Rite Aid District Manager Successfully Handles A Customer Complaint

With all the customer service horror stories we post, you’d think businesses in the United States have lost the ability to treat their customers with respect—and by and large, you’d be right. But every once in a while we get a tip that proves that there are still intelligent, competent people out there who can answer a customer’s complaints forthrightly and honestly. That happened over the weekend with Dancing Deer and their shiv-in-the-Blondie incident, and now comes this story of a Rite Aid pharmacy district manager in Seattle and his band of idiots at a specific store.

I wanted to tell you of a good resolution I had at the Seattle, Rainier Ave. Rite Aid pharmacy in Seattle, WA.

First, little background. I have Celiac Disease. It’s an immune response to wheat, specifically the wheat protein gluten. This is an issue for prescriptions because some medications use wheat products to bind the pills. Even a spec of gluten can make a celiac sick for a few days. It’s not a terribly rare condition because 1 in 130 people in the USA have it.

I went to go get a prescription filled at the closest pharmacy, which was the Rite Aid on Ranier Ave, in Seattle, WA. As I was filling out paperwork to get in their system, I told them I had celiac disease, and could they double check to make sure my medication was gluten free. This is a pretty run of the mill request. I have been a nurse since 1998, and I have had to call in this kind of prescription before I even knew I had celiac disease myself. It’s a very basic.

The gal at the counter had to have me repeat myself multiple times, which is okay, it was early morning. However, she still doesn’t even understand my request, and starts asking the pharmacist if this medication has “glubellium”. The pharmacist looks annoyed, and says he doesn’t know. I put on the brakes, and tell her that I can’t get that medication then, because I can’t have gluten in me. The pharmacist just shrugs, and the gal takes my filled out paperwork and starts putting me in the computer, ignoring me.

I ask again, that there has to be a way to check. Celiac is not that unusual a condition. They continue to show me the bottle, and say there isn’t any way to check. Then, the gal asks to help the folks behind me, ignoring the fact that I can’t even get the medication if I can’t be sure it’s gluten free. The pharmacist starts filling my prescription, and I am exasperated.

I tell them don’t fill the prescription because if they can’t tell me if it’s gluten free, I don’t want it. The pharmacist looks really irritated by now, and says, “I suppose I could call the manufacturer. That could take a few days.” I just start walking out, and tell him I will go to a pharmacy that can deal with celiac disease. There are places that know if there is wheat products in my meds.

I then go home, and call the Kelley-Ross Pharmacy in downtown Seattle. They are flabbergasted that a pharmacist would not look this up for me, and laugh at the Rite Aid guy. Needless to say, I go get my prescription filled down there. They even show me the medication insert to make sure it all looks safe. The nice insert that accompanies most medications, and shows all the inactive ingredients. (When I work in facilities as a floor nurse, often those insert papers come attached on bulk meds we get, so I knew they existed, while at Rite Aid.)

When I get home I write an angry but polite email, containing pretty much what I wrote here.

Flash forward to today.

I just got a call from Billy who is the pharmacy district manager for Seattle. He wanted to contact me to make sure I knew that not being able to tell if a medication was gluten free, is not acceptable. They have a Clinical Service Line, that contains that information, as well as all sorts of other stuff. He was especially hard on the pharmacist for not wanting to even initially look it up. He said he thought only “blind stupidity” could be the reason this happened. The pharmacist in question is out for vacation, but he is going to talk to him when he comes back in. Billy agreed this is a pretty common request, and over all seemed stunned that his pharmacist could have done this.

He was also very cool, and said he understands that I get my medications elsewhere now, but if I ever decided to come back, they will be able to handle gluten free medication. He also talked about some of the PDA supported software that you can use to check the gluten free status of meds and foods.

Overall, I am very happy at this. Billy didn’t make any excuses, and took credit for the situation. The pharmacist involved will be retrained, so the next celiac that comes in won’t have to deal with what I did. That’s the kind of apology, that makes me think I will keep shopping at Rite Aid, although my meds are still set up at Kelley-Ross. My husband still has his medications at Rite Aid, and I am no longer in any big hurry to change that.

It made me very happy to know that the corporation does care that its customers are taken care of.

Here’s what’s fascinating about this from a business perspective: Billy didn’t give away any free goods or services, and he didn’t try to bribe her to come back, but he still made an irate customer happy with a simple phone call. That’s because he treated her like an equal—something representatives of businesses rarely seem to do anymore—and talked frankly about the source of the complaint. He shared a clear plan of action to prevent the problem from happening in the future, without resorting to extreme punishment boasts like promising anyone would be fired (a claim that always makes us suspect we’re being lied to).

He also shared some advice with the customer on how she can be better prepared to deal with similar situations in the future—so if she runs into another couple of ignorant pharmacy employees, she can answer her own questions about gluten. And finally, he invited her back. Result: he may not get her business in the future, but he effectively cauterized the wound, and can be certain she won’t bad-mouth Rite Aid to other potential customers.

Maybe it’s too expensive to train employees to have that much emotional intelligence, but it would be nice if businesses would at least screen for that natural ability in customer-facing new hires.

What do you think—still not enough? Or did Billy handle this the right way?

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(Photo: Getty)