How my Covid customer experience with CVS changed my philosophy of life

by | Jun 9, 2022 | Public Relations

Below is an article about my experiences with “name” companies, detailing both good and bad experiences I had with the companies when attempting to contact them regarding my recent bout with Covid.

In the great Broadway musical “My Fair Lady,” Rex Harrison sang a song which epitomizes my philosophy of life.  The song is titled “I’m Am Ordinary Man” and the lyrics begin with Harrison sing-talking:

“I’m an ordinary man
Who desires nothing more than just an ordinary chance

To live exactly as he likes and do precisely what he wants
An average man am I, of no eccentric whim
Who likes to live his life free of strife
Doing whatever he thinks is best for him
Well, just an ordinary man.”

Those lyrics, more or less, sums up my approach to people I don’t care for. I like to live a life free of strife and if a person or persons’ actions conduct upsets my world, I never wish them ill. I just want to have as little contact with them as possible. But that changed on April 20, when I tested positive for Covid and my doctor prescribed a certain medicine. However, he said, not all pharmacies have access to the drug. I said I would call my pharmacist and get back to him.

I called my local pharmacist that provides the best person-to person service I’ve ever had. Within 30 seconds I was switched to the pharmacist who told me that the medicine, Paxlovid, had limited distribution and gave me the telephone numbers to Walgreen’s and CVS, saying that those giant chains probably had the medicine.

I next called Walgreen’s because I have always found the staff at their stores knowledgeable and helpful. I was told that the only pharmacy authorized to carry the drug in my area was CVS and they gave me a phone number.

I then called CVS and that’s when my philosophy of wishing no one ill changed

Trying to get to speak to a live person was as difficult as my getting an A in bio physics during my college days. Possible for some students; impossible for me.

After trying to speak to a live person for at least 25 minutes and told to push countless dozens of buttons I finally was able to get a live individual on the telephone and asked a simple question that certainly wouldn’t raise the suspicions of the FBI or CIA. “Can you please tell me whether your location carries Paxlovid?” You’d think I was asking a question that was off the wall before I received an answer, only to be told that I had to call another CVS location to see if they had the medicine in stock. “Can you please transfer me, I asked?” Not another unusual request. “No, our telephone system doesn’t permit us to do that. Here’s the telephone number you have to call.” (Maybe CVS should retool their system and use Apple customer service as a template. So easy to get an answer to a question when calling Apple.)

Previous to my experience with CVS, I always thought the worst telephone customer service I experienced was when calling Optimum, my internet provider

One hundred percent of the time I call with a problem I’m told that I should try to correct the trouble myself or that the fault is because of a situation in my apartment. It never is. Also, I’m usually connected to an individual whose English is so poor that it’s difficult to have a conversation, causing me to hang up and call back, hoping  to get an individual I can understand and who understands me.

A recent unacceptable customer service experience I had with Optimum occurred when I ordered the movie “Into the Woods.” The film was riddled with sound difficulties and other problems making it impossible to completely watch it without numerous interruptions. I called customer service and said I don’t think I should be charged for the film. The first response I received was, “How do we know you’re telling us the truth.” Nevertheless, I believe my experiences with CVS is the worst customer service I ever encountered because they often deal with important health questions; Optimum with unimportant trash programming.

I dutifully dialed the new CVS telephone number and after punching in more numbers than you see on the CNBC stock market scrolls, I finally was able to speak to a live person, but not before at least another frustrating 20 minutes or so of being told by a non-human computer voice to play the telephone numbers game. When I finally reached the live, bona fide, I assume, human being, I was told that the medicine was in stock but they could only dispense it with a RX from a physician, which I already knew. But not all people know that, so that was okay. But after speaking to a pharmacist my experience with CVS went even further downhill. It’s not that she was discourteous. She, as I was, is a victim of the CVS system.

“Could you deliver the medicine once you get the RX I asked?” Not an unusual question, I believe. “Yes,” I was told but it would probably take as long as two days.” One of the reasons I prefer my local pharmacy is because they deliver medicine within a couple of hours.

I called my physician, who had phoned me more times than there are commercial breaks during the Super Bowl telecast to ask how I felt; — obviously he didn’t go to the CVS School of Medicine. I also hope he doesn’t get sanctioned by the AMA for caring about how I felt. He immediately sent the required information to the CVS location I gave him. An individual I knew went to the pharmacy for the medicine.

But when I read the information sheet with the medicine—Paxlovid—I had several questions about it. So I called Pfizer, the manufacturer of the med, and, miracle of miracles, I was immediately connected to a live person who attempted to answer my questions during a lengthy conversation. The individual also emailed me information and when I emailed back that I still had a few questions he called me back and gave me the answers. CVS might sell the Pfizer meds but their customer service was the exact opposite of Pfizer’s, which was excellent.

During my experience with CVS, my blood pressure rose 40 points, my throat began to hurt from saying “representative” to a machine, and my fingertips turned blue because of punching in so many numbers on my telephone. Even during my Army basic training days, where marching songs ended with “break it on down, one, two, three, four, one two” there were less do it by the numbers than trying to speak to a live person at CVS.

An article in the May 5 Wall Street Journal said, “Staffing shortages have stressed CVS and Walgreens as pharmacists and pharmacy technicians scrambled to juggle Covid-19 testing and vaccines with filling prescriptions and service customers. That’s not an excuse that I accept for my appalling telephone experience. Management gets paid the big bucks to fix problems before they reach the consumer level.

A recent survey by LivePerson, “a leading Conversational AI company creating digital experiences that are Curiously Human,” shows that I’m not the only person fed up with business telephone systems

The survey of 2,548 consumers in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia revealed that, “While today’s consumers expect seamless experiences across voice and messaging, many brands have yet to meet their expectations. In fact, the old customer experience nightmare of having to repeat yourself to multiple people and bots is still with us across devices and platforms: 84% of consumers report that they have to repeat themselves “often” or “all the time” when calling or messaging a brand.

Before the advent of social media, customer service was as separate from public relations as is a pond is from an ocean. Today that is no longer true because every customer who is unhappy with customer service can vent their displeasure on social media in addition to using the most effective form of public relations — saying good things about a company to friends via word of mouth.

In order to prevent more articles like this and justifiable bad mouthing on social media, a well-rounded public relations program should contain elements about how a company should react to an article like this because a happy consumer is the best type of public relations available.

Marketing, public relations and advertising agencies that spend millions of dollars of client’s money a year to promote a product probably will disagree with me

But the truth is that all the paid media in the world can not turn an unhappy consumer into a happy one. That’s why clients should insist that public relations plans should include suggestions about making the consumer service experiences a happy occurrence. My personal experiences prove that it’s possible to do so: Apple does it. Pfizer does it. And an account that I worked on for many years while at B-M, G.E. does it.

I’m sure that over the years I’ve also had good customer service experiences with companies that I can’t recall because as William Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caeser, “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.” (Among the evils that I’ll never forget is my customer relations experiences with G.M. after new car purchases of a Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Buick, all of which spent more time in the shop than on the road. But I’ve solved that problem years ago. I no longer buy GM products.)

 After my experience with CVS, my philosophy of not wishing ill on anyone has changed.  Another song from “My Fair Lady” best expresses my wishes about the individual who created the CVS telephone system.

“One evening the king will say:
Oh, Liza, old thing,

I want all of England your praises to sing.
Next week on the twentieth of May
I proclaim Liza Doolittle Day!
All the people will celebrate the glory of you
And whatever you wish and want I gladly will do.”
“Thanks a lot, King” says I, in a manner well-bred;
But all I want is ‘enry ‘iggins ‘ead!”
“Done,” says the King with a stroke.
“Guard, run and bring in the bloke!”
Then they’ll march you, ‘enry ‘iggins to the wall;
And the King will tell me: “Liza, sound the call.”
As they lift their rifles higher, I’ll shout:
“Ready! Aim! Fire!”
Oh ho ho, ‘enry ‘iggins,
Down you’ll go, ‘enry ‘iggins!
Just you wait

Substitute the name of the person responsible for the CVS phone system for ‘enry ‘iggins and that’s how I feel about the individual.

In its May 31 Wall Street Journal Report on Customer Experience, the lead article was titled, “The Best Ways To Deal With Angry Customers.” The almost two-page article reported that “66 percent of households surveyed said they had experienced a product or service problem in the prior 12 months,” but only “32 percent of complainants were satisfied with the response they received.”

Because every individual with a computer can let the world know of bad experiences with companies, as well as the good ones I wrote about in this article, it’s important for entities to spend as much time on consumer concerns as they do on trying to convince consumers of their virtues through public relations and advertising programs.

Arthur Solomon
Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He has been a key player on Olympic marketing programs and also has worked at high-level positions directly for Olympic organizations. During his political agency days, he worked on local, statewide and presidential campaigns. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com.


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