When it comes to keeping customers satisfied, pharmacies know how to get the job done.

J.D. Power, 2010 National Pharmacy Study, James Dougherty, pharmacy, pharmacy customer satisfaction, customer satisfaction, pharmacies, pharmacist, Russell Redman, brick-and-mortar pharmacies, prescription, best practices for pharmacy, retail pharmacies, pharmacy customers

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Pharmacies stand tall in customer satisfaction

October 18th, 2010

NEW YORK – When it comes to keeping customers satisfied, pharmacies know how to get the job done.

Compared with other industries, the pharmacy sector rates highly in customer satisfaction, said Jim Dougherty, director of the health care practice at J.D. Power and Associates. He made the observation in an interview with Chain Drug Review about J.D. Power’s 2010 National Pharmacy Study, which examined pharmacy customer satisfaction and best practices.

On a scale of 1,000 points, brick-and-mortar pharmacies — including chain drug stores, supermarkets and mass merchandisers — had an average combined rating of over 800.

"Of all the service industries that J.D. Power looks at — we look at about 40 industries — pharmacy is the most satisfying. Let's put it this way: Even the worst-performing pharmacy [rating], most companies would die for in terms of customer satisfaction," Dougherty said. "But in that competitive environment, you're playing in the Eastern Division of the American League. There are no bad teams here. So you've really got to be on your game, and it is about service."

The J.D. Power survey found that when it comes to getting prescriptions filled, a good experience counts more than a good price for customers. The study, which polled more than 12,000 consumers who filled a new prescription or refilled one in the prior three months, zeroed in on five key elements: prescription ordering and pickup, the stores, cost competitiveness, pharmacists and nonpharmacist staff.

Among brick-and-mortar pharmacies, cost competitiveness accounted for 24% of overall customer satisfaction in the 2010 survey versus 10% in 2009. But Dougherty noted that service carries more weight.

"The out-of-pocket cost for a prescription hasn't really changed year over year. It's just that people are more aware of and more sensitive to cost competitiveness," he explained. "When we look at best practices for pharmacy, cost is not part of it. It's still the service."

The marketing firm reported that online consumer conversations about brick-and-mortar pharmacies tend to revolve around good and bad experiences far more often than the cost paid for the prescription, with the top complaints being long wait times, unfriendly pharmacy staff and prescription mistakes.

Based on the survey's findings, customers indicated that they want to be able to drop off a prescription in under three minutes and then take no more than seven minutes to pick it up, Dougherty said.

"The No. 1 item for a customer is that you get the prescription to me on time or early," he noted. "So one of the things leading to reduced satisfaction is getting it to them late." Of customers polled, 94% reported that their prescription was delivered on time or early, he said.

Customers also are put off by mandatory mail order, "a big issue for retail pharmacies," Dougherty said, adding that this year marked the first time J.D. Power's study examined that issue for brick-and-mortar pharmacies.

"Customers do not want to be forced into mail order. If you do, satisfaction declines significantly," he explained. "That doesn't mean using mail is less satisfying; it's the mandate that's less satisfying. Customers want options."

Another new element assessed by this year's study was auto refill service, which proved to be a big plus for pharmacies regarding customer satisfaction.

"Automatic refill programs are significant satisfiers — 13% of people [polled] did not refill their last prescription because they just never got around to it. And not getting that refill is a deep dissatisfier," Dougherty said. "Having an auto refill program available and the use of it both add significantly to satisfaction."

Personalized service, too, goes a long way with customers. "Telling the customer that a generic is available isn't really a significant contributor to satisfaction," Dougherty said. "But telling the customer the cost savings that they would find from using a generic equivalent is a dramatic satisfaction increase. Personalizing the experience to the customer, rather than just explaining matter-of-fact clinical stuff, leads to higher satisfaction."

On average, 6% of brick-and-mortar pharmacy customers surveyed went to an in-store clinic. According to Dougherty, that customer traffic spurs sales of over-the-counter medicines but doesn't really have much of an impact on the number of prescriptions.

"What you do see for the store is a significant increase in OTC use as a result of the in-store clinic experience, which makes sense since a lot of people are there because of a cough, cold and that sort of thing and don't really need an antibiotic but need an OTC cough/cold medicine," he said. "We saw that [trend] last year, and it was confirmed this year. The in-store clinic is not a huge driver of prescription volume but it is of OTC volume."

Convenient, easily accessible locations are important to pharmacy customers but aren't necessarily a game-breaker in terms of winning their business, according to Dougherty. A more telling finding from the study, he said, was that customers on average use 1.74 pharmacies per person.

"So [for brick-and-mortar pharmacies] it's not just I want to capture new customers; it's I want to capture the biggest share of their prescription volume," Dougherty said.

"We found that the most satisfying stores capture a higher percentage of a person's total prescribing. And that high satisfaction, because of this share of wallet, drives $122 more in prescription revenue per customer per year than a low-satisfaction experience," he explained. "The study demonstrates that people who are more satisfied are more likely to concentrate their prescription activity in the store or outlet that provides the more satisfying experience."

And the little things mean a lot to pharmacy customers. For example, Dougherty said that customers appreciate it when nonpharmacy staff ask them if they would like to speak to the pharmacist — even if they don't end up doing so.

"It's a very simple thing to do. Most of the time, the customer will say no. But just asking is enough to drive up satisfaction. It's not necessarily the encounter with the pharmacist. It's [showing the customer] that 'I care about you,' " he said.

About 35% of customers surveyed said they were asked if they wanted to talk to the pharmacist, and only 16% actually did so, Dougherty added.

"Having the pharmacist available as a trusted adviser does add to the sense of comfort, satisfaction and attachment to the experience," he said. "It's those kinds of things that at the end of the day, while cost competitiveness is increasingly a table stakes item, service trumps price."

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