Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An in-line experience

I thought I'd start with some of my own experiences to show what I mean about dehumanizing intake. Perhaps this incident hit home so hard because it was a pharmacy. Though my days may be over for applying for social assistance and helping my children and mentally ill relatives, there will be many, many pharmacy counters in my future. It's mundane, it's routine, and everyone lives through it.

This incident happened several years ago at a Superstore pharmacy, about the same time they came out with that two-station system; receiving and shipping. I started out poorly. I went to the wrong counter. When I got to the the receiving end the clerk helpfully advised that it would be a half-hour wait to pick up my order. I thought, fine, I am in a store, I will do my shopping and come back in thirty minutes. This surely would be a plus, as I don't have to stand around waiting for my order.

When I came back thirty minutes later, there was a line of frustrated customers. After watching the line for a few minutes, I understood why. None of the orders were ready. The pharmacy, besides putting in the entry and exit stations, had instituted a new system. Each order had it's own little basket. So far so good. Those baskets could be in any of a dozen locations. Very, very, bad.

As the clerk received each person in line, she bustled around in the back, checking each of the dozen locations in turn. It was worst for the woman directly in front of me. The clerk came back to the woman in front of me a couple times and told me she could not find the order. Finally she told the woman they were out of stock of the particular medication and she would have to come back.

After seeing what happened to that poor woman, I decided to take a stand. I had my turn with the counter clerk and told her I was cancelling my order, could I please have my prescription back. Her eyes went wide and she disappeared in the back .... for twenty minutes.

She came back with my order. The pharmacist, on hearing my request to cancel, rushed my order instead. They were nearly out of stock of my medication, so they only filled the prescription partially. I would have to come back for the rest.

I was angry. Not only was I required to wait much longer than promised, but my specific request to cancel the order was ignored. I assumed they preferred the days' profit over a small embarrassment. I left and never returned. They can keep the partial order on file forever for all I care.

What were some of the mistakes in this encounter, and how could the pharmacy have improved them? I've ordered the pharmacy errors from most important to least important.

  • There was no respect for the customer by the pharmacist. My specific request was bypassed for the sake of interests (profit) that were not my own. I never got to see the pharmacist face-to-face to tell him so myself. He never found out that he permanently lost a regular customer because of his neglect. His vision was appallingly short-sighted. In his interest on not losing a single sale, he permanently lost a customer.
  • The counter clerk was neither empowered to make changes or properly oriented to the new system. She was confused, rushed, and utterly intimidated.
  • The process sucked. The two counter system is appropriately efficient, and the individual baskets work well. However, there were too many stations where the orders could stack up. There should have been only three. Receiving, filling, and completed. Maybe four. There always seems to be a stack of orders that are picked up days later.
  • The intake clerk really did not know how long orders would take. She gave the same answer to all, "thirty minutes". This may be petty, but I hate being misinformed.
  • There was no accommodation for newbies. Could they have taken my order at the shipping counter and advised me "for next time"? Perhaps not, but I thought I would mention it. As small as the incident seems, a petitioner is always in the vulnerable position. Don't make us feel any more stupid than we already feel.

Well, that's that. Wouldn't it be great if we had "mystery shopper" questionnaires and customer service cards at places like this? Those of us who speak up would have a place to protest. Rather than resort to sharing our experience by word of mouth and blog.

My list for the holidays. The white-tail deer don't count as birds, but it was pretty cool to see them in the Kootenays and Montana. On the trip I saw the following birds to add to my lifetime list:

  • Starlings
  • Canada Geese
  • Mallards
  • Red-Tailed Hawks

All but the hawks are all flocking to fly south for the fall. The hawks waited patiently on fence-posts for unwary gophers. I won't count the terns and gulls yet because I'm not sure which ones I saw.