Customer Service Basics, Post-Holidays (& Anytime)

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The start to the new year is a great time to be reminded of how to provide superior customer service, particularly as post-Holidays means customers/patients trying to save money from overspending in November and December, redeeming gift cards for products and services, returning unwanted merchandise, often suffering from some “winter blues” and perhaps not always in the best of moods. It might also be a good time to depart from our use of recent literature just this week to focus on a brief, but salient gem published in a journal called Caring that describes how to avoid common customer service mistakes.

Ferris reminds us among other things that we need to know our customers. We cannot nor should we memorize each thing about every one of them, but we should know enough about our customer base to understand what types of services, communication, and or marketing efforts that would be off the mark.(1) He also reminds us how important first impressions are; that is, even if we are able to overcome the initial service mistake, that at least for a while, the customer is going to “proceed with caution”. It might not take much to lose them, “again”. We are also reminded of the need for consistency in cultivating and promoting our image. Having employees cigarette smoking even in a breakroom or elsewhere that is publicly visible sends a discrepant message, as would slovenly appearance by you or an employee if you are attempting to connote professionalism. Further, the need for quality is apparent not only in the actual delivery of services but also in the materials/messages you use to advertise or promote your business. A poorly constructed or overly amateur attempt at a brochure, radio or TV ad, or signage will result in your customers thinking that you run an amateur operation, even if the quality of service you provide is good, especially considering that patients may not otherwise know how to evaluate the quality of your services. The same can be said of your website, Facebook, or other social media pages, if you have them. Ferris then discusses the importance of “salespeople” and the need for a softer approach; in pharmacy, you can often think of technicians and other support staff as your salespeople, firmly but subtly reinforcing the messages you want to convey to customers. Ferris closes by reminding us of the need for consistency in the service we provide. Think about some of the more successful chain restaurants. Even though many customers acknowledge that those restaurants might not be the best, they frequent those establishments because they know what to expect.

Pharmacy managers must understand that a patient’s perception of the quality of service will not be measured in terms of its pharmacotherapeutic content, per se. It will be perceived on the basis of how it was promoted, the manner in which it was delivered, the extent to which it solves problems that patients are experiencing, and the consistency in which it is delivered by all pharmacy personnel.

Additional information about Customer Service can be found in Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 5e. If you or your institution subscribes to AccessPharmacy, use or create your MyAccess Profile to sign-in to Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 4e. If your institution does not provide access, ask your medical librarian about subscribing.

(1) Ferris ME. Relationship management. National Association for Homecare Magaine. 2003;23:42.

Shane Desselle

Professor of Social and Behavioral Pharmacy, Touro University California

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