@CVS_Extra: A Case Study in How to Fail in Social Media Engagement

A bad way to wake up is with an asthma attack. Fortunately for me, my symptoms are moderate and not life threatening, but they cause extreme discomfort, and of course my rescue inhaler was nowhere to be found.

I quickly called my local 24-hour CVS to see if they could tell me if 1) I had any refills remaining, 2) whether I could transfer a refill from a neighboring location which wasn’t open yet, or 3) if they might be able to loan me one to get over this attack.

A worse way to wake up is when your trusty local pharmacy shows that they have no concern for you or your health. After five minutes on hold, the pharmacist who answered said something to the effect of, “I have three people at my window and five more in line. You need to wait.”

All I needed to know was whether I needed to call into work and make a doctor’s appointment or perhaps go to the emergency room, but the pharmacist didn’t seem at all interested in the health of a customer. Rather, he had a line he had to get to.

Surely CVS corporate must be concerned. I asked on Twitter, but to add insult to injury, they turned a deaf ear as well:

Still occupied by my attack, I wasn’t about to wait on hold further just to discuss the service I didn’t receive:

Is it the normal course of action to advise patients to call your customer service line rather than seeking medical help? I wanted to know. No response:

At a certain point, CVS’s inability to respond in any way became frustrating:

Engaging other customers to see how they were able to have good experiences yielded no response from CVS:

When I get upset, my snarkiness level explodes. I loaded up HootSuite to continue my campaign if not for an apology, at least for some sort of validation or acknowledgement:

In the end I still haven’t heard from CVS. Experts suggest customer complaints in Social Media should be routed offline as soon as possible to prevent exposing your online community to negative comments about your company. But that’s not an excuse to respond once and wipe your hands of that conversation. In most cases ignoring complaints within your channels (Facebook, Twitter, Company Blog) pushes complaints to channels that you don’t control (Yelp, Google Places, perhaps a personal blog).

Hiding behind a Twitter screen is no excuse for ignoring your customers, no matter how irate they may be. You would’t have a pharmacist respond only to a customer’s first complaint and ignore the rest – why would you let your community managers?

Maybe I expect too much from social companies. Just as restaurant employees might have higher levels of standards of service for a meal, I have higher expectations of social media based customer service. I’ve set personal calendar events to remind myself to reach out to customers when I’ve promised to. I’ve called a dozen government agencies during Hurricane Irene because a Facebook fan needed ice to keep her medication cool. I’ve reached out to our online community to support customer whose basement was flooded because an outage stopped her pumps from working. I expect a higher level of customer service from companies engaged in social media, especially if they’re the second largest pharmacy chain in the country – wouldn’t you?

Have you seen extraordinary examples of customer service or customer disservice in Social Media? Tell me about your stories below.


  1. I have a similarly frustrating story!

    The other day I was in line at some pharmacy – maybe like 4 or 5 cars back – and having an asthma attack! I just wanted to know if I should call out of work. And then I saw that the pharmacist was ON THE TELEPHONE! Can you believe that!? How ridiculous.

    Of course I immediately wrote up an angry blog post, but then chickened out at the last minute. I mean, I don’t want to come off looking like a huge child.

    1. Maybe I was the guy he was with on the phone!

      But seriously, I wanted to write from the prospective of offering some lessons. Luckily my symptoms don’t usually get too bad, but what if they could have been life threatening, or if I was someone needing medication for extreme hypertension or epilepsy?

      And why was their only recourse through social media channels to direct you to their phone lines? Why have them if you’re unable to use them for anything?

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