Saturday, January 10, 2009

Customer Service

I had two interesting encounters this week at retail counters. They demonstrate the vast difference that just a little bit of good training can make.

The first one was an example of bad service. Unfortunately, it came at the end of a long work day, when I was tired, and on a rare evening that Miss Chef was at home waiting for me. I stopped at our local CVS, where I get all my prescriptions filled, to bring in the renewal for one. I dropped it off at the counter and was told it would be "a few minutes."

Now, while we're waiting, let me explain that I very deliberately chose to go to CVS, as opposed to the Rite Aid across the street, or the grocery store pharmacy. When I was living in Mobile, AL, I generally went to the Rite Aid that was nearest to work and home. However, after too many times of being treated like an annoyance, rather than a customer, I decided to try some other places. Two other Rite Aids gave me the same service, but when I went into CVS, it was like walking into a different world. I immediately transferred all my prescriptions there.

Switching back to my new address--I first I didn't have a choice; Eckard's was the only drugstore nearby (and their service was almost as bad as those Rite Aids). But a year or so after moving, a CVS opened right down the street, and I was quite happy to see it. I'm not usually so brand-loyal, but I've never been able to accept disrespect very well, when I felt it wasn't deserved. I guess since I was always treated with respect--even as a child--it somehow grates on me today, right down to my toes. (Not that I wasn't disciplined as a child; not at all! But I was never belittled, and my parents never acted like it was a burden to explain things to me.)

However, I was quickly disappointed by my new pharmacy. Whenever I approached the counter to pick up a prescription, I would see three or four people back there, busy filling orders or entering information into a computer. Now, I don't necessarily expect them to drop everything to serve me immediately. My first job was at a local small-town pharmacy, and I understand that sometimes you're in the middle of something you just can't stop. Fine. But is it too much to look me in the eye and say eight words: "I'll be with you in just a minute?" And maybe even a smile? It won't shorten my wait at all, I understand that. But it sure will seem like a shorter wait.

Ok, well, we've been waiting long enough for that prescription, let's go see what's going on. Walk back toward the counter, and of course nobody looks up. It's only been about 5 or 10 minutes, so I'll take a seat over here, right next to the counter, where any employee can see me and realize I'm obviously waiting for my order.

After browsing through a Rolling Stone left there (hey, I still recognize most of these names!), I look at my watch and realize that it's now been half an hour since I dropped off my script. And, of course, there's now a line four deep at the counter. So I get in that line, trying to be patient, but not doing a good job of it. While I'm waiting, I see a woman further back in the pharmacy section pick up a microphone and project this announcement through the store: "ortizordersready." Wha..? Fortunately, I had happened to overhear the Ortiz family giving their information a few minutes earlier, and it dawned on me that they must have announced my order being ready at some point.

Several thoughts run through my mind at this point:

1. I was unaware that I had to be listening for my name.
2. I can guarantee they would not have pronounced it in a recognizable way.
3. The announcements were made ridiculously unclearly, and the name was not repeated at the end.
4. Wasn't it damned obvious I was waiting for half a freakin' hour??

As you can tell, I'm still irritated by this experience. I did my best not to take it out on the cashier, but I did make a point of noticing the manager's name as I left the building.

Fast forward to today. Miss Chef and I were out spending her bonus (thanks, Chef!!), and realized we needed to eat quickly before she had to go home and change for work. We somewhat reluctantly headed into Chik Fil A--neither of us likes to eat processed food, or support the factory farms that supply it.

But desperate times and all that; in we went, and placed our orders with a nice, friendly teenage girl, who gave us a number and told us she'd bring our order to our table. It was starting to get busy; it looked like we had begun the afternoon rush. When she brought our order out, our server hesitated, saying "Were these both supposed to be deluxe?" When we told her no, she said, "Oh, good, then it's exactly right." I thought she seemed overly concerned, but didn't think too much of it.

Then I discovered that, no, in fact, it wasn't exactly right. The sandwich in the box was not what it was labeled as. I went back up to the counter, hoping I wasn't going to have to get back in line. Fortunately, I managed to catch the same girl's eye, and you'll never guess what happened! She looked right back at me, finished what she was doing, and came over to help me!


She was very concerned and apologetic about the error, and even told me to keep the original sandwich, as they would just have to throw it out anyway. (Poor chicken, giving up its sad little caged life, just to be tossed away--of course I kept it. Plus, I'm cheap.) She told me she'd bring out the correct item, and she did, quickly, and apologized again.

Ironically, there was nothing I saw in the restaurant to facilitate customer comments. But I've already gone to the company website and written a note, using the server's name. I think that, since I was able to give the store number, the comment will be filtered down to her manager, who should know that he/she is doing a great job hiring and training, and that this server should be encouraged to keep up the good work.

On the other hand, I have yet to contact CVS about their ongoing poor service. Now that I've written about it here, though, I feel duty-bound to follow up. I suppose it's the teacher in me, but I feel very strongly about giving positive feedback to folks who probably don't get it very often.

I once contacted Harris Teeter about how the baggers obviously needed training, especially with paper bags, and received a phone call from the local store. (Turns out if you go through the corporate website, it's a bigger deal than just contacting the manager.) After a couple of months, I noticed a marked improvement in their service, and went back online to let them know. Lord knows, I don't just want to be a crank!

I'm hoping that in this tough economy, retailers and other businesses will realize that just a little shift in customer service can make a big difference on our side of the counter--the side where the money is coming from. In the meantime, I guess I'll still be out there, trying to teach them all!

Note: I find it interesting that googling the phrase "customer service" mostly gets you pictures of smiling women with phone headsets. There's a big hint at the problem, right there--no face-to-face contact. As much the consumer's fault as business'; our demand for cheap products requires vast, centralized organizations. Plus, we can't be bothered to get off our butts and go talk to someone.


  1. Boy did you just open up a Pandora's Box for me. Last time I went to CVS (Monday - straight from the doc) with a new scrip for 120 mg tabs of Armour Throid, I was told by the Pharmacy dude, "uh,I can't get that for you."


    I ask him, "What does that mean?"

    Him: "That strength tablet has not been available for a few months."

    Me, pulling teeth: "What do you suggest I do?"

    Him: "I don't have a suggestion."

    I took my scrip to Publix where my daughter works and the Pharmacist went to work filling the scrip. When I came back to pick it up he said, "We haven't had the 120 mg tabs available for a few months and I'm not sure when or if they will be available, so I called your doctor's office and got authorization to give you double the count of 60 mg tabs."

    Thank you. I love you Mr. Publix Pharmacist.

    And that is why I will never go back to CVS again.

  2. I'm am never shy about calling poor service to a manager's attention. On the flip side, I like to let them know who's doing a good job as well. Which reminds me, I need to make a call to the grocery store. Their deli people actually made breadsticks for us AFTER they had closed on New Year's Eve. That, my friends, is a way to guarantee repeat customers.

  3. Hey Flartus! Thanks for you comment today. If you ever feel like trading emails, please hit me up at We could have some fun talks.

  4. Oh I have a huge list of things I could add here. But I will say that whatever you think of Chick-fil-A, they are super big on customer service. And it's worth the extra couple of bucks it costs to go there to get treated nicely.


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