Pharmacy U

How to make your pharmacy process-driven

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Do you work your customers through their experience of your business in an efficient, logical and friendly manner?

By Gerry Spitzner

Every product or service we buy, every store we visit, every media message we receive, every choice in our consumer society has been shaped by the forces of marketing. The marketing process is central to the business performance of companies, large and small, because it addresses the most important aspects of the competitive marketplace.

Today, as competitive pressures increase, marketing skills have never been more highly valued in both private and public sectors. What was once seen as a departmental activity within companies is now regarded as a frontline business attitude for all employees. Marketing has played a key role in many recent business success stories, from pharmaceuticals to airlines, sports brands to food and drink, and from business-to-business companies to small, niche players.

As pharmacy continues its evolution from a product-focused retail business to a professional service-focused practice, marketing, now more than ever, is critical to success.

Successful marketing depends on addressing several key issues.  These include what a company is going to produce; how much it is going to charge; how it’s going to deliver its products or services to customers; and how it is going to tell its customers about its products or services. The elements of Product, Place, Price and Promotion make up a basic 4 Ps marketing mix. However, when it comes to services marketing, it is limited.

The 4 Ps plus 3 more

The professional services marketing mix builds on the 4 Ps of and adds 3 crucial areas to create a 7P model. People, Process and Physical environment all play an important role in where customers buy and repeat pharmacy services and are vital components of the pharmacy business model.

Promotion, creativity and innovation are hot marketing topics right now, and I support that.  However, at the end of the day, it’s the ‘boring’ process that actually gets stuff done.

This element of the marketing mix looks at the systems used to deliver the service. Process or systems is what keeps airplanes from falling out of the sky.  It’s what makes your favourite Starbucks drink exactly the same in Vancouver as it is in Toronto.  Or, for example, entering a restaurant and being met by lovely staff who take your order competently and without undue delay, striking the right balance between friendly helpfulness and efficiency. Your food is served in a timely manner and the evening goes off smoothly, with no glitches. This would be an example of excellent processes in marketing.

Does “the system” work?

The process of delivering a professional patient service and the behaviour of those who deliver it are crucial to customer satisfaction and experience.  Issues such as waiting times, the information given to patients and the helpfulness of staff are all vital to keep customers happy.  Customers are not interested in the details of how your pharmacy business runs. What matters to them is that the system works.

Work the Process

Process is one of the Ps that is frequently overlooked. For example, a customer trying to reach your pharmacy by phone is a vital source of income and returning value; but so often customers have to stay on hold for several minutes listening to a recorded message (often telling them how important their business is!) before they are able to get through. Many of these customers will give up, go elsewhere and tell their friends not to use your pharmacy because of the poor process in place. Even if they do get through, they will go away with a negative impression of your pharmacy. The reason is that systems are not usually designed by marketers, they are designed for the company’s benefit, not the customers’.

Do customers have to wait? Are they kept informed? Are your people helpful? Is your service efficiently carried out? Do your people interact in a manner appropriate to your professional service?

This part of the process is often the first experience many customers have.  There’s no value in making the rest of the business run perfectly if this part is faulty.  Consequently, this “P” could be a great source of competitive advantage if used wisely.

According to Donald Cooper, a Canadian professional management speaker, everything that happens between ‘intent’ and ‘delivery’ is process.  As a business, you can have the best intentions in the world for your customers, your patients, your staff, for the environment and for your bottom line.  But without clear, effective and well-communicated processes, these wonderful intentions will be just that… ‘intentions.’

To quote the late W. E. Deming, the internationally renowned authority on quality and efficiency, “If you can’t describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”

The systems and processes of the organization affect the execution of the service. So, you have to make sure you have a well-tailored process in place to minimize costs. Processes move the customer through their experience. Processes are about knowing what to do and how to do it, especially in services marketing.

Make sure your processes are sound – that your customer experience is as it should be and your business delivers its service in a correct, timely and uniform manner. But watch out, this is not to say you shouldn’t deliver your service with personality. Quite the contrary. If you are confident about your processes, this in fact liberates you and your team to be personal and attentive in your delivery.

And that’s wonderful for branding and gaining positive testimonials.