Building Patient Loyalty: Resources to Help

Attracting new customers to the pharmacy and keeping them coming back is a core goal for independent pharmacists. As a recent America’s Pharmacist article title says, “You’re in the Patient Business.” Treating patients right means they’ll return to the pharmacy, and become an advocate to others for the business. Pharmacists can learn some good pointers from customer loyalty experts. Recently, Inc. Magazine compiled seven of the most innovative and ingenious tips on building customer loyalty from articles, guides, and interviews in Inc. and The top seven are:

1. Create Enlightening Experiences
By doing so, the pharmacy will make customers feel good about being there rather than irritated that they have to spend time waiting for their prescription. Providing complimentary refreshments, waiting areas, and health information in a variety of formats are some ideas that independent pharmacy owners have used to do so.

2. When You Do Wrong, Make it Right
Resolving customer complaints is among the best ways to earn loyalty. Apologies allow customers the chance to connect emotionally. More often than not, an apology, thoughtful gift or service is better received than a refund.

3. Reward Customers with Games
Inc. notes that many customers who have been raised with video games are “wired” for incentives generate positive feelings from achievement. These incentives may be points, badges, discounts, or any award—tangible or not.

4. Quantify Customers’ Love
Experts recommend asking the opinions of valued customers. They suggest appending a short survey to receipts. To help improve the response rate, they suggest using the strategy of making a small donation to a charity for every survey completed. It can be as simple as two questions: Will you come back? and Will you refer your friends? A pharmacy-specific example is described by William Doucette and Randy McDonough in their journal article on relationship marketing.

5. Make an App for That
Inc. staff says loyalty cards may fade, pushed out by smartphone applications “apps” that do more than just offer a high-tech alternative. A recent technology roundtable session on using Apple iPads and apps was a sell out at the NCPA Annual Meeting. Some examples of recently launched loyalty-card apps from the Inc article include Cardstar, Checkout, PlacePop, and Cardagin. The pharmacy POS vendors have long had loyalty programs and many are creating loyalty apps.

6. Do Rewards Better
Inc. staff report from their research that firms spend more than $2 billion on loyalty programs annually, and that the average American household belongs to about 14 different rewards programs. A well-planned and executed reward program may have a place with the pharmacy’s customers. Several commercial firms offer programs that can be tailored to the pharmacy. Many wholesalers and buying groups offer these services as well.

7. Build a “Giant” Relationship
Russ Stanley, client relations for the San Francisco Giants, explained to Inc. staff that the group has introduced programs to help season ticket holders sell their seats for games they cannot attend, and assigned specific representatives to make sure these fans are happy with their ballpark experience. Providing a name, phone number and/or email address of a staff person can go a long way in building a relationship bond.

Recognizing that across all industries, consumers are changing and becoming wiser, NCPA recently conducted consumer research to help illuminate the independent pharmacy consumer base and allow independent pharmacy owners to customize their relationship marketing to different segments. The research’s focus was to ascertain what consumers need and want with regard to their pharmacy experience. (See rule #1). Three focus groups were conducted, then followed by a quantitative online survey of 1,219 consumers, 11% of whom indicated they filled their prescriptions at an independent pharmacy. Comparison of the consumer survey findings against a survey of 26,000 pharmacists nationwide show a big gap in perceptions of what pharmacists think consumers want and what consumers say they want.

Let’s start with experience. More than 90% of the consumers had visited their pharmacy to pick up a prescription in the last month or three months, and 75% rated their satisfaction in rank order as #1 or #2. However, personal services such as a doctor, dentist, or eye doctor visit were consistently ranked higher than picking up a prescription at a retail pharmacy. Some of the highest satisfaction scores were given to massage/spa services, and chiropractor visits. Those equally rated as picking up a prescription were getting medical lab tests and having a car serviced. Pharmacy ranked in the middle as well on other attributes commonly associated with customer loyalty: staff, convenience, quality, facility, cost, and personal benefit.

Consumers indicated friendly, accessible pharmacists and staff are key to a positive customer experience, regardless of whether the pharmacy is independent or chain. They tend to view pharmacies as busy retail environments rather than as health care providers with the patient’s interest at heart. Consumers were generally not aware of many of the services that the pharmacist may offer that they desire related to health and wellness. And while they want health and wellness counsel, they may not perceive the pharmacist as the person to receive it from.

Exploring medication adherence issues was also enlightening as well. Older patients taking multiple medications had more interest in adherence services. Some consumers welcomed refill reminders while others indicated this would be bothersome.

In essence, research indicates the variation among consumers and each pharmacy may need to segment its own patient base and decide which loyalty components may be most effective. Based upon the research, Detra Montoya provided recommended actions to meet customer expectations. Those that may help build customer loyalty include:

Highlighting staff accessibility and expertise.

  • Undertaking store improvements to create a comfortable, private environment with reduced waiting times. Specifics from the research included express pick-up lines, loyalty/reward programs, discount/gift card is the prescription takes longer to get ready than expected, and a comfortable waiting area with free Wi-Fi.
  • Promoting a health care “supermarket” with eye care, dental care, chiropractic, preventive care pre-travel, pet medication and physical therapy.
  • Providing wellness services.
  • Providing a schedule of experts available for consultation.

Both business and professional literature are excellent resources for good ideas on building loyalty among a changing customer base. Independent pharmacies, with their patient focus, are positioned well in this environment to implement creative new ways to attract customers and retain them for the long-run.

Doucette WR, McDonough. Beyond the 4Ps: using relationship marketing to build value and demand for pharmacy services. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2002;42:2:183-194.
Montoya DY. Your customer’s expectations: managing them is essential to their satisfaction. America’s Pharm. 2011; May: 26-31.


To download a copy of this article, click here: Building Patient Loyalty: Resources to Help