November 6, 2018
Inside: Saying the right thing in difficult moments can turn a poor situation into a positive one. Try these phrases to keep your patients happy.
Every independent pharmacist has been there before: It’s cold and flu season, the line at the service counter is a mile long, and the patient in front of you is seething.
Maybe it’s about the wait time. Maybe it’s because insurance won’t pay as much as they expected. Maybe you or your staff made a mistake. Or maybe they just had a bad day.
One thing is clear: What you say next could be the difference between a satisfied customer and a full-on eruption of frustration.
Dicey situations come with a special opportunity. Handle the problem the right way and you’ll impress the patient in a way you can’t duplicate when things are going smoothly.
A 2016 study by The Belding Group looked at the elements of “wow” customer service experiences that go viral. “Recovery,” or turning a negative experience into a positive one, is likely to become the type of “wow” experience people tell their friends and families about, the study says.
The researchers asked people to recall “top-of-mind memorable customer experiences.” Of the positive experiences mentioned in the study, 71.5 percent were categorized as initially negative encounters that turned into positive experiences.
The phrases you use can make the difference between patients loving your pharmacy and leaving it.
Here are the customer service phrases that will give your patients a “wow” experience.
You’ve been sick before. You’ve certainly dealt with the red tape of insurance. So you understand what the cranky patient in front of you might be going through. She likely isn’t trying to make your day any harder. She’s just trying to get their prescriptions filled and get better.
Empathizing with the frustrating patient in front of you will help you keep your cool. And it may help them keep theirs. Eighty-two percent of the negative experiences customers described in the Belding study were due employees not appearing to care.
If a patient states that he’s feeling frustrated, use empathetic phrases, such as “I would feel the same way in your shoes,” or “I can see how that would be frustrating.”
Another recent study indicates your choice of pronouns can influence a customer’s perception. Instead of explaining the situation with words like “we” and “us,” use “I” and “me.” This increases the customer’s perception that the “agent”—that’s the pharmacist, pharm tech, or cashier for our purposes—is acting on the customer’s behalf.
The Belding Group study also reveals that customers want employees to take ownership of errors and misunderstandings.
Of the negative experiences analyzed, 93 percent were categorized as people not taking responsibility for the situation. Shifting the blame leaves a terrible taste in your patient’s mouth.
Even pharmacy staff sometimes drop the ball. If it’s your fault that service is slow or something is out of stock, you’ll earn more goodwill with a sincere apology than you will avoiding responsibility.
Resist the urge to be defensive, even if the patient is partly responsible for what went wrong.
You won’t be able to fix every problem. But if you’re able to, take the time to fix it. No phrase will help if your actions don’t show that you’re doing your best to resolve the situation.
Ease patients’ concerns by explaining what you’re doing to help. The more specific, the better. “I’ll call your doctor and get it cleared up” is more reassuring than “Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”
“I’m looking up the policy to see what we can do about the pricing” will pacify patients better than wordlessly typing at a computer without explanation.
Sometimes, even when you do everything right, patients have to wait longer than you’d like.
Instead of apologizing for the wait, though, consider thanking them for their patience. It takes the focus off the negative aspect of the experience without pretending it didn’t happen.
Don’t underestimate the power of a freebie to smooth over bad feelings. If the patient’s negative experience was the result of your own snafu and you’re worried about losing that patient to the competition, give them a coupon for their next visit.
It’s easy to get caught up in solving the problem in front of you and forget that you’re responsible for the entire interaction. Once you’ve addressed the initial problem, make sure there are no lingering issues or requests before you end the conversation.
If your pharmacy is among the 77 percent of U.S. small businesses who use social media in their marketing strategy, you’ll need to be prepared to deliver customer service online as well.
Research from Sprout Social says nearly half of all consumers have taken to social media to ask questions or share concerns with a business.
While customer concerns on social media aren’t literally in front of your face like in-person conversations, you should treat them with the same urgency. A quick response has become the expectation for social media users. According to Twitter’s research, consumers expect a response within an hour of lodging a complaint.
This can be a challenge for independent community pharmacies, who likely don’t have entire teams dedicated to social media customer service. Consider setting up notifications for when your pharmacy is tagged on social media, so you can respond to these direct inquiries even when you don’t have time to actively monitor all the chatter.
A good old-fashioned phone call is still often the easiest way to resolve an issue that requires a bunch of back-and-forth discussion. Customers may initially take their problems to social media as a way to vent about a problem they didn’t think anyone could fix. Reaching out is an opportunity to show them otherwise and demonstrate your value as a resource.
Other patients may have turned to social media specifically because they don’t like the phone (or have a disability that makes phone calls difficult). For simple problems—you’re out of their preferred hand cream, they’re not sure if you’re open during a storm or a holiday—a brief but warm response with the relevant information can fix things right up.
If the problem is specific to a prescription or otherwise involves their medical or financial information, the phone isn’t your only option. But you’ll want to proceed with caution.
In addition to moving a potentially unflattering conflict off the public timeline, direct messages allow you to ask follow-up questions that help you get to the bottom of things. It’s also the best way to get someone’s phone number, email address, or other private information so you can follow up.
Be careful not to volunteer personal information about a patient before verifying that you’re speaking to the right person. Get a prescription number or date of birth just as you would on the phone.
Never ask for a patient’s social security number or credit card information via direct messages—these are not secure channels, and you could leave the patient vulnerable to identity theft.
If something is taking longer than it should, it’s worth finding out why. Maybe your automatic notification system glitched and the patient never received word that their prescription is ready. Maybe something has delayed the doctor or insurance company and you’re waiting for a call back.
Take the time to look into a patient’s concern the same way you would over the phone or in person. While social media is a newer and less formal way of communicating, customers still expect the same level of consideration they always have.
The right approach to customer service can be the difference between “wow” and “never again” for your patients.
PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy side of their business. The company is a member-owned pharmacy services organization based in Kansas City, Mo., that serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, expert contract negotiations, propriety purchasing tools, distribution services, and more.
PBA Health, an HDA member, operates its own VAWD-certified warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products.
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