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Reshaping Customer Experience in Pharmacy

A few years ago I called in a prescription at a local pharmacy. I called two days ahead and scheduled to pick up in the middle of the week. Once there to pick up on the designated day, I was told that the medication was not in stock. Backorders and inventory issues I understand but I was more upset about the fact that no one bothered to call and tell me about it in the two days leading up to the pick up. I was one disappointed customer. How many times do you think something similar happened to you at a local pharmacy?

Successful businesses are built by matching customer expectations with customer experience. These dynamic expectations are a reflection of a customer experience with other providers. If one provider exceeds their expectations, that becomes the new standard and others will have to provide a similar service to maintain (not exceed) customer expectation due to the psychological adaptation (Hedonic treadmill).

My level of expectation has been reshaped by a lot of other providers. A parcel service pick up which emails me every time something arrives for me and allows me to schedule pick up months ahead in time so that when I show up, I can quickly pick them up and leave within minutes. Or the parcel delivery service itself which allows me to track my order as it travels around the world. No wonder I was deeply unsatisfied with my experience with a local pharmacy a few blocks away from my house.

The evolution of technology has drastically reshaped customer experience. Remember that semi- frequent “blue screen of death” on your windows PC? (If that didn’t register with you then chances are that you were born sometime after the late 1980s) Windows (and even Macintosh!) used to crash a lot more often but a majority of the users lived with it as options to buy a computer were limited. As the cost of hardware dropped, more companies were able to provide computational devices. Whereas previously you were limited to a handful of providers, now there are a plethora of options. This resulted in technology differentiating itself based on the user experience or the software and not the product. This pushed Windows and Apple to move their focus to user experience. Being able to satisfy the new consumer expectation has allowed them to stay relevant in an industry full of competitors selling similar hardware, which interestingly is a lot more reliable than their initial offering.

The same holds true for healthcare. Over the last century we have developed an unbelievable number of treatments. At the same time, the ability for clinicians to access this information has drastically improved since the advent of the internet. . Information is shared and disseminated freely (or without barriers) to anyone thus minimizing the need for patients/customers to travel long distances to seek out medical attention. We are at a point where customer service is becoming the key differential between various healthcare facilities.

Unfortunately, customer experience/expectation is a moving target. As a user receives a certain level of experience with one provider, their expectations change and have to be met by others. When not met, it leads to a subpar customer experience. One example would be expecting all your electronics to run crash free based on the expectation set by Windows and Apple. Let’s look at Amazon for another example. Free shipping and hassle free returns are now an expectation from most online retailers. Similar providers, both current and new entrants, have to provide this service to retain their customers.

Technology has also enabled us to get closer to our customers. They have the ability to leave feedback in numerous forms including broadcasting it through different social media channel. The result: listening to your customer isn’t something that only a few customer service focused companies do but an expectation from any customer whose expectations were not met.

Now this begets the questions, if consumer expectations in healthcare track those of consumers in other industries, then why are healthcare providers significantly behind other industries in responding to their wants, needs and preferences? Advancements such as self-service, 24-hour availability, price and product transparency in the retail industry are still alien concepts in healthcare. A few reasons come to mind:

  • Lack of technology penetration in the older populations (currently the largest patient demographic).
  • Lack of incentive for healthcare providers to offer a different product offering.
  • Healthcare provider’s lack of understanding of technology.
  • Comparison among themselves, a hospital to a hospital, surgeon’s metrics to another in the next OR etc. This invariably sets the bar too low and gives us a false sense of “we are doing OK”.

Pharmacy is ripe for a simpler and more customer centered method to fill and refill medications. There is a need to make a real push towards a paper free environment. Having customers navigate through enormous phone tree seems primitive. Automated refill has been tried in the past but doesn’t seem to work for all patients. Also faxing to communicate between pharmacies and different healthcare providers has its challenges and quite frankly belongs in the stone ages. Explaining to a customer that we are waiting for a reply for a fax (that we hope got the attention of the physician) in an age when they can track their pizza order in real time is like telling them to start rubbing sticks to heat their house.

Choice empowers customers. Many customers value the option of self-checkout lines. Text messaging, online refills and mobile apps are great examples of technologies that empower customers. It also makes our practice more efficient and improves customer service.

The consumer has changed and pharmacy is finally changing with them. Algo App is a great exmaple of technology being implemented to solve real world customer problems. Prescriptions are send to the pharmacy with the click of a picture on your phone, status of the entire prescription tracked in the app including the delivery, and the payment is made in the app itself. It also has the entire pharmacy catalogue within the app, so you get everything a pharmacy has to offer from the convenience of your home. And if you have any questions, their pharmacists are available via chat, voice, or video calls anytime.

The app also has a host of other features such as medication reminders, monitors medication compliance, allows you to quickly share your medication history with your healthcare providers.

If you are in Ontario and have tried their services, please leave a comment below. Would love to hear about your experience with Algo App.