Their sheer size alone is a case study in scale. Over 250 million customers visit one of 11,000 Wal-Mart stores in 27 countries each week. That means that 1/3 of the U.S. population crosses the threshold of a Wal-Mart store every single week. They have 2.2 million employees and, with 1.3 million just in the U.S., they are the largest private corporation in the U.S. and Canada. How in the world could you expect anything more than assembly line treatment that is focused on speed of service with a mechanical greeting?

I did a morning keynote in Albany, NY and was en route to the Albany Airport. I asked the taxi driver to take me to Crossgates Commons shopping center located a few miles from the airport. It happens to have the largest Wal-Mart in the U.S. covering over quarter million square feet. I must admit I was looking for “I shopped there once” bragging rights. I picked up a pair of men’s socks and headed for the cash register. With only one item I was able to get in the “10 items or less” speedier checkout line.

“How are you today?” the clerk asked as she looked me straight in the eye and warmly smiled. As she was ringing up my single item, I responded, “I’m terrific, and you?” As soon as I opened my mouth her head titled sideways like she had just received a great gift she did not expect. She slowly shook her head from side to side. “Oh, I love your accent,” she swooned, “It makes me miss my grandmamma in Fort Worth.” When I thanked her, she warmly said, “I hope you will come back to see us again…just, so I can listen to you talk.”

There was no script in her dialogue, no ritual in her manner, and no too-hurried in her service. She was just a neighbor serving a neighbor. She could have been the desk clerk at a Ritz-Carlton hotel or the contact center operator at Zappos. I left for my waiting taxi feeling I had received a personalized encounter unlike the customer behind me or the one that came before me.

Monogrammed literally means your unique initials. It is a metaphor of a personalized experience that connects in a fashion that makes a customer feel distinctive and special. It is the opposite of one size fits all. And, that afternoon in the country’s biggest Wal-Mart, one of over a million employees made me feel special without sacrificing one single ounce of the economies of scale that give big boxes their efficiencies and extra deep discounts. You can have it both ways!

Photo Credit: Ron Dauphin via Flickr