Keith Loria is a contributing writer to Medical Economics.
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With today’s increasingly crowded pharmacy landscape, patients have more places to choose from to fill a prescription or shop than ever before, so it’s important for every pharmacy to set itself apart and offer a reason for people to come back time and again.
“Consumer trends, especially related to retail, are changing rapidly, and patients are going through a fundamental shift in their values, seeking a more personalized healthcare experience,” says Claire Biermaas, group vice president, strategic accounts at AmerisourceBergen, in Chesterbrook, PA. “Retail pharmacies that can address these changes will best position themselves to strengthen loyalty and improve in-store experiences with their customers, increasing repeat visits, script counts and business.”
Fernando Gonzalez, RPh, spent years as a pharmacy development manager for Rite Aid, Duane Reade, and CVS, where he learned to recognize that it is six to seven times more expensive to search for a new customer than keep an old one. He is currently assistant professor in the Pharmaceutical Sciences Division at Long Island University’s Arnold and Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
“The key starts with having the pharmacist create a connection with the patient that involves trust and individual service,” he says. “Trust starts with knowing your patients and customers and showing them your expertise.”
Keep in mind that a loyal customer will share his or her feelings with others and a positive word of mouth will have a tremendous impact on a business.
Here are 10 things a pharmacy should be doing to improve customer loyalty.
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1. Be Personable
Kristi C. Torres, PharmD, pharmacist-in-charge at the Austin Diagnostic Clinic Pharmacy in Austin, TX, says pharmacists sometimes get so busy that they become almost automated.
“It’s so important to slow down and really listen to your patients,” she says. “They’ll often share quite a bit, both about health and personal issues. Make it a point to ask them about those things again later. When patients feel like you’re listening and paying attention to them, they feel a sense of loyalty to you as a health practitioner and a business.”
Keep your entire pharmacy staff engaged around the level of personal service you expect for your patients to receive. One staff member who is not on board with providing this level of service can drive away many patients. Provide positive reinforcement for the staff who meet this expectation, and quickly correct and reset expectations for any who fall short of exceptional service.
Torres has also had success improving loyalty by going that extra mile to do the little things, such as mailing or delivering prescriptions to those who can’t get to the pharmacy.
“I also let them know when I am aware of available savings on a prescription, such as through manufacturer rebate or copay programs,” she says. “When patients feel like you’re looking out for them as individuals, they feel a sense of loyalty to you and will continue choosing you as their pharmacist.”
2. Start a Conversation
Biermaas says one of the most effective ways a retail pharmacist can drive loyalty is by stepping out from behind the counter to speak with patients.
“Many customers are visiting to add OTC products to their basket, which is an opportune time to start engagement,” she says. “When shoppers see a pharmacist in their white coat out in the store, they feel more comfortable asking questions and seeking out help.” These interactions can help create a meaningful relationship with patients, and make a big impact on customer experience. They also encourage customers to visit the pharmacy in the future, and can give a boost to front-end sales.”
3. Use Technology
Michael Morgan, CEO of Updox, a healthcare technology company in Dublin, OH, says offering two-way text messaging and video connectivity with patients are among the best ways pharmacies can differentiate themselves and build loyalty with patients.
“In rural areas, where the closest pharmacy might be a 30-minute drive or more, pharmacists can counsel elderly patients on their medication use without them having to get their family to drive them to the store and wait in line,” he says.
“Similarly, for homebound patients, pharmacies can offer diabetes education or weight loss counseling via live video.”
These tech solutions can help pharmacies cut down on manual phone calls for refills, insurance card information, and other daily tasks, as well as expand their clinical and patient counseling services.
“Providers who are engaging patients online and using technology to offer flexibility, while also keeping the human touch, have the best opportunity to forge lasting consumer relationships and improve patient loyalty,” Morgan says.
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4. Pay Attention to the Patient
Saad Dinno, RPh, co-owner of three independent pharmacies (Acton Pharmacy, Keyes Drug, and West Concord Pharmacy) in Massachusetts, says it’s important to focus on the patients and the relationships, and really listen to what they are saying.
That’s why Dinno makes it a point to ask questions about them, their spouse, their family, and to congratulate them and their kids when they have an athletic accomplishment or come home from a good semester at college.
“We strive every day to build foundations of trust and be an essential part of a patient’s healthcare team,” he says. “Studies show that on average, we see patients 35 times a year, meaning we get to chat with them more often than perhaps other practitioners. The chatter could be as simple as ‘How are you?’ or ‘How was your vacation?’ Or it could be sitting down and going through a medication list to ensure they understand their medications and how to take them.”
5. Maintain Efficient Inventory
A savvy pharmacy will work with area providers to understand their practices, and their prescribing habits. Make sure to maintain sufficient stock of the most commonly prescribed or recommended items.
“Maintaining an efficient inventory is one of the most important business practices in a retail pharmacy,” Torres says. You win or lose customers by stocking the right products at the right time.
6. Provide Timely Reminders
Pharmacists should be looking several months out for timely events where patients may need support.
“For instance, reminding patients that National Diabetes Awareness Month is in November and that the pharmacy offers nutrition services can demonstrate the value a retail pharmacy offers,” Biermaas says. “It also shows patients that their pharmacist is thinking proactively about their health and encourages patients to engage with the pharmacy through multiple channels-adding ‘stickiness’ to their relationship.”
7. Be Active in Your Community
Sponsoring small events or sports teams, having booths at health fairs, or doing volunteer work are great ways to help patients get to know you and connect your heart for service to your pharmacy business.
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8. Create Value at the Register
Position items that demonstrate a commitment to “treating the whole patient,” such as tissues, hand sanitizer, and vitamin C near the pharmacy counter. This can illustrate that your pharmacy provides comprehensive care beyond filling prescriptions. It also anticipates ancillary customer needs, creating convenience, and reinforcing the relationship between pharmacist and patient.
9. Schedule Surge Support
During the times of the day or week or year that increased traffic is expected, pharmacies should increase the number of experts that are available to work with patients. By having extra staff on hand, wait times and customer frustration will be limited. Anticipate surge events, such as the beginning of the year when health insurance plans change and people need help. Scheduling additional support will build loyalty with customers who know they can receive help in a timely manner.
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10. Carry Products that Appeal to Your Customers
Sometimes, patients will ask a pharmacy to carry certain products-something especially true in ethnic communities that may look for products that meet their specific needs. You may want to include a Kosher foods section or a section with Latino or Asian products if your customers might be looking for such items.