The SNEWS View: Bitter employees post-company acquisition share woes with customers

Employees willing and eager to share their displeasure about their employer with their customers must be truly disgruntled. And that just isn’t good for business. Firing them isn’t a good choice since that’s akin to shooting the messenger.... Read about our latest shopping experience, and think about it.

It’s one thing when customers rip on a store, but, boy, you just know it’s bad when the store’s employees and managers are ripping on the store — with and in front of customers.

That’s what I experienced earlier this month in a CVS drugstore in California. That is, it is now a CVS. Until the end of last year, it was a Longs Drugs and many in the community, including my husband and I, in fact still call it Longs. CVS acquired the Longs drugstore chain in August 2008, taking about 18 months to transition fully to a CVS.

As of the first of this year, all the stores officially became CVS. Longs was no more. I wandered in to pick up a few odds and ends — cough syrup, candy, personal care items, travel-sized toothpaste… that kind of thing. I noted they had red licorice on sale, pictured in the weekly circular, and I’m a sucker for real red licorice ropes. But I couldn’t find it anywhere. So I approached a woman who seemed like a manager.

“I can’t find the red licorice. Am I being blind?”

In response, but with nary a word to me, she grabbed an ad circular, took it over to the candy department (all the while assuming I’d just follow along, I expect, as she bounced hither and yon since she never really even acknowledged me). She mumbled to herself, “We don’t even carry that,” then did another about-face (with me still scrambling behind her) to find another employee — a man busily trying to work with some display that didn’t seem to be hanging right (we didn’t ask the details).

“Do you know if we have this?” she asked him.

“I don’t know. I could go look in the back when I’m done with this,” he said, barely raising his head and just as quickly turning back to the display.

I stood and listened. Neither had yet to even acknowledge me. Had I swallowed invisible pills? The woman then turned on her heel, flounced her way toward the back room, again mumbling (I can only assume to herself), “We’ll see what we can do at some point.” Still without any word to me, she disappeared behind a swinging door to the back room, reminding me of the Wizard of Oz hiding behind his curtain.

Enough of this mistreatment, I thought to myself, giving up and heading to check out.

“Did you find everything you wanted?” a checker asked me.

“Well, no, the other woman went looking for that box of red licorice that is on sale but she said the store doesn’t even carry it and then she disappeared.”

The woman rolled her eyes. “Oh, that’s our great employer,” she said with a heavy tone of sarcasm.

“Oh,” I inquired, remembering the acquisition, “is the transition not going so well?”

Her head still lowered, the woman raised just her eyes to stare at me, silently, glumly, sternly, pausing just long enough for me to FEEL the sarcasm to come, then she said, “Oh, you can say that again. I’ve been here 27 years and I lost everything I worked for.”

“You mean all your seniority?” I asked, as she rang up my purchases.

“Everything,” she said. “I don’t know what they’re thinking.”

Another customer in line behind us offered words of condolence and said they really hated the new store.

“Oh,.. gosh,… I’m sorry,” I sort of stammered to the checker. Not really sure what to say and feeling apologetic for even shopping there.

With both conversations, I felt as if I had been hearing things I should not have been. In a way, I was. All the employees I dealt with were obviously extremely unhappy with the new management — long faces, no pleasantries, no interaction with each other — and they didn’t hesitate to share that with customers like me.

Frankly, as a long, loyal Longs shopper who was always helped graciously and courteously by seemingly happy employees, it makes me much less eager to do business at CVS. Companies that acquire others certainly need to think long and hard about what they do and how it will affect their employees and, therefore, how that could affect their customers — and their future.

Employees willing and eager to share their displeasure about their employer with their customers must be truly disgruntled. And that just isn’t good for business. Firing them isn’t a good choice since that’s akin to shooting the messenger — the message still exists, of course. Secret shoppers can help determine your employees’ morale — and if there is a bug in it, a company may need to look internally to find a solution. Shooting the messenger won’t stem the rip tide.

Will I go back to CVS? Only if I have to, and I’ll make an effort not to have to.

–Therese Iknoian