Warning: This post isn’t another edition to the popular Chain-Store Massacre series. I’m not saying that they don’t need a good whipping from time to time. But frankly this has already been done by better executioners than me. If you are currently a pharmacist working in a large chain, you don’t need me to tell you about the challenges, problems and pain. However, what we all can use are some thoughts and ideas about how to actually survive and thrive in that workplace atmosphere that a large number of practicing pharmacists call their home. I’m far from the most qualified to counsel you. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I have worked in and around this industry for well-nigh 30 years, and feel compelled to share a few thoughts on it from time to time.
Whose Customers Are They?
Here is a question to consider: The patients that frequent your pharmacy….whose customers are they? Do they belong to XYZ pharmacy? Is their loyalty tied primarily to the business they write their checks out to? When they think of the place they fill their prescriptions, do they think of the “company” or do they, perhaps, think of YOU?
In my opinion one of the single most significant goals that every chain pharmacist should have is to make THE customers THEIR customers. Or, if you prefer, it is about making THE patients THEIR patients. Use whatever term you like. The key, ultimately, is ownership of that relationship. This, after all, is good business. Ross Perot, the influential American businessman, once put it this way “Business is a cobweb of HUMAN relationships.”
Pharmacists often feel helpless and trapped when changes in pharmacy operations create additional stresses on the prescription work flow. Many pharmacists feel, especially in this very flooded job market, that they have no choice but to suck it up and try to keep up the unbearable pace which puts patients at risk. All the chips, we think, belong to the chains. They’re holding all the cards, all the power, all the resources. We think we have no voice at the negotiation table at all.
But this isn’t true. Or at least, it doesn’t need to be true. The reason why we so often feel out of control and powerless is that we have failed to win the loyalty of the TRULY most valuable players in this game: the customers! When pharmacists discover how to secure the loyalties of their patients (and even the cooperation and working-relationships with prescribers) they instantly have a far more powerful position.
The Benefits of Pharmacist Loyalty
What I am suggesting is a calculated and consistent effort to win the loyalty of your customers. When this happens – everyone wins. The business grows. The patient feels informed and confident. And the pharmacist has his or her most valuable bargaining chip in hand – customer loyalty. The very thought that you might leave and work for a local competitor becomes a restraining influence on corporate tyranny.
Now, don’t misunderstand. Due to the very nature of business, your company prefers the customer to feel loyalty to THEM. You, however, want the customer to feel loyalty to YOU. There’s a difference. And once you catch on to this – the possibilities are endless. What I’m suggesting is a shift from Pharmacy Loyalty to Pharmacist Loyalty.
How to Encourage Pharmacist Loyalty
But how, exactly, do you transfer the loyalty of the customer from XYZ pharmacy to YOU? There are many ways to do this. But allow me to just share a few ideas to think about.
First – Know their names. The most important name in all the world to your customers is…theirs! Know it. Use it. Generally speaking you love it when someone calls you by name.
Second – Go the extra mile when you can. How about a follow up phone call to the patient that just started on a new medication? How about a check-in with the parent who took home an antibiotic for their sick child? How about printing out copies of a relevant article on a drug or disease state to share with a customer to whom it would be helpful?
Third – Become a published author. That’s right. How about submitting a monthly article to a local newspaper. They are often hungry for good content. And surely you have something to say. Keep it positive and helpful and shortly you will become a local celebrity.
Fourth – Make visits. Go to local senior centers, assisted living facilities and even local physicians. Let them know you exist and that you care. Offer to help in any way you can.
Fifth – Be local. With a growing number of mail-order options available to patients, you want them to consider the value of dealing with a local pharmacist and local pharmacy whenever possible. So be local yourself. Whenever possible: shop locally, eat locally and even live locally. Be a true part of the community in which you serve. You don’t HAVE to be an owner of a pharmacy to be a local influence for good in your community.
Imagine if you did these things. Imagine if it was well-known that the patients in your community SOUGHT YOU OUT as the expert who cares. You’ve heard it said that “no one will care what you know until they know that you care.” Show them you care. And maybe some amazing things will happen. And don’t be shy about letting your boss…and his/her boss…know the things you are doing. They know what this means.
Now I’m not so naïve to think this is the solution to all that ails our profession. It isn’t. At best it’s a start. But it IS a start, and once begun, who knows where it might go?
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