If a phone rings in the forest


Last Saturday, I called the pharmacy to refill a prescription. I waited on hold for about five minutes, which is much longer than usual, and figured that it must have been really busy over there. So, I hung up, took care of some other tasks, and tried again about 15 minutes later. However, the result was the same: mediocre hold music, and nobody to answer my call.

As it turned out, I needed to go to the pharmacy anyway to pick up some non-prescription items. And when I got there, I immediately saw why the hold time was so long. The pharmacy area was locked up, and nobody was working there. Ironically, I could hear the public address system in the pharmacy, which was announcing messages like “There is a pharmacy call waiting.” But much like the saying about a tree falling in the forest, a phone ringing in an empty store might as well not be ringing at all.

I have no idea how many other people tried to call while the pharmacy was closed. But if you multiply this effect across all the stores that the particular pharmacy chain operates nationwide, I’m guessing that hundreds of people a day end up waiting in endless queues when the pharmacy staff is missing in action.

To prevent this frustration, the store should configure their phone system to detect whether any employees who can answer the phone have clocked in that day, or make them indicate their phone availability with some other method. This is quite common in call center environments, but apparently hasn’t made its way into regular retail scenarios. Otherwise, the retailer is causing needless frustration for customers who expect prompt service, but have no way of knowing that there’s nobody on the other end of the line.