Walgreens stops wishing shoppers ‘be well’

Discussion
Mar 30, 2015

Walgreens has officially dropped the requirement that its workers wish shoppers to "be well" after they check out. The change also applies to Duane Reade stores.

"It’s accomplished its goal of reinforcing our branding," spokesman Michael Polzin told CNN Money. "We’ll continue to build our relationships with customers in other ways."

The drug store’s slogan is "At the Corner of Happy & Healthy."

The "be well" greeting will be replaced by a new set of guidelines for checkout goodbyes that’s expected to be less rigid.

A Walgreens memo sent to employees this week attained by the Chicago Tribune outlined other changes in dealing with customers. Among them, associates:

  • Should learn customers’ names;
  • Should thank customers for their purchase;
  • No longer have to say, "Welcome to Walgreens" when a customer enters the store. Instead, they could offer a cheery "Good morning" or "Welcome back, Mr. Smith. What brings you in today?"

A Facebook page, "Walgreens Gone Wrong," set up earlier last year by a workers advocacy group provided a forum for workers as well as some shoppers to voice their frustrations over the policy.

In many cases, such as someone buying cigarettes or alcohol or purchasing medicine for a terminal disease, the "be well" phrase was inappropriate, some workers noted. The big complaint was that the forced script made the workers sound fake and insulted the intelligence of their many regular customers. A few called for more personalized communications.

"I love and respect my customers, and of course, want them to be well, but it’s just not necessary to sound like an insincere carbon copy routine Walgreens worker," wrote one worker after news of the change. "This is definitely a step in the right direction."

Still, more than a few last year defended the practice, noting that shoppers enjoyed being acknowledged rather than ignored. Wrote one associate, "Saying ‘be well’ is just like saying, ‘have a nice day.’ It is a Walgreens branded saying. This more than just a job to me, so to me and my customers, ‘be well’ is genuine. If you act fake about, it will be fake."

Are mandated scripts a viable way to encourage associates to be personable? Do suggested or required phrases make associates sound too robotic? Did Walgreens make the right change?

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25 Comments on "Walgreens stops wishing shoppers ‘be well’"

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Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
2 years 28 days ago

Personally, I’m glad it is gone. The first time a Walgreens employee said it to me I thought it was interesting and thought perhaps he just made it up. After a few dozen times it got a little annoying and came close to sounding like an order. The part about asking employees to learn the names of their customers is laughable. These associates are on the lower end of the retail employee hierarchy and I just don’t see it happening, and I never recall being called by name by a Walgreens cashier. At the pharmacy, maybe. I’m glad they relaxed the script, though.

Debbie Hauss
BrainTrust

I think on some level it does sound robotic if it is repeated over and over and does not sound sincere. Maybe Walgreens should provide a list of 10 to 20 different accepted phrases their associates could use—something they might feel more comfortable with.

This also reminds me a bit of the Starbucks faux pas with the “Race Together” notes written on the cups.

That said, a smile goes a long way.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

I’ll guess that Walgreen’s dropped “be well” after learning that its associates weren’t actually saying it.

Customers want a genuine smile and some eye contact. When retailers choose the right associates and reinforce a culture of gratitude for customers, particularly repeat customers, they’ll win without a script.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

As a retail sales trainer I found the experience at Walgreens refreshing, as I wrote in this post a month ago, Customer Service: Greeting Your Retail Customers. The young woman was friendly and the words used sounded genuine.

If you want to hire Bitter Bettys and let them get away with their worldview of “the high cost of being happy,” expect them to say how insincere it makes them feel.

I thought that “be well” was a great branded opportunity that fit well with their overall messaging.

Employees who feel they are being “robotic” with scripts never realize how their disingenuous improvised, “How are you today?” or “Can I help you?” sound.

On that Facebook page Cheri says, “Sad thing is, I have worked for this company for almost 15 years and this will most likely be my undoing from the company.” I say good riddance.

Most retailers’ final words these days by employees are either “No problem” or silence. I’ll take a scripted saying from an engaged employee who isn’t thinly trying to disguise their contempt of their job and customer any time.

Warren Thayer
BrainTrust

No, yes and yes. No matter how you slice it, it sounds fake, because it is. This is control-freak management at its worst. Encouraging eye contact, “thank you,” and perhaps a random compliment would do far better.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

From my own experience at Walgreens, the effectiveness of the “be well” remark sounded sincere at times, awkward at other times, it all depends on the associate and the context. Walgreens is in so many categories unrelated to their “health and wellness” positioning (and in some cases diametrically opposed) that it just doesn’t make sense outside of the pharmacy window—and not always there, either.

The Walgreens “script” came up in another context recently: The New York Times ran a story last Friday about the number of retailers who call their customers “guests” (Target being the best-known example). This kind of “forced hospitality” (like being told to “be well”) is not always preferable to finding the merchandise in stock and paying for it in an efficient way.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

I agree with greeting people entering a store and thanking customers for their purchase. However, I believe many people would rather remain anonymous at Walgreens. As has been noted in other articles, given the items many people are buying in Walgreens, do you want the clerk saying “how are you [insert you name here]” as you are buying [insert embarrassing or personal item here]? I am sure that I wouldn’t want my name shared with the other customers who may be in line.

If I make a purchase with a credit card, I see no reason for the clerk to state my name when they hand it back to me. It may just be that I am an curmudgeon or am trying to hold on to the little anonymity left in a world where so many feel the need to share so much with so many.

David Biernbaum
BrainTrust

The Walgreens phrase “be well” might have fallen short, in my opinion, because it sounds kind of awkward coming from a busy, preoccupied employee, often multi-tasking, behind the pharmacy counter or at the drive-up window. I think what should be mandated, and I believe still might be, is a simple “do you have any questions for the pharmacists?” or “what else can I help you with today?” I think most customers would rather have a functional and sincere exchange with the employee than to be “told” to “be well!”

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

After the second time, nothing sounds more insincere than these mandated scripts. The guidelines are perfect. “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” “How are you, today?” and “Nice to see you again” all work very well. It is about friendliness and sincerity.

Ironically, my go-to drug store is Duane Reade and I never heard “be well.” But the staff has been exceptionally friendly, welcoming and helpful, which trumps “be well” every time.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

ANY time you try and systematize or script a relationship effort you will fail miserably. A script is no substitute for actually caring and thinking.

I had a hospital client decades ago that was trying to overcome a terrible PR nightmare ignited largely by poor leadership. The CEO of his own volition stood at the main staff entrance one day and handed out “We Care” buttons for staff to wear. So many of the staff basically said, “No we don’t and we’re not wearing your stupid buttons.”

What shocks me is Walgreens’ suggestion that staff should say: “Welcome back, Mr. Smith. What brings you in today?” Really? At Home Depot maybe. But in a pharmacy? I was going to post suggestions for how a customer might respond but basically they all came down to: “None of your business.”

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

When I heard about the “be well” policy my immediate thought was the movie “Demolition Man” with Sylvester Stallone. It sounded corny in the movie, it sounds corny when you hear it from a store associate. Just have them smile and be nice. (Of course then I start thinking of movie “Road House.”)

Glad they got rid of the policy. I actually haven’t heard an associate say that at Walgreens in a while.

David Zahn
Guest

I want to take a slightly different approach here—I am not in favor of being greeted at the door with “what brings you in today?” Just on the off chance that the answer the customer has is “I have jock itch” or “my spouse’s meat loaf—where is the Immodium?” or similar statements that are really no one’s business to share. I don’t want to know if my fellow shoppers have a need for Depends, condoms, lice shampoos, etc.

Am I alone in that?

Tom Redd
BrainTrust
Welcome to America—where the press and media drive most of the thinking. CNN, The Tribune, etc., do they not have something better to do then analyze Walgreens post-visit spin? Let retailers do as they wish with associates that most likely would say nothing if some script/ideas were provided from corporate marketing. There are many, many shoppers that could use someone like a Walgreens person saying “be well.” Who cares what they buy! Smokes, booze, candy or prescriptions and baby diapers (or daddy diapers). In many ways it is time for the retail world to ignore the social trash media channels and the related garbage commentators and do what they know is best for THEIR stores. How many of the Tribune writers really know store associates and the importance of their relationships with shoppers? Facebook had many comments with people saying that they liked the positive statement. At my local Home Depot I am well-known and the greeters all state: “Tom, don’t break anything” when I arrive. My favorite cashier always makes me smile. When I leave she says, “have fun!” Relationships in retail start with simple statements like “be well” and from there they evolve into personalized dialogue that regular… Read more »
Kevin Graff
BrainTrust

Hmmm … we get frustrated by a lack of service in stores, bemoaning staff who ignore us. Now, apparently, we’re frustrated because we don’t like what Walgreens had their staff saying. Picky lot, aren’t we?

There are pros and cons to everything, as there is in scripted greetings or sales pitches. Lots of good in “be well” and some downsides, too.

So let’s no throw the baby out with the bath water. Incorporate a hybrid approach that provides the staff with five or seven different ways to greet their customers, and make it clear that one of the ways is NOT to ignore the customer, sound insincere or like you’d rather be anywhere else.

Be well, everyone.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Al is correct. The first few times I also thought it was nice. After experiencing it almost every time it became far less effective. One thing I have noticed is it is a regular thing when you check out at the pharmacy. But you are lucky to be looked at in the eye if you are anywhere else in the store.

I have a problem with scripted phrases, especially when the sender makes them sound scripted. Originality, which might be too much to expect, and a smile are much more effective.

Kevin Leifer
Guest

The key is engaging the customer. These scripts are in place to brand these engagements, but at the end of the day, if you are not managing to a quality customer interaction, it simply will not happen.

Anne Howe
BrainTrust

It’s a darn shame that retailers have to resort to scripts and instructions on how to be pleasant to customers. We’ve become a “look at a device” nation, not a look people in the eye nation. When you make eye contact with a customer it’s almost impossible not to say something pleasant, even if it’s just a smile.

I wonder what might happen if retailers just encourage associates at the register to raise their faces up and make eye contact. A smile, a nod, a thanks, a hello, a good-day…almost anything after that eye contact can work. If your store associate can’t make that happen they need to be replaced.

Let’s all just try to be nicer! It’s not really all that hard to do.

Liz Crawford
BrainTrust

Bring on the robotics. Bring on anything which will roughly approximate old fashioned decorum.

I am probably one of the few people who hates to have a “relationship” with a sales associate. I find it creepy when a sales person calls me by name; call me “miss” call me “ma’am.” Unless I am in that establishment daily and really get to know the people working there, I don’t appreciate the “first name basis” assumption. It feels like the human face of Big Data—we know all about you, but you don’t know us.

Today’s retail practices are meant to be “friendly” but instead they are overly familiar, or even intrusive or inappropriate. Do customers really like a checkout clerk commenting on their purchases? Asking when and how they will use the items? Do customers want to drop all forms of privacy? This is a transaction, not a friendship…or at least, not initially. But then again, I’m not a Millennial.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

It is all in the delivery. An often repeated formula but never validated says that the words we use are only about 11% of the message, the tone we used is another 34% of the message, and the body language counts for about 55% of the message.

If the words are delivered without the correct body language or tone, they actually become a negative.

The key is to give associates some suggested phrases and let them pick the ones they feel are most appropriate to the situation.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Do mandated scripts make people seem robotic? Excuse me “too robotic” (I guess there’s a “just right” level of being an automaton)? Gee, let me think about that.

Maybe they should hire people who are just naturally friendly and good at interacting with people…just a thought.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

How ’bout be yourself, and actually have cashier who understand simple small talk, when engaging in a transaction. A pleasant thank you. I hate slogans that are forced by management, which sound terrible, rather than natural. Big companies need to realize that we prefer a genuine greeting that flows simply and quickly as we go through the lines.

Alan Lipson
Guest
Alan Lipson
2 years 28 days ago

My answer to this will depend on who I am interacting with. A customer service associate, or someone who is helping me find products will have the opportunity to “get personal.” They will, or should, engage me with the what, why, how etc. so that they can better help me get the right product and/or service.

However, at the checkout lane, I want to get through that as quickly as possible. I’m reminded of my grocery store where they ask the question “Did you find everything you were looking for?” What happens if I say “No”? Will they stop the line and go get it?

The best advice, and it’s been said by others, is to engage the customer with a simple hello or other appropriate greeting. Then at the end of the transaction, either say thank you to the customer or if the customer gets to it first, a simple “Your welcome” is better than “No problem.”

The thought that we have to script this for the cashier already says too much about where our society has drifted.

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

I also found it interesting the first time (although thought it sounded a bit odd) but then once I heard it multiple times, it was a bit much. Hiring the right folks, training them and providing ongoing coaching seems like a better approach.

David Livingston
Guest
2 years 28 days ago

I love going to the Varsity in Atlanta and the front-line employees yelling at me “What do ya have what do ya have!!!” Sure it’s robotic, but it sounds fun. Puts you in a good mood right away. I prefer to let employees come up with their own catch phrases. Like at the ball park the beer vendor will tell patrons he has warm expensive beer for sale. At least it gets lots of laughing.

Arie Shpanya
Guest

Scripted interactions are rarely a good way to connect with customers. We’ve all been on the phone with call centers and been frustrated by a scripted call that really doesn’t address our unique issue.

I think that there should be flexibility so that employees don’t end up sounding like robots. It’s about forming the personal connections, not following a script that can’t fit each customer every time they check out.

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