Hello shoppers...

...and welcome to Part 2 of the Secret Shopper review of Des Moines area Walgreens - our country's largest drugstore chain (Click here to read Part 1) and the 3rd largest thing with the word "Wal" in it (after the obvious, and The Great Wal(l) of China).

Walgreens, like chain stores that have graced the secret shopping pages of this blog before - Casey's and Kum and Go, to name a few - faces the challenge of trying to hire people who have the same passion for their store as Charles Walgreen had for his when he opened the first one, in Chicago, in 1901.

Good luck with that.

Owners want clones of themselves; they usually get faded copies, and make due. That doesn't make their employees bad people, just normal people who are less inclined to bust their tails because, hey, that ain't their name on the side of the joint.

The employee standouts who do take ownership - the ones who consistently smile, greet, engage and thank customers - are usually happy, thoughtful people to begin with. In those cases, the HR people simply lucked out (with a lot of help from strong management, support from ownership, and an indescribably effective Buyosphere Training Program.)

Yep. You got glad-handled this morning at The Pancake Emporium because the hiring person picked resume #127 instead of #9 - you lucky flapjack!

How lucky were the last 6 Walgreens you're about to read about?

First, a quick peek at the scoring criteria:


  Horrific - a customer service nuclear bomb that's every owner's worst nightmare. The kind of service you call your friends to complain about.       

   Weak - a lot of work to be done, but there's hope.       

   Forgettable - not great, not bad. This is where most businesses end up.       

   Strong - some very good things are going on. Just needs some tweaking.       

   Stellar - first-rate, exceptional, off the hizzle. The kind of exemplary service you call your friends to brag about.    


An even quicker peek at the scorer:

A look at what the scorer (and the store owner) wants to see:

And what we'd all like to avoid: 


Retail, to paraphrase Forest Gump, is like a box of zombies; you think you know exactly what you're going to get but sometimes you're surprised because some of them haven't been infected with whatever virus makes employees stare numbly at the floor while they mumble, "Will there be anything else?"

Would there be pleasant (and perhaps not so much) customer service surprises at the remaining Walgreens locations?

Put your smile on, plan on seeing plenty but bring your copy of Zombie Killing For Dummies, just in case.

(Stores are in the order they were shopped.)

Walgreens 6200 Merle Hay Road


Phone greeting: "Thank you for calling Walgreens, this is Carolyn, how can I help you?" (Pleasant, but slow it down a bit and add a smile, Carolyn!)


They'd had a spill in the perfume aisle as I entered and began perusing, but Kelly was handing it with aplomb: "Excuse my mess. Just busted some perfume." Kelly said it with a big smile; that's the way you want to see someone handle retail misfortune.

Kelly then asked the misfortunate, "Can I help you find something?" I said "No, just looking." Conversation over.

Those 3 words should be heard in an employee's ear as these 22: I'm shopping for something but I'm not sure what that something is and could sure use someone's expertise in helping me decide.

What's the (W)right response? Well, tell me what you might be looking for and maybe I can help. If the shopper still insists they're looking, then let them look. But more often than not, you'll get the admission that, yes, they could sure use a hand. That guarantees that the employee won't abandon them, as Kelly did. She was nice about it, but really should have hung around, and at least said "thank you" or "enjoy your shopping" before she walked away.

At the pharmacy counter, Erron (sorry if I misspelled it) was with another customer, and said, smilelessly, "I'll be with you in a minute." No problem - but saying it with a smile makes the minute seem like 10 seconds, Erron. Flash those pearly whites, you insanely happy pharmacist! :)

Aaron (no relation), another pharmacist, then came up to me and said, "Can I help you" without looking at the "you" who was me, thus making it feel like he wanted the answer to be "no."

Aaron did do a very nice job of coming out from behind the counter and taking me to the Alli (which I needed, because October-December is Nacho Season). He also followed up with a very nice, "Is there anything else I can help you with?" Nice job on asking the extra question! Now give it more polish by, instead, asking the extra question this way: "What else can I help you with?" It doesn't assume the transaction is over, just idling its car engine while the shopper decides what road (aisle) to travel down next.

And don't forget to smile and thank before you run off, Aaron. :)

Next it was on to pencils and notepads, where Melvin wrote me off for 5 minutes from 5 feet away. I was about to head for greener customer service pastures when I stopped, turned and said, "You look familiar." (I wanted to get his name.) Melvin smiled slightly, and said, "I've worked at 86th, Southeast 14th, Ames, all over," and went back to stocking.

Awesome. Maybe they'll engage me over there. See ya!

I call that denying the shoppers reality, Melvin; it makes us feel like a smoke signal on a windy day. You've got to engage the person who has taken time out of their busy schedule to set foot inside your store, your aisle and your airspace.

I'm sure you're a friendly guy, Melvin. Now show it. :)

I headed to the photo department to see what might be developing - and it was Richard, who said a "hi" without a smile, and a "Can I help you?" without really sounding like he wanted to. He expertly answered my question on film development, but didn't offer a thank you at the end, and remained in frown mode.

Stores, like the economy, have trends; this one was "trending down."

Eric had a chance to turn things around. He walked behind a counter where I was standing, looked at me...then looked away and said nothing.

The slide continued. I slid out the door.

Overview: Kelly was the only employee I ran into who looked happy, and she was cleaning up spilt perfume.

Walgreens 3030 University


Phone greeting: "(Indecipherable) John, how may I help you?" (Monotone and uber-rapid-fire delivery; that's not a phone greeting, that's an auctioneer's call. Slow down your pace, especially on the phone, especially especially when you might be talking to someone calling in to refill their prescription-strength Metamucil.)


I entered and walked past check-out slooowly, which didn't impress Andre, who was customer and greeting-free. Andre, that's no problem if you're ringing somebody up; otherwise, give that incoming patron a nice "Hi" and "How are you?" It will set a great tone for the rest of their experience.

Lewis made me feel a bit more welcome at the photo processing counter. He first told me he'd be right with me and then asked if I was picking up. I responded, "Yes. Naked photos for Brandstad, Terry." Then for real I asked if they could process a 20 year-old roll of exposed film.

Lewis began to explain why it would or wouldn't work while he continued to work on a photo processing job, looking at his work 70% of the time, and me, the other 4%. After he was done "engaging" me, he turned back to what he was doing (which required very little turning, since he was already turned that way) and continued his left-brain task. No "Have I answered your question?" No "Thank you for asking." No "Have a nice day." No "Give my regards to Chris."

Hopefully I don't have to tell you why that totally blew, Lewis, and what you can do to unblow it next time. 

But since that's my dealio, here's me, dealin it.

The tasks that employees are assigned to do are important. But without customers, there would be very little need for a Picture Developer, Unexposed Film.

Lewis, admit that you can't multi-task - no man can. I've seen a woman put on mascara, eat a burrito and drive a fork-lift while burping a baby and hand-washing panty hose in Woolite, but we dudes? We're just not built like that. Actually no one is. So regardless of gender, give your full attention to the customer in front of you, and let go of the tasks at hand. Plus there's no excuse not to thank someone at that point - none.

I engaged Lewis at that point (to get his name), mentioning that I recognized him, and had perhaps run into him at this store, or another he may have worked at.

"I hope it was good then, too," he replied, then went back to picture making

Emily, behind the pharmacy counter, amped up the store's denial of reality factor by a factor of 10 as she looked right at me, unsmiling, then looked away.

That's gonna leave a mark.

Shannon, another pharmacist, approached next; she asked, smile-less and joy-free but decidedly open endedly, "What can I help you with?" Shannon thoughtfully took me to the locked-up Alli, asking Jack, an employee nearby, to open it. I said, looking at Jack, that I first just wanted to see the price.

I turned back towards Shannon. "I have a few questions, if you-"

She was 25 feet away.

"...had just a moment."


Guess not.

Shannon, hopefully I don't have to explain why...Shannon? Shannon??

Never mind.

Having had enough glad-handling for one day, I headed towards the check-out counter, where fate would intervene. 

For some reason, I decided to take one more quick pass past the photo area. There, I saw Daniel, who was right on the other side of the counter and obviously having a personal conversation on the store's phone.

"...been here working 15 years, shouldn't have to..." I wasn't eavesdropping: He was right there.

So was I, which Daniel finally noticed. "I'll have to call you back," he said, and hung up.

Now what do you suppose Daniel said to me at that point?

Was it...

A) "I shouldn't have taken that call, forgive me. It's just that my best friend was having some problems...how can I help you today?

B) "I'm so sorry to keep you waiting. I love my kids, but sometimes...you know. (laugh) What can I help you with?"

C) "Can I help you?"

Please email your guess to: itwasC@theunsecretshopper.com

I asked Daniel about flash drives, which he dutifully showed me without flashing a smile. Then that was it. No thank you. No nutin.

I took one more pass through the center of the store on my way to the check-out counter, and heard an employee up at check-out, from 30 feet away and quite clearly, say, "I thought this day was gonna go by fast."

You, too?

At the check-out counter, Jack greeted politely: "Hello, sir. How are you today? I had already aged 20 years, and the "sir" reference added another decade.

Jack did express a pleasant "Did you find everything?" and ended with a "Thank you, have a nice day," both said to the cash register, and the front door, respectively.

Sorry, I'm being picky. That experience deserves pickiness.

Overall: Jack did some nice things, but this store has issues - that can be rectified.   

Walgreens 4415 Douglas


Phone greeting: "(Indeciperable) Beaver and Douglas, can I help you?" (I know where you're at, but who's at where this is?)


This was the first Walgreens where the bathroom was locked and you had to ask to be let in - at least the first one I noticed.

I understand security issues, vandalism problems, vagrancy, customers sneaking a bottle of 409 into the can, cleaning it top to bottom and then leaving (I HATE that!) and all those other reasons that stores lock down their restrooms. That doesn't take away from the humiliation of being north of 7 years old and having to ask to go potty.

The pharmacist obliged, getting Matt to let me in. The same pharmacist (didn't get her name) brought Matt back to show me where the Alli was at. Matt did both tasks diligently, but didn't really say anything to me, either time.

I came back and began browsing toothbrushes when Sabrina, very quickly and pleasantly, asked the less pleasant "Anything I can help you find?" Sabrina, you were nice, and attentive; now just add some polish by using an open-ended question, greeting with a sweet salutation before it, and giving a nice thank you at the end.

I approached Jacquel's area and began looking at merchandise. Frowning, she turned and said, "Looking for something?"

A smile outta you, young lady. :) Jacquel, I bet your grin lights up the room, when you flash it. However, at this point it's just a theory. So go out and prove it, okay? :)

The same sort of scowl was plastered on the face of another pharmacist (who didn't have a name tag - one of four employees without one). Another employee entered the store as I walked up to the checkout counter, and looked as miserable as some of the others who were already there.

Diane, at checkout, said, without cracking a smile or looking at me, "Hello. Find everything okay?" I'm looking for a smile...is every employee a Cub's fan?

Overall: Sabrina had a nice, friendly vibe, and has the potential to be a customer service stud.

Walgreens 104 East Euclid

Phone greeting: "Thank you for calling Walgreens. This is Michael, how can I help you?" (Pleasantly delivered, easily understood. Now toss in a bit more smile! :))


I entered and immediately walked back to the pharmacy counter, where Elizabeth was Eddie Van Halen on the customer service guitar, riffing through a "Hi!" "How are you?" "How can I help you?" with a huge smile on her face, which made it feel like she meant every word, because she did. :) Awesome job, Elizabeth!

At another pharmacy counter, Lisa kept the niceness going with a slight smile and a pleasant "Hi. Can I help you?" Good job, Lisa. Now trade that closed-ended question in for a stronger, open-ended, "What can I help you with," and you'll be rockin the house, too.

Adam (I think - didn't quite see the nametag) walked past me and said a quick "hello" without a smile, but pleasant.

Scott - who is the store manager - said nothing to me as he rolled a cart past but did engage me later when he caught me writing notes about the store. Busted!

I decided to tell him why I was there, and what I was doing. Scott smiled, and talked about Walgreens' customer service training program, which is ongoing, he said. Scott was obviously proud to work at Walgreens, although he didn't seem terribly interested in me or what I did. That's cool - I bore myself sometimes.

I don't want to beat you up about it, Scott - just don't miss that grand opportunity to really get to know someone in your store, whether they're a real customer, or someone posing as one. You never know when you might be able to get the latter to become the former. :)

Lisa, at the photo counter, acted like she wanted just that; she greeted me with a very pleasant, "Hi, how are you?" and the not quite as much, "Can I help you?"

Help counter+helpful employee+helpless customer= never having to ask Can I help you? I'm terrible at math, but hopefully that adds up, Lisa. :)

There was a bit of a line at the checkout counter, so someone whose nametag I didn't see, picked up the phone, paged "I-C-3, I-C-3, service at front register, service at front register," then hung up the phone with the proper force to pound a nail, but a bit more than necessary to disconnect the line.

Never let 'em see you sweat, kid. :)

Nick had a nice but unsmiling "hi" for me as he rung me up, then asked a really clunky, closed-ended "Is that it?" This is one to really avoid, Nick, because it can be so easily misinterpreted by the consumer as "Is that all you're buying, cheapskate?" Of course, you don't mean it that way (although, sure, I could have dropped more than 89 cents on a Kit-Kat) but it can sometimes feel that way.

Avoid all that goop, by asking, "What else can I get for you?"

Nick thanked me at the end, but said it to the ground, diminishing its authenticity. I'm up here, young man! :)

Overall: Elizabeth, you got it goin on, girl. You were awesome!

Walgreens 2545 East Euclid


Phone greeting: (slight pause) "...I'm looking at your schedule, and I don't..." (to someone else) then hung up. (Uhhhhh...uhhhhhh...the Unsecret Shopper is rendered speechless.)


Martha, who was scanning stuff in the razor aisle, 20 feet away from me, got the parrrty - to quote CC Music Factor - started right, AND quickly, by shouting out the most wonderful "Hi, how are you?" when she spotted me.

Who needs the 10 foot retail rule? Not Martha. Nice job!

She also followed it up strong after some chit-chat, with, "Anything I can help you with, just let me know." And said it three times! Somebody get a defibrulator in the shaving aisle! Martha's killing a customer with kindness!

Speaking of killing, that's kinda what happened to the mood when Kyle, at the pharmacy counter, greeted with a smile-free and not terribly enthusiastic "Hi" and nothing else. I asked my question, he pointed to the Alli behind me, said, "Third shelf," and turned away.

Martha is going to read you the riot act, dude. :)

To the pharmacy I roamed, where Theresa got the train back on the happy tracks with a very nice "hello," although it was, unfortunately, directed at the pad she was looking down at, and not at me. She flashed a very nice smile as she told me where the magazines were, but forgot the thank you at the end; a few missing pieces, but pleasant overall.

Dawn, at the photo counter, opened the conversation with a wonderfully open-ended, "What can I do for you?" said without a smile. But she made up for it with a HUGE grin at the end, after I'd thanked her.

Think of your smile as a flashbulb, Dawn, that lights up a room before the picture is taken. Now flash it all the time, and you'll have hundreds of picture-perfect customer moments.

And I just threw up in my mouth.

Jennifer kept the smiles going as she shot one my way on her way to the checkout counter to ring me up. By the time she turned around, the battery on the flash must have died, because she was frowning as she said, "Hello. Will this be all for you?" I told her yes, she told me the price and that was it.

Ohhhhh to have that smile back, Jennifer. :)

Overall: Martha is a customer service rule breaker, in the best of ways. Keep up the great work!

Walgreens 2930 East University


Phone greeting: "(indecipherable) calling Walgreens. This is Cheryl, how can I help you?" (I struggled to understand the beginning, and the rest sounded like you were bored, which does not get me excited about the prospect of stopping in. Be happy about answering, and the customer will be happy about shopping!)


Jessica, working at the nail polish and herbal extracts counter, ignored me as I approached, then again after she left and came back.

You are paid to do your left-brain tasks, Jessica, and I'm sure you do them well. But you make your money by engaging customers, and you've got to engage one as obvious as a middle aged dude looking at extracts.

I know you won't miss me next time. :)

Jay made up for it with a nice "hi" as I passed by. 

Joshua preferred Jessica's method, saying nothing to me for the two minutes I browsed toilet paper while he stocked paper towels just feet away.

A man can only gaze at 2 and 4-ply potty paper so long before arousing another man's suspicion. Joshua finally asked, "Finding everything okay?" It was closed-ended but pleasant, and would have been even more so had he said it through a smile. Joshua did flash a grin as he talked about having worked in several cities, including Chicago.

The Windy City was an appropriate context for Josh the pharmacist's greeting, which totally blew: "Help you?" he asked, without a smile, and without looking away from his monitor.

Whatever was on that monitor was important, and I know that. Just make sure the customer knows that they're important, too, Josh. The monitor's not going anywhere - but a customer might.

Just a thought. :)

Cam, at the photo developing counter, was more like Death Valley than Chicago, creating not so much as a puff of wind with his breath cause he said nothing to me as I stepped forward.  Cam did become more animated after I engaged him, and not only showed a huge grin at the end, but thanked me for coming in, one of the very few employees to do so, at any of the Walgreens location. Nice close, Cam!

Angel closed things out nicely at checkout, greeting me with a pleasant "Hi" through a great smile, and sending me off with a "Have a good one" as I walked out. Way to go!

Overall: After a slow start, Cam gets the nod, with a strong finish, as this store's best.


The final overall, overall:

The customer service standouts at the Walgreens I Secret Shopped include Valerie, the pharmacist at 3501 Ingersoll...


...and Elizabeth, the pharmacist at 104 East Euclid.


It is no coincidence that the customer service champs also work at the highest rated stores, which are staffed by employees who consistently displayed good, solid customer service skills.

There are also others doing solid customer service work at many of the other Walgreens locations; may these reviews provide you with well-deserved recognition!

It is stunning to me that the two Walgreens' employees who did so well at connecting with customer's right-brain emotions, have also dedicated years of their lives to building up their left-brain knowledge and skill; it is one of the greatest takeaways from these reviews. 

May the precedent established by Valerie, Elizabeth and others, be a prescription that is taken (to heart) by each store's staff.

Doctor's orders. :)



Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.       


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Phone: 515-480-4190

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