By Mike Snyder, Director of Sales and Pharmacy Experience Strategist
Top companies across all industries have almost universally embraced the importance of making differentiated customer experiences (CX), yet the pharmacy experience still trails behind. The good news is that’s starting to change.
Retail pharmacies are taking a second look at their patient experience strategy. Consumers demand quicker and more efficient interactions, which aligns with internal goals. Many pharmacies have started using mobile apps, are piloting medication adherence techniques and deliver wellness services. Still, many patients regularly engage pharmacies over the phone with the same, outdated technology setup they installed 10 years ago. A lot has changed in that time, and without an upgrade, those pharmacies could struggle against new competitors.
In all industries, customers choose to do business with brands that give them great CX. Gartner predicts that by 2020, CX will outpace both price and product as the key brand differentiator.
That could mean trouble for pharmacies facing an influx of new competition. Even CX-focused Amazon has seen potential in the industry and is making moves to join the pharmacy market.
Pharmacies can’t just keep doing what they’re doing. Many providers realize this, but patient engagement over the phone is still often neglected. For any retail pharmaceutical providers who turned on that old IVR or notifications program years ago and haven’t checked it since, there are a few tangible steps to take in order to start bridging the gap and adapt to changing consumer demands.
Outside the walls of care
The pharmacy experience doesn’t begin when someone walks into the store. Customers call to ask questions or refill a prescription. Or you call them to give a refill reminder or let them know their script is ready for pickup.
Many pharmacies have automation techniques to handle such functions, but most haven’t had an upgrade since the systems were installed. Small, frequent adjustments to the message or timing can make interactions easier and more helpful.
It can also help create a brand persona and boost the bottom line. We recently helped a top pharmacy brand change a few words in an outbound message and tested various delivery times. After which, prescription orders rose an estimated 375,000 per year, bringing in about $6 million in additional revenue.
Outbound notifications work, and in a new world of digital communication, there are far more ways to talk to your customers than ever before. And getting results can be easy, too. Have you ever looked at the responses you get to the text messages you send? If not, you may be running into some common problems, like:
- Sending an error message when someone replies, “OK, what are your hours?”
- Failing to see when someone’s number has changed.
- Or getting a text saying, “Great, I’ll stop by,” and deleting the contact because the message included the word “stop.”
While some companies can analyze data from your messaging, checking how your customers reply is a simple way to know what they want and how your automation needs to evolve.
Customer journey mapping
Second, pharmacies must look at their customers’ entire journey. Too many pharmacies see it from a workflow perspective and not from the patient’s point of view. For many patients, the process started with symptoms, which led to the first of possibly many visits to the doctor. The patient doesn’t come to the pharmacy until he or she’s been diagnosed and assigned treatment.
A pharmacy is only one piece of a much longer journey for many customers, but it may play the biggest role as they manage their wellness. So at each step of the journey, make sure to ask the right questions. Why did the person choose this pharmacy over another? Why have they stayed with us this long? How do they want to interact with you, and where would self-service work better?
After answering those questions, you have two things to consider: where your customers are spending money and where you are spending money to serve them.
First, think about how you can improve programs that already work. If you’re sending order-ready and refill reminder texts, then ask how these could confuse customers and how they drive inbound call volume. Then conduct usability tests with patients and A/B test different solutions to drive a better experience.
Second, spend more efficiently wherever possible. One new method allows specialty pharmacies and care teams to create sequences of messaging to customize communication frequency with specific patients and send an automated text and voice message. This kind of technology expands scalability and helps pharmacies find patients at risk for non-compliance earlier in the cycle.
Centralizing inbound calls
Many pharmacies are high-touch and engage themselves with patients in ways that are not scalable. Having pharmacists as the first point of contact, taking calls or leaving voicemails at $70 an hour, can’t be sustained.
That’s why several leading pharmacies have started operating more strategically by centralizing their inbound call volume.
Instead of sending calls directly to stores to disrupt workflow, callers are sent to a single location. This lets the in-store pharmacy staff control the customer experience for patients who walk in the door and allow central store operations to own and simplify the experience for every caller.
Most importantly, a centralized call center improves the inside-pharmacy experience by letting pharmacists focus on customers who walk through the door instead of incoming calls. Customers on the phone receive validation through an IVR, and customers in the store get the uninterrupted, face-to-face interaction they expect.
Centralizing call center operations will require some up-front investment. But taking on-premise technology out of the stores, centralizing in a cloud environment and simplifying self-service will deliver positive ROI for years to come.
Make sure you evaluate partners that work in industries outside of pharmacy and healthcare. Your customers go to banks, watch cable, buy insurance and travel with their families. All of these companies have been centralizing inbound call volume for years. Receiving insights into what your customers are looking for as they engage with brands in every industry will give you an advantage over your competition.
With changing customer demands and new competitors approaching the field, the time is right to provide customers with a better pharmacy experience. Simple tech upgrades increase efficiency, bolster your bottom line and make every interaction with your brand one to remember.
Mike has been with West Interactive Services for five years as a director of sales, working primarily with retail pharmacies. A graduate of Hastings College, Mike now introduces pharmacy clients to automated technology and advanced analytics to reduce communication costs, create new revenue channels and gain a competitive edge to get closer to their customers and improve the overall pharmacy experience.