Serving up your own success

The aroma of coffee hits just as my eyes adjust to the dimmed lighting. The immaculate, colour-coded displays appeal to my organised, minimalistic obsession, and just as I had immersed myself in the luxurious ambience, an equally immaculate assistant was inviting me to sample a coffee. All that as missing was a designer couch with George Clooney sitting on the end and perhaps a bit of swanky music in the background. However, what wasn’t missing at my local Nespresso shop was the feeling of exclusiveness – even though I was only there to buy some coffee pods.

We all have our own favourite places to shop or holiday, and they all have some things in common: an experience and environment that makes us want to come back for more. Simply put, it’s the staff and the space.

But what do George Clooney, ambient lighting and sharply dressed shop assistants selling coffee pods have to do with pharmacy? Well, at a time when pharmacy feels like a race to the bottom and some service models more resemble fast-food restaurants than critical contributors to community health, customer experience is arguably more important than ever. Ultimately, it comes down to what are you doing with the resources in your pharmacy to make your customers feel special.

WHAT DO CUSTOMERS REALLY WANT?

According to a substantial body of health industry research, consumers’ perception of service quality is based more on the environment and interaction with the service provider than the actual merit and technical quality of the service.

This is mainly because the average punter doesn’t have the technical medical knowledge to discern the quality of advice they are given, but instead judges their experience on those elements they can measure.

That’s not to say that our technical service doesn’t need to be good – we operate in an industry with no margin for error – but the look and feel of your pharmacy plays a major part in advertising the quality of service your customers perceive they will get. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a refit, but step back and look at how a patient might perceive your business. Consider the following:

• Is the signage clear and visible?
• What obstacles do your patients have to negotiate to reach the dispensary?
• How much product have you squeezed on to your service counters?
• Is your dispensary area clean and tidy?
• Are your consult rooms tidy and free from clutter?
• What does a waiting patient see?

In the end, the presentation of your pharmacy is about sending the right message to patients about the quality of professional services and advice on offer at your business.

YOUR REPUTATION RESTS WITH YOUR STAFF

Unless you are an owner-operator who can work every opening hour in your pharmacy, chances are you are leaving your business in the (hopefully) capable hands of your staff. Every interaction your patients have with your staff – whether they be long-term employees or weekend casuals – is what they are using to form their perceptions of your business, and you.

While I appreciate that a part-time student may not turn into a full-time employee you will retain for the next 15 years, Tom O’Toole, founder of the Beechworth Bakery chain in Victoria, put it best when he said: “What if I train them and they leave? But what if you don’t train them and they stay?”

I speak to a lot of staff in the work we do with pharmacies and many of them, from the seasoned full-timers to the junior part-timers, say they enjoy the knowledge they gain from working in pharmacy.

However, many of them also say they would like more training about the products and services, as this makes them feel more confident in their jobs. Knowledge empowers staff, gives them confidence and increases job satisfaction, all of which reflects positively on your business. And as a business owner, it is incumbent on you to ensure that you have the
right people, with the right skills, in the right place, and at the right time

Customer experience is becoming a key competitive advantage in pharmacy today. An investment in your staff is an investment in your business, and together with an appealing environment, you are creating an environment for success. Use your resources wisely and make the most of what you have – success doesn’t always require radical change. Sometimes, we just need to take a step back and see things from a new perspective before we can take steps to improve.

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