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Good Customer Service

By Larry Gross · October 2nd, 2013 · Living Out Loud
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Early one morning around the middle of August, I went into the Walgreens here on Madison Avenue in Covington, Ky., to get a pack of cigarettes. A manager of the store was attending to the front cash register.

“What happened,” I asked the older gentleman, “fire your staff?”

“Oh, no,” he said, smiling. “They’re all attending a meeting in the back.”

I smiled back at him. As I walked out of the store, I thought to myself, “This ain’t gonna be good for me.”

Turns out I was right. I went back a few days later to pick up a few items. As I entered the store, I instantly discovered their new approach to good customer service.

“Welcome to Walgreens!” I got this greeting from three different employees as I made my way through the store. They all had smiles on their faces. Usually, I can just go in and be ignored. I didn’t like them looking at me. After I got in line and paid for my stuff, the cashier smiled at me and said, “Be well!”

Move ahead a couple days. I’m back in Walgreens picking up some Diet Coke, a couple frozen dinners and some mints. I got that “Welcome to Walgreens!” greeting again as I walked in the door. Standing in line at the front cash register after getting my stuff, there was my least favorite cashier at the register. She’s a middle-aged lady with a condescending attitude, but a true Walgreens trooper. 

She greeted me — “Welcome to Walgreens!” — as I started to unload my items onto the counter. I handed her my Balance Rewards Card. After she scanned it, she asked, “Are you getting a flu shot this year?”

“I don’t know yet,” I replied.

“We offer them here,” she said. “It’s only $12 and there’s $4 in it for me if you do.” 

Feeling put on the spot, I didn’t reply — just half smiled at her.

She started scanning my purchases. She pointed to my right.

“We have Doritos on sale,” she said, “two bags for a dollar.” 

I looked at the small bags of Doritos on the counter. “No thanks,” I said.

“Are you sure? That’s a good value.”

“I don’t want any Doritos,” I said, probably with a little bit of an edge in my voice. That didn’t stop her from trying to push something else on me.

“We’ve got M&M’s, also two bags for a dollar.”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“Are you sure about that?”

“I’m diabetic,” I said, feeling annoyed. “Are you trying to kill me?”

She gave me an odd stare before saying, “Oh, no, of course not! We love our customers!”

She looked at my two-liter bottle of Diet Coke. “You shouldn’t be drinking this if you’re diabetic,” she said, “it’s bad for you.”

“But I guess M&M’s and Doritos aren’t bad for me?” I asked.

She didn’t reply, probably feeling unhappy that she wasn’t going to get anything extra out of me.  

The idiot then bagged up my stuff, I gave her my money and she gave me my receipt. “Be well!” she told me as I started to leave the store. “Fuck you,” I thought to myself as I walked out the door.

Walking home, I remembered being in a decent mood before I entered the store and now I felt pissed off. I’m in that damn Walgreens at least three times a week spending plenty of money. Why the hell would a cashier try to squeeze a little bit more out of me? And what business is it of hers if I want to drink Diet Coke? If I wanted to drink a gallon of Tide detergent, that’s my business and not hers. 

Is this what is considered good customer service now? To me it’s not, and I long for the good old days.

Once upon a time, I could go into a Walgreens, or any other store, for that matter, find employees to help me, then get the hell out. I’m not there to have extended conversations. When I’m there, I’ll try to be courteous and respectful and I expect the same in return from the employees, but what I don’t expect is to be pushed into helping them reach their sales goals by buying  M&M’s, Doritos or flu shots. That’s not good customer service — it’s harassment.

And this “Be well!” bullshit is for the birds. I had one of those cashiers tell me that right after I purchased a pack of cigarettes. They’re not even thinking about what they’re saying. 

Now we’re into the month of October. I still find myself going into Walgreens every few days. It’s just too handy of a store for me to try and go any place else. Their scripted “Welcome to Walgreens!” has faded a bit and I’m glad of it. I think most of the employees there know that it sounds phony, but still they have to play the game, especially that condescending, middle-aged cashier. 

“We now have Snickers Bars on sale,” she tells me, “two for a dollar!”

Yep, she’s still trying to kill me.  

CONTACT LARRY GROSS: letters@citybeat.com



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