Can I Have My COVID-19 Vaccine, Please? No

A recent trip to the pharmacy produced a sobering message: we need to do better at hybrid customer experience.

You can gain some decent customer experience insights while you wait on your prescription. My takeaway on a trip to a local CVS earlier this year? We need to do better at providing in-store experiences along with our digital customer experiences.

Much better.

Here’s my tale (with some paraphrasing):

A gentleman in his 80s (I learned his age later) approached the pharmacy counter and asked, “Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine, please?”

“No,” the pharmacist rep answered. “You have to schedule an appointment online.” 

“What about people that don’t have a computer?” the gentleman asked, clearly rattled.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “You need to do it online.”

Here he was, a local resident and a member of the most vulnerable population for COVID-19-related illnesses, denied from obtaining his vaccination.

Digital Isn’t the Only Customer Experience

Now, let’s get something straight. This isn’t a CVS hit piece. It’s not in the business of vaccination denials. In fact, CVS should be commended for being part of the US retail pharmacy chains that, as of June 23, according to the CDC, have administered 256.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Last month, CVS reported in its first quarter earnings call ($76.8 billion in revenue, up 11.2% compared to the prior year) that it led the nation in administering more than six million COVID-19 tests and more than eight million COVID-19 vaccines in the first quarter of 2022.  

All great stuff. CVS is truly a large part of curbing the spread of this deadly virus that’s killed more than 1.01 million United States residents and 6.33 million globally.

However, back to customer experience and some deserved criticism.

My gotcha in this local scenario I witnessed? The older gentleman’s comment: “What about people that don’t have a computer?”

Bingo. What about those people? What about those people who don’t get out much and happen to be in a pharmacy and just want to get their shot? What about those people that don’t have internet access?

Why can’t more large corporations empower their frontline workers at brick-and-mortar stores to accept all kinds of customers: the digitally-savvy ones and the ones who like the old-fashioned walk-in experience like they’ve known most of their lives?

Availability is the best customer experience, right? You need something. You get something. Un-availability quickly becomes the worst customer experience, no?

This is not a problem with the actual local store I visited and the people it employs. I didn’t expect the pharmacist to just sign up the gentleman on the spot. She couldn’t. She didn’t have the power or support to do that. I get that.

The problem is not baking this process in from the top down, empowering the frontline teams to have the ability to support a wide range of customers with different needs.

Related Article: What It Takes to Build a Standout Digital Customer Experience

Customers Just Want a Good Experience

“Customers no longer distinguish between online and offline and expect seamless experiences regardless of the channel used to interact with a business,” Uberall CEO and founder Florian Hübner told me in an interview.

His team put out a study on hybrid experiences with Forrester Consulting earlier this year and found that 70% of businesses indicate a deeper understanding of their customers is more important now than before the pandemic. It also found that 25% of activities related to the beginning and end of the customer journey are outsourced, and 75% are managed in-house. Activities managed in-house are fragmented across different teams, from digital marketing to customer service.

Maybe that’s part of the problem here. Maybe not.

“The organizations that show up when the customer is looking (likely online), creating an actually helpful digital presence that gets noticed and selected over competitors, will thrive in the hybrid customer journey,” Hübner added. “‘Getting found’ and ‘being chosen’ also online are the first essential steps towards a successful hybrid experience. The seal will be to ‘drive loyalty’ by offering an overall online and in-store experience so good that customers come back and bring others with them.”

CVS Response: In-Person Sign-Ups ‘Pending Availability’ 

This isn’t a CVS-only problem. That said, I wanted to give CVS a chance to weigh in on this particular local store’s efforts with the elderly gentleman who wanted a walk-in vaccine appointment back in April.

Back then, I reached out to media relations and asked the following questions: How does CVS approach combining those experiences — physical and digital? Is it true people need to sign up for COVID-19 vaccines online? Or can you sign up in person, and this one store just chose not to allow it? Would CVS consider adding an in-store sign-up component?

Matt Blanchette, senior manager, retail communications for Woonsocket, RI-based CVS Pharmacy, said walk-ins are available at all locations, pending availability. On June 29, I called the local CVS where the elderly man was denied and was told by a representative they do not offer walk-ins and can schedule COVID-19 vaccines online or by phone.

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