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Tech-driven innovation can make pharmacies more appealing

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When it comes to cutting-edge customer experiences, the health care industry has room for improvement. Some two in three consumers say they have had a bad patient experience with health care providers, hospitals and pharmacies. Plus, half of American consumers want greater tech involvement in their health care, an appetite that is especially strong among higher-income earners, parents and Millennials.

Dara St. Louis

This is not cause for despair among pharmacies and other health care businesses. On the contrary, it is a reason to be optimistic about the possibility of rising above the industry’s customer experience standards. It’s also an invitation to explore tech-driven innovations that can help pharmacies foster outstanding customer-centric businesses.

With the right investments and strategies, pharmacies can become places consumers are eager to visit because, like any good business, they solve both immediate and long-term customer problems. Three steps pharmacies can take to achieve that vision include digitizing the customer experience, providing tools to help patients better manage their health, and collecting regular consumer insights to improve service.

Digitize the customer experience

Customer experience expectations have risen dramatically, rhanks in large part to the pandemic. When COVID struck, brick-and-mortar brands and retailers had to transform customer interactions that once involved in-person trips and conversations into frictionless digital transactions. After two years of curbside pickup, shoppers expect simpler and faster service.

The same applies to health care, and yet the industry has not yet met that bar. How many of us have filled out a form online and scanned it back to a pharmacy or doctor’s office just to fill it out again upon in-person arrival? How many pharmacies require shoppers to wait in the parking lot for an order to be fulfilled instead of putting them in an easily monitorable digital queue?

Lagging standards are an opportunity. Pharmacies that digitize the customer experience stand to gain market share by transforming themselves into the frontline businesses for consumer health. Some steps pharmacies can take to digitize include launching apps to help consumers keep track of their orders, allowing consumers to opt into notifications, and sending digital promotions and discounts for repeat purchases as well as complementary products.

These are just some initial steps to drive incremental revenue using consensually collected consumer data by making the shopping experience more convenient. But pharmacies can go a step further by launching tools that do not just boost convenience but foster experiences that make a lasting impact on patients’ lives. That’s what it means for pharmacies to use technology to tackle both short-term and long-term customer problems.

Provide tools to help patients manage their health

Offering an app that helps consumers monitor their appointments and access faster service is table stakes for pharmacies that want to compete on customer experience. But pharmacies can improve on that by offering or at least recommending technologies that help patients monitor factors such as heart health, blood pressure, diet, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and hydration.

Mental health is another major category of service where pharmacies could play a role. The global mental health apps market size was valued at $4.2 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach $17.5 billion by 2030. Currently, many of these apps are offered by digitally native companies to which shoppers have no connection before download. Pharmacies with trusted brands have the opportunity to challenge incumbents by making the case that they are better positioned to be the stewards of sensitive mental health data.

In addition to apps, pharmacies can offer consumers health devices. These include fitness-oriented wearables, smart home health devices, smart scales, smart workout equipment and stick-on sensors — all gadgets that can help patients monitor their well-being as well as exercise and eat better. That way, pharmacies can make a positive impact on patients’ daily lives.

Currently, consumers often turn to retailers like Amazon to purchase health devices. Pharmacies can establish themselves as the go-to destination for health devices by leaning on their competitive advantage: the pharmacists, or go-to health experts, at the core of their business. Pharmacists should be available not just to explain prescriptions sent over by a doctor but to help patients navigate health technology to improve their daily well-being.

Collect insights to optimize service

Embracing digitization to fuel a better customer experience is not just about the apps, devices and services that pharmacies offer to patients. It is also about the processes pharmacies set up to continually collect consensual shopper data to power improvements over time.

To that end, the final piece of the digital transformation puzzle for pharmacies is setting up infrastructure to survey customers regularly on their experiences and identify new features, services and tools that will strengthen pharmacy-customer interactions.

Conveniently, just as consumer apps can provide helpful functionality like digital queues for order pickup, they are also a prime way to collect and act on customer feedback. The conventional methods of market research, such as email surveys and focus groups, do not allow pharmacies to collect continuous and highly updated information, nor do they offer the ability to drill down to what individual customers want to identify trends by demographics and make each patient feel valued. With new mobile-driven customer research techniques, pharmacies can set a new standard for customer intelligence and create personalized, customer-centric experiences to match.

COVID placed tremendous strain on pharmacies and other health care providers, and it forced consumers to depend on their local pharmacy for guidance and treatment to an unprecedented extent. Let’s not let the learnings of COVID fade away as the virus increasingly transitions into an endemic illness. COVID’s impact on daily life is decreasing, but the consumer expectations it spurred are only increasing. The pharmacies that win the future will be those who respond to that.

Dara St. Louis is founding partner and senior vice president at Reach3 Insights.


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