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Keeping patients satisfied when your pharmacy is short staffed

By Tanya Mericle

Happy employees go above and beyond for customers
A customer laughing joyfully as a pharmacist helps her find the medication she needs

For the fifth straight year, Good Neighbor Pharmacy has been ranked highest by J.D. Power in customer satisfaction among brick-and-mortar chain drug stores. The most recent annual study (2021) reflects responses from more than 12,000 pharmacy customers who filled a prescription in the three months prior to the survey period.

This notable patient satisfaction record demonstrates more than consistency among Good Neighbor Pharmacy stores. It also shows resourcefulness among short-staffed member pharmacies during the so-called Great Resignation — a time when hundreds of thousands of retail workers across the country left their jobs.

Moving forward, there's no universal solution to staffing scarcity, even as businesses trend toward post-pandemic recovery. However, commerce experts point out that retail employees, such as those at a community pharmacy, must be satisfied with their jobs to ensure positive interactions with in-store customers.

Your independent pharmacy can get on the right track by focusing on practical ways to improve patient satisfaction even when resources are stretched thin. Here's where to concentrate your efforts.

Fix the disconnect

Many pharmacy owners mistakenly believe that money is the ultimate employee motivator. In truth, staff members respond well to factors beyond their pay scale — namely, recognition for a job well done, the ability to take time off when needed, and a flexible work environment where a repetitive routine doesn't hold employees captive.

Instill good service habits

J.D. Power's research identifies actions any community pharmacy can take to improve customer service:

  • Greet customers in a friendly, personal manner. Develop a standard for staff members to come out from behind the counter to personally engage with patients. Address customers by name whenever possible. Ask them if they've found everything they're looking for rather than the tired greeting, “How may I help you?"
  • Fill prescriptions within the promised timeframe. In today's e-commerce environment, customers expect almost immediate turnaround when ordering products, and that mindset carries over to the medications their doctor has prescribed. Consider implementing automated refill technology and encourage patients who are on regimens for chronic conditions to pick up their prescriptions at an appointed time each month via medication synchronization.
  • Proactively educate patients about medication side effects. Let's say a patient comes in to fill a prescription for an antibiotic. That's a perfect opportunity for your customer service or checkout clerk to ask the patient if they're aware of potential side effects. The pharmacists should be brought into the conversation to discuss appropriate companion products, like a probiotic.
  • Resolve patient issues quickly, especially regarding prescription ordering and filling. Stand ready to discuss appropriate alternatives if the prescribed medication is not available.
  • Increase awareness and promote utilization of health and wellness services. More than half of retail pharmacy customers used health and wellness services (typically vaccinations and routine screenings) in the 12 months leading up to J.D. Power's most recent survey. This is up from 48 percent in 2020 and 43 percent in 2019. What's more, the findings reveal that customers who use at least one health- and wellness-oriented service provided by the pharmacy spend an average of $5 more than those who do not use those services. Satisfaction scores also climbed in step with utilization of health and wellness services.
Empower the workforce

It's often said that “everything is everyone's job" in a well-run pharmacy. Actualize that philosophy by instituting cross-training. Staff members shouldn't be slotted into strictly dedicated roles, in which workers tend to feel stagnant over time. Set up rotations so that all employees have the proper training and experience to effectively work each station in your store. And with their fresh perspective, team members may observe something that’s not working right or have an idea for how to improve a process. Encourage team members to share their input with management.

Get creative

Pharmacies have lots of competition in luring workers to their business. You've undoubtedly seen billboards proclaiming “immediate hiring" at relatively high hourly rates. In contrast, some pharmacy owners have succeeded in the job market by offering incentive-aligned packages, where the employee receives bonuses when the store reaches performance milestones. For existing employees, consider contests that reward those who sell the most of a specified product in a defined timeframe (e.g., quarterly or semi-annually). To make it even more personalized, let your staff pick the product categories in which they'll be competing.

Connect with the community

Choose a favorite cause and commit to supporting it. Examples include sponsoring a community run/walk to benefit cancer research or organizing seasonal food drives. Encourage your staff to get involved; they'll take pride in working for an owner who actively reaches out to support community members in need.

Show interest

Some owners and pharmacists work in a clinical manner, which is understandable given their background. They concentrate on filling scripts and don't tread too closely with personal relationships. However, there's also a powerful argument for working well with the team and connecting on a personal level. Learn your staff's interests and make an effort to participate. For instance, one owner made a lasting impression by showing up at a team bowling night. Others bond by asking how staff members' families are doing and remembering employees' birthdays.

Communicate regularly

Start each business day with a team huddle, a quick meeting to prepare staff for specific issues that will need attention — like the 80 prescriptions in the queue waiting to be filled on a Monday morning. You can also use this time to celebrate an employee's actions that exemplified superior customer service. It might be something as simple as, “John, thank you for walking Mrs. Jones to her car with her packages even though you were on your lunch break." Above all, communicate that you have an open-door policy regarding any worker concerns. If you're not available, staff should feel comfortable talking with a point person who will promptly relay the information to you.When patients see happy employees in your store, they'll assume you're managing the workplace in a respectful and responsive manner. In turn, that feeling is bound to bring satisfied patients through your door on a regular basis.

About The Author

Tanya Mericle
Director, Business Coaching Operations
View Bio