February 27, 2013

In Which I Mourn the Loss of Customer Service

It wasn't rocket science. We all knew it from personal experience... 
Back when I was a corporate PR manager, it didn't take much to convince the executives of my company that the most important business you conducted was not manufacturing or selling but customer service. 

But that was 15 years ago.

So much has changed. Now it's about quick delivery, high-volume sales, and "the next new thing." Companies, even retail businesses, seem to have forgotten about customer service and brand loyalty (which is only earned by good products followed by treating your customers with gratitude, compassionately, and with an eye toward their next purchase.)

If you're a company or someone who makes many large purchases from the same firm, you are probably getting decent customer service. But if you only buy one of everything you need, forget it. You are the proverbial number. And a one-digit figure at that.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that ones add up, and nowhere does it make me more furious than in the health product industry. If you are selling goods that people need to improve their health, you really should consider the fact that bad karma comes back to you and it just isn't nice to exploit the physically downtrodden.



Here's a personal for-instance:

Next time I visit my local big-chain pharmacy, I'll be staging a sit-in. I intend to sit on the front counter and tell my story of dissatisfactory service to every customer who comes up to the cash registers.

Last month I bought a wrist cuff blood pressure monitor advertised on the CVS website for a very reasonable $29. that was worth spending if it would save me daily trips across town to the only store on the beach that has a free blood pressure monitoring machine.  My doctor wants me to monitor my blood pressure for 3 weeks. (Apparently it is always a little high when I visit her after fighting Miami traffic to get to her office!)

When I got to CVS, the supposed $29 wrist cuffs were marked $39.

I asked the assistant manager who opened the locked case for me, "Does this one work well?"

He shrugged his shoulders and said "I dunno. I guess so."

Which left me wondering, how do these huge pharmaceutical franchises avoid law suits when no when in their store seems ever to be trained to understand the health goods they are selling? This guy didn't even attempt to fake it well.

Me: "So it's $39? Your website said $29."

Him: "No. It's actually $49. But you'll get a $10 credit at the register. For your next purchase. On your CVS card."

I was now spending practically double the price I'd expected to, but I'd been to three pharmacies already looking for one of these cuffs...and the Boat Show traffic was making my blood pressure race..so I decided to just buy this one and get myself home.

I filled out the paperwork for a card (since usually I shop at Walgreens and didn't have a CVS card). When the cashier handed the card to me, I picked up the wrist cuff, gave it a little shake, and said.  "Ten dollor credit, right?" He shrugged one of those polite I-do-not-get-what-you're-saying-Seniora smiles and once again I wished my Spanish was more functional than it is. I wish this at least twice a week.

I remember the old CVS cards being the size of a credit card and fitting nicely into my wallet. This one, however, measures about one by one half inch and I hope I don't lose it. I don't want to hang another tiny plastic card on my keychain. I already have house keys, car keys, work keys, a Walgreens card, a Publix Card, and keys to the homes of neighbors who often call me last minute to walk their dogs.

A few days later I came back to CVS to buy shampoo--knowing I will inevitably lose my teeny tiny card with my teeny tiny credit if I didn't use it now. No one was at the front register--they prefer you use the one of the six self-serve check-outs by the exit , and so I did. But no $10 credit registered on my CVS card. I was in a hurry and determined to deal with it next time I visited.

Meanwhile, after three weeks of monitoring my blood pressure with the wrist cuff, it turned out to be a terribly inaccurate device when my doctor checked it against hers.  So I had wasted my time (and hers) to be told I need to get more accurate readings and come back to her office again in a month.

Of course I went back again to CVS with the wrist cuff for a refund. At the end of this transaction the cashier handed me $39.

"Where's the other $10," I asked, showing her the receipt which clearly said I'd been charged $49.

The woman ripped off a little note at the bottom of my old receipt and, handing it to me, she said to me in perfect English, "It's here on your receipt." I looked at the small print from the bottom of the old receipt which indeed told me--under all the advertising--that I could bring this teensy slip of paper back to CVS for a $10 credit on my next purchase. It also told me it had expired over a week ago.

As I began to complain and explain how misinformed I had been by CVS employees, the cashier gave me one of the I-do-not-get-what-you're-saying-Seniora smiles,  and so exasperated once again with my disappointing inability to speak Spanish, I left it for another day when the manager would be available.

As far as I can tell now, CVS has stolen $10 of my money. I have written letters in similar situations to retail headquarters and sometimes received positive responses, but not so much these past few years. I also know I will go to my CVS, ask for the manager, and try to explain my problem, and they are likely to be very unconcerned and reluctant to fix it for me. If so, I have decided to follow through with my sit-in on the front counter. Lots of smiles and friendly advice for the customers to go somewhere else, like Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street.

You can help. If you meet an executive from one of these chain pharmacies, tell them: "You bought out all our local pharmacies saying you could offer more services and lower prices. But I really don't need 100 varieties of sports drinks and $20 Generic Sudafed I can only purchase by leaving you my fingerprint, my work phone number, my blood type, and my signature on a 5-page legal document." If I meet CEO Larry Merlo I intend to tell him: "This is my health at stake and I'm supposed to be controlling my blood pressure. But you keep it rising. Shall I send you a bill for the $10, the time you've wasted for me here in your store as well as my doctor's bill? That's $679. But I'll be sure to give you a $10 credit if you are nice to me."

I'm just saying...what's wrong with this picture?