By Mike Snyder, Director, Interactive Services, West Corporation
Let’s face it, the healthcare industry is far behind other industries when it comes to customer service best practices. Other industries, even traditionally regulated ones such as telecommunications and aviation, have long since reoriented their operations with a core focus on the needs of the customer. More recently, retail businesses have focused intently on creating customized interactions via live calls, self-service contact center connections, and interactive mobile apps and web portals.
The good news for retail pharmacies is that among healthcare organizations, they are best positioned to take on this transformation. Their roots are in retail, giving them a leg up on customer experience and lifecycle, versus healthcare providers who have only recently begun to take metrics like patient experience ratings into account. Retail pharmacies now have a window of opportunity – when consumers with more skin in the game financially are seeking a go-to healthcare hub to deliver the same experience provided by the commercial world.
The caveat, however, is that even as retail pharmacies continue their march into more core provider services, such as case management for chronic conditions, they must look outside of the healthcare industry for best practices approaches to engage and delight the modern healthcare consumer.
In fact, retail pharmacies would do much better to take a page from the book of a retail giant like Starbucks to modernize their customer service operations. Here are four innovations from Starbucks that can help retail pharmacies marry integrated services to improve healthcare outcomes, such as medication adherence, while elevating their level of customer service.
1. Create an Express Store
Last year, Starbucks decided to open its first express store across from the New York Stock Exchange. Starbucks calls it the “espresso shot” version of the store. The idea is to streamline the experience for customers who know exactly what they want by shortening their wait time. There’s a benefit to Starbucks too; the store takes up a smaller footprint than a normal store in a very high-rent district.
Retail pharmacies can also incorporate this “express” theme into their connections with their customers. By enabling self-service and using data to predict why a customer may be contacting you, you can simplify the customer experience (while reducing your own operating expenses). By listening to consumers to learn their most popular “orders” – perhaps “questions about drug side effects” instead of “venti vanilla soy latte” – retail pharmacies can design the user experience to help get most frequently asked questions handled more quickly.
2. Partner to Add Value
Starbucks recently inked partnerships with music streaming service Spotify and the New York Times to allow Starbucks customers to have access to music and news content free of charge, enhancing the store experience. In the case of Spotify, the partnership also allows customers to influence the playlist in a particular store, personalizing the experience themselves.
Retail pharmacies can also partner to increase customer satisfaction, whether it is with primary care providers to simplify and streamline care coordination, with labs or urgent care facilities to increase retail clinic options, or with pharmaceuticals to sponsor targeted adherence programs. Some pharmacies are even coordinating with health insurers to best manage step therapy approaches to certain chronic illnesses. Retail pharmacies can become a crucial healthcare hub, creating a more seamless journey, and eliminating breakpoints by sharing information among healthcare organizations to improve outcomes.
3. Go Digital
As of April, 21 percent of U.S. Starbucks purchases were made via the smartphone app. The app allows patrons to order and pay for drinks, and then skip the line and head right to the pick-up counter. Starbucks has succeeded where other mobile pay platforms such as Google Wallet, haven’t gained much traction. That’s because in the case of long coffee lines, there is a significant benefit to self-service.
The same is true when it comes to healthcare. Retail pharmacies that enable end-to-end self-service options, can decrease wait times and speed up processes. By offering self-service options by phone, web portal, or mobile app, retail pharmacies can both increase customer satisfaction and free up valuable pharmacist time to focus on patients with more complex queries.
4. Meet Customers Where They Are
The best retailers are proactively engaging customers beyond store visits or calls into their contact centers. In the case of Starbucks, this means coffee delivery. Last year some lucky patrons who work in New York’s Empire State Building were the first to have Starbucks delivered through a program called the “Starbucks Green Apron Delivery Service”. Starbucks plans to expand the service to a soccer field near you, among other places, through a partnership with on-demand delivery service Postmates. It’s currently available in places like Seattle, Washington and Berkeley, California.
Cutting edge retail pharmacies are reaching out to customers proactively via reminder texts to refill prescriptions or to stay on track with chronic disease management. Retail pharmacies need to start tapping into internal information, known preferences, and even social media data to better understand how, when, and what to communicate with their customers.
Leveraging technology for customer service gains
Pharmacy chains that follow the lead of the best retail players—like Starbucks—will have the opportunity to deliver personalized healthcare through a combination of automation and the pharmacist touch. Retail pharmacy should engage technology partners with broad retail experience to help streamline processes to fill prescriptions, maximize workflow, monitor performance, and track medication adherence.
It’s almost unheard of for a healthcare organization to be named among the best companies for customer service, but that’s about to change. Retail pharmacies have deep experience in retail and occupy a unique hub in healthcare. The time is now to leverage technology to optimize the patient experience.
The next Starbucks just might be a retail pharmacy chain.
Mike Snyder is a leader in consumer engagement. For over a decade, Mike has helped Fortune 100 companies across all industry verticals develop strategies to better engage their customers, drive down cost of service, strengthen loyalty, and increase revenue.