Yesterday, I went to a drugstore to get a prescription for Vicodin (I had a tooth pulled) and there I stood waiting for someone to acknowledge that I was in fact standing at the drop-off counter with a prescription in my hand. Four people were behind the counter doing various things. Not one of them looked my way, made eye contact, or said anything. About 3 or 4 minutes later, someone came and asked if I needed help. “Of course, I need help. Why else would I be standing here with a prescription in my hand?” This incident, which I figure happens every day at every drug store, stimulated me to think of some guidelines for politeness in this type of situation. So, here goes—with love to all the drug-store workers (who are often overworked), please consider the following simple suggestions:
1. Be mindful that people waiting to get their prescriptions filled are probably not at their best. They’re probably feeling ill or in some sort of pain. Of course, this is not true of everyone but it’s probably a good assumption for a drug store worker to act on.
2. Recognize the presence of the person at the drop-off counter. Even if you’re busy and can’t stop to take care of the customer, acknowledge the presence of the person with a simple smile and an “I’ll be right with you.”
3. Treat the customer as a person with a friendly acknowledgment. A simple “hello, how are you?” is sufficient to let the person know that he or she will be treated as a person and not simply as a walking prescription.
4. Further acknowledge the presence and important of the customer by making brief eye contact. Look at the person before you look at the prescription; it will take no longer than a second.
5. Instead of just taking the prescription and walking to the computer in silence, tell the customer what you’ll be doing, e.g., “Let me look up your insurance and see what we have” or “Let me see if I have this in stock.”
6. In giving the prescription, ask the customer if he or she has any questions that you might be able to answer. For example, you might say, very simply, “Do you have any questions about this?” Or, “Have you taken this medication before? There are important precautions to take and these are all written down on this leaflet.” It’s a simple thing that will make the patient feel a lot better.
7. Avoid mentioning the medication or the person’s name if other customers are within earshot. “Mr. Barley, your Viagra is ready” is probably not going to make Mr. Barley feel very comfortable. It’s a variation on that great scene from the Golden Girls where the Girls are buying condoms and feeling very uncomfortable about it and so just whispering, only to have the clerk ask on loudspeaker for the price of the condoms the Girls are buying.
8. Avoid jargon as much as possible. You know the names of all these medications and physical conditions; the customer may not. Keep in mind that your responsibility is to communicate clearly and that means beginning with what the customer knows. Probably the best assumption to make here is that the customer does not know any of the information you learned in pharmacy school.
9. Explain when the prescription will be filled and give the customer as many options as available. Say something like “This will take about 10 minutes, would you like to wait or come back later?” or “This will take several days; we can call you when it comes on or mail it to you.”
10. Thank the customer. After all, your salary and job depend on that customer coming back and a simple “thank you” can help a great deal. It’s also a big part of politeness.
As it turned out, I didn’t need the Vicodin; there was no pain. But the experience at the drugstore did help me to think in another way about politeness.