Dear Walgreens of Aberdeen,
I won't be able to fully express how frustrating my experience with you today was, but I'm going to try.
You were supposed to have flu shots -- only 50 of them -- available starting at 10 this morning. I woke my 3-month-old daughter from a sound sleep to drop her off at my parents' house and arrived at your store at 10:05. I was the 10th person in line. One by one, we filled out the paperwork. All of us were told the shots would be given based on our place in line, that we would be paged when it was our turn, and that meanwhile we could shop.
An hour later, most of us had tired of walking in circles around the store and had returned to the pharmacy area, where we flipped through magazines or chatted with other waiting people as the clock kept ticking with no sign of the pharmacist. Finally, he emerged and gave about five flu shots, then scooted back behind the counter and out of sight. Forty-five minutes later, he returned and gave five more people their shots.
At that point it became obvious that the shots were not being given in order, as no one in that second round was among the first 10 in the initial line. When several people asked when, approximately, they might get their shot (since the first-come, first-serve method was obviously not being applied), the pharmacist got snappy and said he didn't know. That was reassuring.
It was about this time that my parents called saying my daughter was hungry and crying inconsolably. (Having never expected getting the flu shot to turn into an all-morning ordeal, I'd left her with only one bottle.) I asked a pharmacy worker whether she had any idea at all how much longer it would be before my name came up. She did not. I asked her if I could leave, feed my daughter and return. I told her I could be back within 45 minutes or at any time later in the day. She said I'd lose not just my place in line (worthless anyway) but my claim on a flu shot if I left.
I called my parents to tell them this wasn't worth the trouble and I was coming home. My phone call woke my daughter, whom my dad had finally gotten to sleep. She was screaming so loudly he couldn't hear anything I said, but he told me my mom and grandmother were on their way to my house to get a bottle for her, and that I should just stick it out at Walgreens. After all, I'd already devoted a whole morning to the cause.
So I stayed. Another round of people got their shots. Not I. By this time the pharmacy area was full of irritated people, all of whom were sick of waiting and completely confused as to the order in which flu shots were being given out. Some late arrivers were getting their shot before others who (like me) had been waiting for two and a half hours. Mixed in among us were people waiting not for a flu shot but one, two or three hours for a prescription to be filled.
If there was a method to the madness, all of your employees refused to disclose it. Seriously, it felt like we were unknowing participants in some kind of psychological experiment. I finally got my shot at 12:30.
Walgreens, you really dropped the ball on this one. The fact that you were still giving flu shots when almost everywhere else in town was out of the vaccine was an opportunity for you to impress potential new customers with your efficiency, competence and service. Instead, I'm happier than ever that we have kept our prescription business with a local non-chain drug store that's served us well for years. I had plenty of time to talk with the people waiting with me this morning, and many expressed similar sentiments.
If you're going to provide flu shots, do everyone -- that includes you, since I'll be shocked if you don't lose some customers over this -- a favor and figure out a system that works. Hire more pharmacy workers so someone can focus on people who are there just for the flu shot. Or have special early or late hours only for giving the flu shot.
And be candid with your customers about how long you expect the wait to be. Most of the people I talked with this morning didn't mind the wait itself; it was the wait's open-endedness that was maddening.
If I'd been told at 10:05 a.m. that it would be, let's say, at least noon before I could get the shot, I could have used that time well. I could have gotten an oil change, dropped by my office, picked up our dry cleaning, gone to the library, done a week's worth of grocery shopping or met my husband for an early lunch. I could even have worked out at my gym, right across the street, or driven to my parents' house and fed my daughter, avoiding a huge headache for my parents.
Instead I spent all morning getting more and more frustrated, composing this letter in my head and vowing not to return to your store anytime soon. The first thing I did when I got home was announce to my 331 Facebook friends: "I am confident that getting the flu would be preferable to today's maddening flu-shot ordeal at Walgreens." The second thing I did was write this letter, which will be posted on my blog and copied to Walgreens' corporate headquarters. Third, I ate a very late lunch.
I would be remiss, however, not to mention one of your pharmacy workers, Taylor. All morning she was incredibly courteous and patient with the dozens of disgruntled people venting their frustrations to her. She reflected really well on your store.
Thanks for the flu shot, but next year I may just take my chances with the flu.