January 2016, Vol 4, No 1 - The First Word
Donald J. Dietz, RPh, MS

"Factors affecting the survey ratings could include the establishment’s physical environment, friendliness of employees, wait times, and perceived value received.”

In a recent Gallup poll, retail pharmacies ranked second in customer service of 7 major types of US businesses. Of the Americans polled, 34% said that they had an excellent experience at a pharmacy they visited in the past month, and an additional 53% stated that they had a good experience.

Bank branches ranked first with 38% having excellent customer service, and 51% having good customer service. The other 5 categories were also businesses that people often visit in person. When you think about the importance and similarities between these professions, it is not unusual that both ranked high. Banks protect your money and provide financial security, whereas pharmacies protect your healthcare information, interact with other healthcare practitioners, and provide patients with their vital medications.

According to the poll, ratings may reflect the overall relationship between the customer and the business entity, and that this relationship can impact your ability to retain existing customers and potentially attract new clientele.

A Closer Look at Patients’ Perceptions

Factors affecting the survey ratings could include the establishment’s physical environment, friendliness of employees, wait times, and perceived value received.

Although it is not expressly stated, wait times are likely one of the major factors affecting pharmacy customers’ perception of service. When patients submit refill requests prior to arrival, they expect a quick trip to the pharmacy to pick up their medications. Long queues caused by peak prescription times (eg, Mondays, the first of the month, right before holidays) and/or understaffing can cause patient displeasure. Similarly, a long wait time for a new prescription when the patient is ill could adversely impact a pharmacy’s customer service ranking.

Consideration should be given to anticipating these high-volume periods, and staffing accordingly can help to increase patient satisfaction, leading to higher customer service scores.

Impact of Age and Visit Frequency

Interestingly, customer service experiences differed by generation. As customer age increased, so did the average customer service ratings.

Although only 83% of millennials rated their last pharmacy experience as good or excellent, a whopping 95% of those born between 1900 and 1945 rated their last pharmacy visit as good or excellent. It should be noted that those born between 1900 and 1945 ranked customer service as good or excellent more than millennials in all types of businesses evaluated, not just pharmacy.

Other factors are also likely impacting the customer service rankings. Because older individuals are on more medications than younger people, they are likely to visit the pharmacy more frequently, and may have formed a positive rapport with the pharmacy employees as a result. They also most likely have Medicare Part D for their healthcare insurance, and likely have lower copays than commercial customers, leading to a more positive experience. Whether they are just more comfortable in the pharmacy, are more patient customers, or simply receive better customer service because of their frequent visits is a mystery. Pharmacy advertising initiatives may also have more marketing campaigns that cater to older customers, which is expected because older patients are the largest target market.

Catering to Millennials

Pharmacies should study the needs of millennials to better determine how to provide a more pleasant pharmacy experience to this demographic. Compared with older groups, this younger generation comprises greater users of technology. Opportunities to improve customer service may include redesigning smartphone applications to allow for more immediate access to prescription and refill information, providing a unique store environment, or promoting the use of online health profiles. Some may speculate that millennials want instant gratification because of their digital upbringing, and this may be partially true, leading to lower customer service scores overall for this generation.

Conclusion

To that end, pharmacies must not forget younger patients. Company loyalty is a powerful influencer of purchasing, and millennials won’t be young forever. Pharmacies, and all businesses for that matter, should focus on customer service as a differentiating factor. Generic discount lists and preferred networks have placed so much emphasis on pricing that we often need reminding that pharmacy is a healthcare field. Care should be provided to patients in a kind and efficient manner; a renewed focus on customer service could help shine a spotlight on the profession, and place pharmaceutical care and customer service at the center of our work once again.




Reference

  1. Swift A, Ander S. Banks and pharmacies rate best in customer service in U.S. www.gallup.com/poll/186593/banks-pharmacies-rate-best-customer-service.aspx?version=print. Published November 12, 2015. Accessed December 21, 2015.
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