Seven Ways to Exceed Patient Expectations and Increase Customer Satisfaction

By Paul Satterfield |

Customer satisfaction is the bedrock of any business, including community pharmacies. If patients are not happy, the competition offers plenty of other options for filling prescriptions.

When service doesn’t meet or exceed customer expectations, even long-term customers may feel they could do better somewhere else. When a patient moves his or her prescriptions, there is an impact to the pharmacy’s bottom line. Compounding the loss is the potential for the patient to also move prescriptions for children, a spouse, parents and/or in-laws. Ultimately, a single episode of poor service can cost the pharmacy tens of thousands in annual revenue.

This scenario illustrates the priority that community pharmacies must place on compassionate, friendly, knowledgeable and personalized service for their competitive advantage. Failing to deliver that level of service can be disastrous.

To avoid this fate, here are seven ways that community pharmacies can boost customer satisfaction and retention by meeting and exceeding patient expectations:

1. Provide a personal touch
Community pharmacies are built around one-on-one personal interactions. Whether patients come to a community pharmacy for help with disease management or health and wellness issues, they are often looking for empathy, a friendly smile or warm words from a trusted advisor.

The people who are best-positioned to deliver this personal, caring level of service are the front-line staff — clerks, technicians and even drivers have the most frequent interactions with patients. It’s essential for pharmacy staff to see and treat customers not as numbers, not as prescriptions, not even as patients — but as people. Empower employees to make personal connections with the people they serve – it’s as simple as taking the time to inquire about a patient’s family member, or expressing compassion through a gentle hand on the shoulder.

There are other simple, non-expensive ways that a community pharmacy can strengthen personal connections with individual patients. For example, the pharmacy could assign a clerk to call patients and wish them “Happy Birthday!” on their special day. Or the pharmacy could send birthday cards signed by all staff members. Although these gestures may seem overly sentimental, patients — especially those in assisted-living centers who may not have many surviving friends or family members — are often grateful to be remembered and congratulated.

2. Use technology to give patients options 
Even as community pharmacies prioritize personalized service, they can also take advantage of the conveniences that technology enables. Pharmacies use Internet and IVR (Interactive Voice Response) phone systems to make it easier for patients to request and refill prescriptions.

For the last three years in a row, JD Power found that ‘Ease of Ordering’ was the number one indicator of patient retention.1 Of course, it can be convenient for patients to speak with a pharmacy staff member — but only if the pharmacy has the capacity to pick up the phone within one or two rings and process the request without making the patient wait on hold or endure multiple transfers.

Working parents or other busy patients may prefer to pull out a smartphone and request a prescription electronically — this is especially convenient to do outside of regular business hours. While pharmacies may encounter a few patients who dislike refilling a prescription using IVR, most appreciate the convenience. For those patients who may be reluctant to transfer to an automated system, take the time to show them how to bypass the system and reach the pharmacy directly.

3. Broaden your focus beyond speed
Customers may want fast service, but they still want good service. Too many community pharmacies have fallen into the trap of gauging their team’s performance based solely on speed and wait times. Community pharmacists are likely to know how many prescriptions they filled that day, but not how many patients they helped during the day. Community pharmacies can only succeed if they are patient-centered, not prescription-centered.

It’s always smart to learn from the best practices of other industries. Community pharmacies can draw inspiration from hoteliers who go out of their way to recognize and thank frequent guests for their business. Similarly, community pharmacies can use software to identify patients with high prescription volumes. When a patient who fills multiple prescriptions arrives at the pharmacy counter, the software can notify the pharmacist or technician to stop the queue and take an extra moment to say hello and thank the patient for their loyalty.

This is also a great opportunity to ask if this patient has any questions about their prescriptions, side effects, dosage, interactions or other medication-related issues. Patients who regularly fill multiple prescriptions are more likely to be coping with more than one chronic health issue, so this type of personal service not only strengthens the patient relationship, it also gives the pharmacy an opportunity to intervene in a way that can improve health outcomes.

4. Reframe ‘selling’ into a ‘service’ mindset
Quite a few community pharmacists and staff members struggle with the commercial side of the business. They relish caring for the patient, but they are not interested in ‘selling’ OTC products.

Not only is this a missed opportunity from a bottom-line standpoint, it can also be seen as a disservice to the customer. Consider a mother who visits the pharmacy to pick up a maintenance blood pressure medication. As the technician inquires about her family, the tech learns that she has a child home sick. That technician should suggest that she pick up some disinfecting wipes to keep other members of her household from getting sick. Similarly, by asking if she has enough facial tissues at home, the staff member can save her the hassle of making a second trip for supplies.

Pharmacies can also recommend OTC companion products that treat side-effects of certain scripts, including a probiotic with an antibiotic, a stool softener with an opioid or a coQ10 with some cholesterol medications.

Community pharmacies have an obligation to make recommendations to ensure that patients leave the pharmacy with everything they need. That’s not selling — that’s patient-centered healthcare.

5. Diagnose any customer relationship problems 
When a patient leaves or transfers a prescription to another pharmacy, few community pharmacy owners call to ask what happened. It could be a price issue. It could be a simple misunderstanding. Perhaps a staff member was inattentive or the patient may have had a longer than normal wait.

Regardless of what happened, it’s worthwhile to make a call to see what went wrong. Calling demonstrates that the pharmacy cares about the patient and could help retain or regain business.

Even if a community pharmacy cannot save a relationship, this type of “postmortem” call can identify problem areas within its operations that can be fixed before they lead to further losses. Pharmacies can identify service shortcomings or gaps in inventory simply by asking a dissatisfied patient what went wrong.

6. Take good service to the next level
When a community pharmacy loses a patient, it’s important to know what went wrong but it’s always better to prevent such losses in the first place. Community pharmacies should use all the tools at their disposal including surveys and secret shoppers to reveal where their business is excelling and where there might be room for improvement.
Here are two key questions a community pharmacy should ask all their patients:

  • What can we do better to serve you? A pharmacy might get some valuable suggestions that they had not previously considered.
  • Would you recommend us to a friend and why (or why not)? The most satisfied customers are the ones who would recommend a specific business to a friend. These sorts of word-of-mouth recommendations are incredibly valuable when it comes to generating new patients, since most people value recommendations from people they know and trust.

It’s a good idea for community pharmacies to set aside time to call patients on occasion – both to ask how the patient is feeling and also to see whether the pharmacy is meeting all the patient’s medical and customer service needs.

These calls are especially valuable with new patients as a way to establish a strong foundation. Community pharmacies can also use these calls to ask patients about all active prescriptions – including those that may be filled by other pharmacies. Pharmacies can explain the importance of having a comprehensive overview of all active prescriptions in order to advise patients on adherence and safety issues - especially around multi-drug interactions.

During these calls, community pharmacies should seize the opportunity to ask patients about any helpful or memorable interactions with the pharmacy’s employees. This line of questioning can prompt some amazing customer service success stories. It can also help identify which employees to reward and recognize, which in turn can help improve employee morale and motivation.

7. See your business from the patient’s point of view
Finally, it helps to take a step back sometimes and imagine how patients see a business. This can be especially useful when it comes to the overall appearance of a pharmacy.
A community pharmacy can deliver amazing customer service, but if a store looks unappealing, it will lose a lot of potential patients who never make it past the front door. A pharmacy has to look safe and inviting while also looking like a healthcare destination.

It doesn’t cost much to freshen up the paint or install new lightbulbs. These incremental improvements can have a big impact on a pharmacy’s curb appeal, which in turn can attract new patients and make current patients feel better about their pharmacy of choice.

From offering fast, friendly and personalized service to making a store as appealing as possible, a pharmacy’s ultimate goal should be to build customer loyalty. Everyone wins when patients have no reason to think about getting their prescriptions filled anywhere else. 

1. J.D. Power. Pharmacists and Staff Play Increasingly Important Roles in Pharmacy Customer Satisfaction. 25 September 2014. Accessed 29 June 2014. Available online at http://www.jdpower.com/press-releases/2014-us-pharmacy-study


About the Author

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Paul Satterfield

Business Coach
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