The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

When The Customer Most Certainly Doesn’t Come First

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The theme of my blog this week was going to be the carriers – both rail and sea – in the US, and the awakening that yes – shipping costs are debilitating our industries, especially smaller companies relying on receiving imported products and parts. Luckily for me, our government is actually paying attention (Washington Post, paywall) and recognize a bad economic impact when it sees one. Here’s a tasty tidbit from the Washington Post:

…global cargo carriers and U.S. railroads insist that the administration has misdiagnosed the supply ills. The nation’s ports, terminals, trucking fleets and rail lines are being overwhelmed by a pandemic-related import surge, not strangled by monopolies, they said.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Port of Miami looked not particularly overwhelmed, and in any case, there was no paid overtime for anyone who might consider unloading the container-full of whatever was on the ship I saw at the port. I believe the dictionary would call this “inertia.”

Forget about end-consumers waiting for stuff. Forget about small companies wanting to export their product. Forget about burning fuel while the container ships float around in the harbors on the west coast. The money is grand. I confess to being gob smacked that the containers are dead-headed back to Asia, but they are.

In other words, the customer does not come first in any way, but those big bulging buckets of profits sure do.

I could write another few hundred words on the impact of supply chain disruption, but I feel obligated to move on to a more personal issue, as an end-consumer of an essential industry: in this case I am talking about prescription medicines bought from pharmacies.

Clearly, having a duopoly in the United States just doesn’t make enough profits for at least one of the two players. Despite having done an “inversion,” this company, which I will not name, has been hunting for different ways to cut costs. Of course, the store is always magic in that regard. We can remember this from way back in the Nardelli era at Home Depot. Just take 20 hours out of a store’s payroll. Who would notice, right? And when you multiply that number by 9,277 stores… well, it suddenly becomes real money and props up a multitude of sins. And of course, if you cut back on pharmacy technicians, who are paid more than floor personnel, that number just gets bigger.

Well, like rotten meat, sooner or later it really starts to smell. So let’s take a look at the impact of those “little” cuts. The aroma is unpleasant.

  • There is now a half hour each day when there is no actual pharmacist available. He or she is on “lunch break” and if you want to ask anything of interest…well, no can do.
  • There are days when the pharmacist on the floor is actually a “rover” who goes from store to store. That’s fine enough, except that person is not empowered to make many serious decisions. At least that’s what I was told when I called to enquire about something more than nothing. “Call back tomorrow when our regular pharmacy manager is in.”
  • Ah yes, “call back tomorrow.” Today, I spent over an hour and a half waiting for someone to pick up the phone. Yes, 90 minutes. Three different calls…each one a half hour. And the first one was butting up against the pharmacist’s lunch time, so it wasn’t going to do me any good at all. I hung up.
  • Now, I’m sure there’s some kind of corporate standard that the phone has to be answered within x number of minutes. And so you call a local number and end up on a central line. The central line eventually puts you through to the pharmacy, someone picks up the phone, says “please hold” and that’s when the fun begins.

Those holds averaged a half hour each, but I’ll bet corporate thinks everything is fine. They’re only monitoring the wait time for the store to answer, not to actually solve your problem. The in-store phone systems are set up so that after a set number of minutes (probably 5) it rings through again. The pharmacy associates just pick it up and then push it back on hold, without a single word. Of course, when I finally got through to a human, I wasn’t a happy girl, and was told to watch my tone by the person who responded.

  • I was even going to go to the store, which is tough. Why is it tough? Well, I live in Florida, where technically everyone can just do what they want, pandemic or no. As you have likely heard, Florida has 20% of the new COVID cases in the US, even though we have only 6% of the national population. I think, adjusted for population density, we are the third worst in the country. No mask, no problem. And that’s the problem. NONE of the pharmacy associates even pretend to wear masks anymore. None. Before the CDC’s ruling, they tended to wear “chin diapers” (very popular down here in Florida), but now they don’t even pretend.

I mask up when I go there and sit in my car at the drive-thru. Ten minutes in line there told me this wasn’t going to be a quick hit and I came home and made the third phone call.

So, here’s the question: who is going to tell corporate that this isn’t working, and is anything going to be done to improve things? I did shame tweet the company, which worked once before when I complained about the chin diaper. I don’t even feel like responding in the event anyone answered today’s tweet. And in that tweet, I said I was going to tell the industry about it. Here I am.

There is technology that can genuinely help with phone systems and CSRs But maybe the duopoly is just out of control. They run Medicare supplemental prescription insurance too, they are too big to fail, and they are everywhere. Do I want to switch to Amazon? No, I don’t.

My advice to the executives running these companies is to go shopping. Go buy a Chevy truck and find out you can’t take delivery because the chip is on a boat somewhere. Go get a prescription filled. Call the customer service line and WAIT.

I had a question for the other day about a pet prescription. The phone was answered in 4 seconds, I was helped and sent on my way. Maybe Chewy should take on human prescriptions.

This is not a good situation at all. Heck, people’s health lies in the balance.


Newsletter Articles July 20, 2021
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