A Customer or a Guest?

By Larry Teren

Waiting in a line of one person at the Red Bullseye Pharmacy to pick up some medicine for Ma. The pharmacy assistant calls out, “will the next guest step forward?”.

Now you all know that when you pick up medicine at a pharmacy (when did they stop calling it a drug store anyway?), they ask a series of questions to see if you are who you say you are. The lady clerk asks me Ma’s street address, phone number, maiden name, color of eyes and the nickname of her high school basketball team. There is no margin for error. The clerk looks at me and tsk tsk’s when I say that Ma’s eyes are blue. She whips out a photo taken of Ma at my niece’s wedding a year earlier and says that her eyes look more hazel. I’m told to step to the back of the line and start over. Since no one has joined behind me during this interrogation, my number gets called again. This time the clerk is willing to forgive my one slip up and places the package containing the prescription bottle on the counter. I pick it up, turn and start to walk away.

She yells, “hey, come back.”

I turn to her and ask why. Looking at me in an odd fashion, she says, “you didn’t pay. You gotta pay., buster.”

I reply, “but you said I’m a guest. Guests don’t pay.”

She now says, “don’t be a wise guy or I’m gonna call “Security”.

I smile, take out my wallet and suggest she start thinking of visitors such as yours truly as customers rather than guests. She says something in Spanish and we left it at that because my response would have sounded more like Portuguese.

A few days later I go to my drug store, I mean, pharmacy to pick up the monthly allotment of the stuff that controls my passion for middle-of-the-night drainage (go ahead, read between the lines). Here, I do not need to reply to a litany of questions but rather who is buried in Grant’s Tomb. As soon as I answer correctly the first time (I keep a pocket Wikipedia handy), the lady clerk tells me my height, weight, the last four digits of my social security number and what I had for breakfast. She then rings up the sale. I pull out the rewards card that needs to be scanned every time I make a medicinal purchase. Ten purchases entitles me to a (whoopee) five dollar discount on a future buy.

This purchase is my tenth since starting to use the rewards card. Before I can react, this lady clerk congratulates me and explains that I cannot use the five dollar gift towards the purchase of this medicine. Nor can I use it for any future purchase of medicine, neither. It can only be used for selected sundry items of which they have a list if I ever care to consider it. Nah, their sundry items are overpriced regardless. They say not to look a gift horse in the mouth. I guess it depends if you like horseback riding, huh?

Everybody claims to be customer oriented but are they really? One car dealer annoyingly advertises on the radio that customer satisfaction is not a goal at their place- it is the only goal. Is it? I thought to make a profit is the main goal but still make the chump being profited from think that he or she is getting a deal.

One of the supermarkets I frequent a couple of times a week had a deal going for a while where you
used a customer loyalty card at check out. Many items were discounted from the suggested retail price if you scanned the card. This was a win-win for both the supermarket chain and the consumer. The consumer often got a dime or so off each dollar spent. The supermarket was able to keep track of the items the consumer liked to purchase. It helped them figure out what to stock as well as offer special sales to lure the consumer back regularly.

The special card got even better when they tied it into giving five cents or more off a gallon of gasoline purchased at a particular service station. This was a pretty sweet deal for a while. There were times I was getting ten to twenty cents off per gallon depending on when I went to buy gas versus making purchases at the grocery store.

But, good things don’t last too long, right? The supermarket chain owners were desperately trying to build up the store visit volume and used these gimmicks to make it work. Their real goal was to unload the chain to a venture capital group. It worked as the new owners quickly took over and immediately
got rid of the gasoline purchase discount tie-in to the special rewards card. Now it was only good for the discounting of selected items on the stores’ shelves.

That didn’t last long either. A genius at a high level in the venture capital group corporation figured that consumers were not stupid and didn’t like to be treated any differently than Doctor Pavlov’s dogs. They wanted to see a lower price on items without having to go through gyrations to get it. So, the corporate bigwigs eliminated the special cards and claimed that they lowered the prices on over 400 items in the store.

Maybe they have and maybe the prices are still too high. I’d rather be treated as a customer rather than a guest anyway. This way I know not to expect any favors. What about you?

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