Creating Lasting Patient Loyalty

By Christine Lane |

Seven ways community pharmacies can reinforce their value.

Independent community pharmacists know how much value they add to the community and the quality of care they bring to their patients. The question is: How can community pharmacies best demonstrate their value and build on their strengths in a way that increases patient loyalty?

During my tenure at AmerisourceBergen, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with many of our community pharmacists. I know there’s no one-size-fits-all solution because each independent pharmacy is unique. In fact, it’s this uniqueness gives community pharmacies a competitive advantage in the healthcare marketplace.

If a community pharmacist wants to strengthen customer loyalty, the first step should be to figure out why their patients choose their pharmacies. We have found that many patients seek out independent pharmacies for specific reasons. Often, they have needs that other pharmacies can’t meet. Maybe they want home delivery, compounding, or seek ease-of-use packaging. Maybe, they simply want to support a local business and make it a conscious decision to shop at an independent pharmacy for the same reasons they choose to dine at locally owned restaurants. Other times, patients are looking for a personal relationship with their pharmacist. In a world that can often seem very impersonal, patients crave a warm greeting from someone who recognizes them, knows their medical history and can help them meet their unique, individual health goals.

Once a community pharmacy knows its strengths, it can focus and build on those to capture patient loyalty and help patients lead healthier lives. These seven tips provide some guidance on how to keep patients coming back.
1. Draw a road map
Start with some introspection and self-evaluation — what does your pharmacy do today and where do you see your pharmacy tomorrow? How should your business grow and develop? Identify the pharmacy’s strengths, and then map out possible approaches to reach specific goals.

Remember, a community pharmacy can’t be everything to everyone. Focus on a core competency and be sure you excel at that. Pick and choose areas that require energy and attention. Most community pharmacies probably don’t have the same breadth and selection of products as the large chain pharmacies. That’s okay. An independent pharmacy has a unique place in the community, and a sustainable plan for serving community-specific needs keeps patients coming back.

2. Know the difference between ‘quirky’ and ‘outdated’
Many patients who frequent community pharmacies may enjoy a sense of history. They’re probably willing to accept a vintage store appearance as part of the ‘character’ of a store. They may even find it charming. But there is a fine line between “retro” and out-of-date. Don’t let your pharmacy’s appearance create any misperceptions about the level and quality of advanced care that you provide to your patients.

Focus on the pharmacy’s personality and unique flair while paying attention to the store’s front end and facade. All independent pharmacies need to examine their facilities every now and then. Consider the store’s signage — is it clear, concise, and legible? Could the walls use a fresh coat of paint? Are the carpets worn? Does a light bulb need changing, a shelf need dusting, or a ceiling tile need replacing? Walk through the front door of your pharmacy on a regular basis and see what your patients see. Many times, you enter through the back and head right to the pharmacy counter; sometimes a change of perspective is in order to identify what you’re missing. If renovations are necessary, make the investment, because it will pay off when customers feel more comfortable, return more often, and refer you to friends and family members.

3. Take risks — in a smart way
Every business — including independent pharmacies — needs to be prepared to take risks and try new things. There is a core set of products, for example, cough and cold or analgesics, which every pharmacy needs to carry and set to a planogram driven by market research. A pharmacy can then consider additional floor and shelf space for new opportunities to best serve the community.

By taking risks in a calculated way, the owner of a community pharmacy can uncover new opportunities. For instance, bringing in a new product line can reveal hidden unmet needs among a community pharmacy’s patients.

New service offerings or product lines should be considered with the demographics and unique needs of the pharmacy’s patients in mind. Not everything will work. Not every product will fly off the shelves. If something doesn’t sell initially, try moving it to another part of the store for greater visibility. If it still isn’t gaining popularity, put it on a promotional endcap and move it out.

4. Know the data
Every community pharmacist needs to make point-of-sale data analysis a routine activity. This is the only way to be sure of how their pharmacy is performing on the front end. I’ve visited countless pharmacies where the owner believes a certain SKU is flying off the shelves, but the hard data shows only minimal sales.

If analysis reveals poor sales, don’t see it as a failure — look at it as an opportunity to try something new. If traditional greeting cards aren’t selling well in an independent urban pharmacy, maybe a smaller selection of handmade cards by a local artist would yield better results while simultaneously awarding the pharmacy the local credibility certain customers cherish – along with helping out another local business. That’s the sort of smart risk worth taking.

5. Leverage available technology 
Having a strong digital presence can ensure a community pharmacy shows up at the top of local search listings and can deliver relevant promotions to help attract patients to the store, without spending a fortune. At the very least, make sure your digital listings on Google, Yelp and other websites and search engines are accurate and up-to-date with pharmacy services and hours. Additionally, technology can also be a tremendous asset as pharmacies look to build patient loyalty.

An adherent patient is one that keeps coming back and there are numerous technologies that can help reinforce medication adherence. For example, pharmacists can use automatic outbound calls to remind patients to fill their prescriptions. There are also medicine synchronization (med sync) tools that pharmacies can use to enable patients to pick up multiple prescriptions all at once, creating a convenient experience, rather than filling each prescription at different times throughout the month.

6. Service is key
And while technology can draw a patient into a store, it is the superior customer service the pharmacy staff delivers that creates loyalty. A community pharmacy’s staff should be properly trained to serve, assist and welcome the patients who walk through the door. In this way pharmacies can create an atmosphere that makes patients want to return – and capitalizes on the personalized service that many of these patients look for in a pharmacy.

Remember that staff training is not a one-time exercise. While pharmacy staff may only need intensive training on an occasional basis, regular staff performance reviews are necessary to make certain that service levels stay high so patients stay loyal.

7. Engage in dialogue 
Perhaps the most critical way community pharmacists can increase customer loyalty and simultaneously protect the health of their patients is through conversation. Through their strong patient relationships, community pharmacists are well positioned to engage in an open dialogue with a patient and this can be a real differentiator. As the healthcare landscape becomes increasingly more complex, patients appreciate a trusted professional taking the time to address questions and concerns, especially around chronic disease state management, Medicare Part D plans, immunizations and more.

And the opportunity is being more formally recognized as payers look to pharmacies to provide medication therapy management (MTM) and comprehensive medication review (CMR) services. By providing these services and engaging in detailed patient conversations, independent pharmacists can build loyalty while making a measurable impact on adherence to critical medication regimens.

Greater loyalty leads to better adherence and patient safety
There are studies showing an association between patient loyalty to a community pharmacy and medication persistence and compliance. A 2015 study of patients being treated with oral anti-diabetes medications showed that those not loyal to a single pharmacy were 11 percent less likely to adhere to medication regimens.1

Loyal patients are more likely to fill all their prescriptions at a single community pharmacy. In that case, the pharmacist will have full visibility into all the medications a patient is taking. With this holistic point of view, pharmacists are best positioned to offer the guidance and services patients need to lead healthier lives.

Learn more about AmerisourceBergen’s Good Neighbor Pharmacy program and get the solutions your community pharmacy needs to thrive.

1 Dossa, A., Gregoire, J., Lauzier, S., Guenette, L., Sirois, C., Moisan, J. (2015, July 13). Association Between Loyalty to Community Pharmacy and Medication and Compliance, and the Use of Guidelines-Recommended Drugs in Type 2 Diabetes. Retrieved December 12, 2016, from Medicine (Baltimore), /p>

About the Author

Christine Lane

Christine Lane

Group Vice President, Marketing, Community and Specialty Pharmacy
View Bio