interior. We’re here for them, day and night.”

Ever-ready
Automotive associate Jessie Smith helps customer Cynthia King with 150 pounds of dog food for her three large-breed dogs.

“These associates are always ready to help,” Cynthia said. “That’s why I shop here.”

“I’ve lived in Fairbanks for 75 years,” said Pat Johnson, customer (shown left), with Dominique Green, department manager, furniture. “The associates here are so helpful.”

Alaska Bush Program
Across the state, many people – especially native populations – live in areas that can't be reached by road or ferry. Many don’t have access to the internet, and even for those who do, typical online shipping services wouldn’t make it to their homes.

That’s where the Bush Program comes in, serving customers who need everyday products — or even help with Christmas shopping — in these remote areas. Store 2722 in Fairbanks, Store 2071 in Anchorage, and Store 2710 in Ketchikan all have Bush programs.

“We serve the entire state,” says Trish Stipe, Bush department sales associate in Fairbanks. “The farthest customer would probably be about 600 miles from Fairbanks on the tiny island of Little Diomede.”

The Bush team in Fairbanks can take orders by phone, fax or email. Associates pick the requested items from the floor, ring them up, package them and process them through postage. They then divide the packages into zones by ZIP code, put them on a pallet, and wrap the pallet. The U.S. Postal Service delivers the pallets by plane or boat. (Except to places like Little Diomede Island, where planes don’t go — a helicopter or boat-plane has to deliver those packages.)

“Mostly, we are shipping nonperishable items,” Trish said. “Many of the people in these areas survive by hunting, fishing, and gathering berries.”

The team takes about 10 to 20 orders by phone each day. Another 10 or so Bush customers self-shop—that is, they make their own way to the store to shop and then have the Bush team ship their items back to their homes. Store 2710 in Ketchikan offers self-shop, takes phone orders, and typically serves customers closer to its specific region of the state. Store 2071 in Anchorage processes self-shop orders only and tends to serve the whole state, like the Fairbanks store does.

The Bush team’s favorite part of the program?

“We get to shop for customers,” Trish said. “One customer calls every December and asks us to Christmas shop for his family. He tells us the ages of his children, gives us a budget, and we take care of the rest. We’ll even stuff stockings!”

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally appeared in Walmart World, the magazine for Walmart associates.