Posted by: Kathy Harmon on 12/15/2010

I just spent an hour and a half staring at a sign that read, "Walgreens America's Most Trusted Pharmacy since 1901."  This was my third trip back to pick up an antibiotic prescription in the past two days.  First, they claimed the doctor hadn't returned their call.  That happens.  I called my trusted doctor of 20 years.  My records showed it had been called in.  I returned the next day to the same excuse.  The pharmacist said he would check his voice mail - then let me sit there.  I had work to do and resented the delay.

I proceeded to pass the time by shopping for things I did, and didn't, need. Apparently, when the pharmacist found no voice mail message, he considered himself rid of me and moved on.  No one gave me a progress report.  I began to amuse myself by inventing alternative, more appropriate mottos for the company. My best effort was, "Walgreens, We Don't Care - We Don't Have To!"

Finally, I approached the counter to ask for an update.   A voice from a rear pill stack shouted that the doctor had been called again and they were awaiting a reply.  I stormed to my car where I had left my cell phone and dialed the dear doc.  His office manager informed me that the prescription had not only been called in, but she was holding a confirmation FAX report that was five hours old.

With mounting fury, I returned to the store where I was told the authorization "had just been received." 10 minutes later, I left with the pills that I should have started two days ago.  Just so you don't think I am the only "customer from hell," let me add that I witnessed four others "go postal' while I sat or stood in line. The recipient of the ire was a poor teenager who dutifully took the complaints to the back room, then returned with either bad news or a simple shoulder shrug.  

I have experienced these problems at three Walgreens stores in my community and two while traveling.  Walgreens repeatedly commits three fatal customer service errors. First, they show a lack of care for their customer's problems AND, as importantly, a lack of respect for their precious time.   Second, their automated system consistently fails and is left on auto-pilot with no human intervention.  Finally, management fails to take responsibility for any failures.  Instead, the lowest paid staff is sent to deal with angry, frustrated customers with no good news or offer of compensation for the inconvenience suffered.  The message is clearly: "Customers are fungible. We have way more than we can handle, and there are plenty more where you came from.  Please feel free to take your business elsewhere."  Sadly, the economy has diminished the remaining choices.

I mention this for two reasons.  It’s therapeutic.  I have my own blog, and I can vent periodically.  I actually feel better already.  The second is that I can exact some minor penance on customer service offenders.  

I've been on drugs for years - most of them legal.   Some 20 years ago, the local pharmacist retired and our medication list was transferred to Snyders.   They auto-refilled, were quick to respond, and I gleefully shopped there for years.  The recession took its toll on the chain and our medical records were sent to Zoss Drug.   Mr. Zoss was a kind and considerate man who personally delivered a prescription after hours without complaint. He, too, succumbed to the economic downturn. The records went to Walgreens.  It has been a consistently painful experience.  Days of delay, out-of-stock items, and no serious attempt to be helpful has been my experience.

I suspect the reason for the poor service is that good employees leave companies that subject them to angry assaults for a mere nine bucks an hour.  I've always championed the belief that, if you talk to a customer with a problem, YOU own it until it is resolved.  Even if it isn't your department OR your company's fault.  Do something to help the customer find a solution.   Make a phone call, look up an address, do a web search - show that you care.  The impression you leave will make someone’s day and, perhaps, your company’s reputation.

I love the holidays.  Everyone is cheerier and more helpful than at other times of the year.  With only a few days left this December, I anxiously await this attitude to overtake Walgreens' company culture while I search for a new pharmacy.

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