8 Common Customer Complaints Every Independent Pharmacy Needs to Address

5 Common Customer Complaints and How to Combat Them by Elements magazine | pbahealth.com

Inside: Letting a patient complaint go unaddressed can hurt your business. Here’s how to respond to the most common gripes.

The demands of consumers are becoming increasingly harder to meet. With national retailers scaling to fulfill every whim of consumers, expectations have never been greater.

Retailers that want to compete need to continue to evolve along with customers’ needs and desires. Up to 90 percent of customers won’t return to your pharmacy if they leave dissatisfied, according to a study in the Journal of Marketing. Even worse, those dissatisfied patients will likely tell others about their negative experience. Those reactions can result in tremendous loss to your pharmacy business.

“If the number of consumers experiencing dissatisfaction is large enough, such responses may have lasting effects in terms of negative image and reduced sales for the firm,” according to the study.

And your business is only as strong as your patient base.

Buck this national trend of dissatisfaction at your pharmacy and keep customers coming back by making sure they’re satisfied with every visit. Here are eight common customer complaints and how to address them.

1. “I don’t feel comfortable talking here”

Nobody wants to discuss their private—and sometimes embarrassing—medical information in front of a waiting room full of strangers (or worse, neighbors and co-workers). If your pharmacy doesn’t have a private consultation space, you’re at risk of alienating patients.

Research shows it’s important for patients to perceive their independent community pharmacies as safe health spaces. When they do, they’re more likely to give providers all of the relevant health information, which makes your job as a pharmacist easier and leads to better health outcomes for patients.

When patients have concerns about their privacy, they’re less likely to request screenings and clinical tests or ask important health questions.

To put your patients at ease, look for ways to add privacy to your consultation area. If a separate room isn’t an option, try installing privacy panels or evaluating the acoustics of your space to keep conversations quiet. Train your staff to use good judgment about what they say out loud to and about a patient.

2. “You don’t have what I need in stock”

It’s frustrating to go to the pharmacy only to find an empty shelf where a much-needed product is supposed to be. It’s even more frustrating to drop off a prescription and hear back a few hours later that the medication isn’t available.

That costs you at least one sale, but it’s likely to cost you future sales too. Patients will feel less confident that you’ll have what they need in stock next time and may look for other options.

Combat this by carefully managing your inventory. For products where an alternative might be available and appropriate, guide shoppers to something that will meet their needs. This is sometimes a good opportunity to introduce a patient to your private label items.

Consider offering to contact the patient when the item is back in stock. This will add slightly to your workload but will show patients you’re willing to go the extra mile to take care of their needs. It also gives them a path to come back and purchase the product from you rather than buying from a competitor.

3. “I’ve been waiting forever”

For the majority (66 percent) of patients, the most important thing a pharmacy can do to provide good customer experience is to value their time.

You can’t always prevent waiting, but several strategies can help keep wait times under control:

  • Adequate staffing in the pharmacy and at the front end
  • Efficient filing systems that make it easy to locate filled prescriptions
  • An efficient POS system
  • Automating some steps, like robotic filing or a counting machine


When patients have to wait, be sure to apologize for the holdup and thank them for waiting. Acknowledging that you’re understaffed today or one of your registers is on the fritz helps patients understand that their unpleasant experience is an anomaly.

4. “You’re not open when I need you.”

For customers, convenience is king. If you aren’t available when they need you, they’ll find another pharmacy that is.

You can prevent this complaint by tailoring your hours to your particular patient base.

For example, if you often have a rush right before you close, then you might want to stay open an hour or two later. If you can’t stay open late every night, try extending your hours just one night a week. On the other hand, if you have patients lining up as you open your store, consider opening a few minutes earlier. Even just half an hour earlier can really help some patients.

If there are hours in your store where patients seldom come in, you could consider closing or scaling back staff.

In some situations, enrolling patients in your delivery service can ease this complaint. Remind them that, with permission, you can leave prescriptions with a spouse or relative who’s home when they’re not. For patients who can’t seem to get away from work, offer to deliver items to their office. With national chains rolling out new delivery services, now is a perfect time to highlight your own delivery service, especially if you’re delivering for free or for a lower fee than national competitors.

5. “You didn’t do what you said you would.”

Failing to follow through on an offer or promise is a quick way to disappoint any patient. Avoid this complaint by avoiding promises you can’t keep. That means giving realistic estimates about how long it will take to fill a new prescription. Err on the side of overestimating so patients aren’t dissatisfied when they end up waiting longer than they expected.

Be sure to update your pharmacy’s website and social media when a promotion ends or policy changes so patients are informed. Don’t let incorrect information from an out-of-date post lead to a dissatisfied customer.

6. “It takes too long to get an answer when I call.”

Answering the phone promptly when you’re busy with a task or helping a patient can be just as difficult as it is important. Set a goal at your pharmacy to answer the phone before it rings three times. Even if you don’t accomplish this goal every time, being mindful of the caller’s wait is a good mindset to have in customer service.

If you find yourself consistently falling short of that goal, you may need to consider increasing your staffing. You could also leverage technology—like services that automate the process of calling in to refill prescriptions—to cut back on your call volume.

7. “I’m not happy with my prescription.”

When patients are dissatisfied with their medication, they’ll likely be dissatisfied with you, too. If they’re experiencing adverse side effects, or if they don’t think the prescription is working, work with their physician to find a solution. Even though you didn’t prescribe it, patients will appreciate it if you solve the problem for them.

8. “I felt that I wasn’t treated well.”

When patients feel mistreated, they likely won’t come back. More than half of consumers will never return to a company after experiencing bad service just once.

Of course, you and your staff would never intentionally mistreat a patient. But at the end of a long shift, maybe an employee was short with a patient. Or perhaps you asked someone to wait in a tone that made them feel unimportant.

Whatever it may be, avoid making patients feel mistreated with these mindful strategies:

  • Approach each patient with a positive and empathetic attitude
  • Leave stress and worries about unrelated things behind before you step up to the counter
  • Invest in training your staff to provide consistent and quality customer care
  • Build valuing customers first into your pharmacy work culture
  • Apologize when a patient feels mistreated

A Member-Owned Company Serving Independent Pharmacies

PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy-side of their business. Founded and run by pharmacists, PBA Health serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, wholesaler contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, and more.

An HDA member, PBA Health operates its own NABP-accredited warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products — offering the lowest prices in the secondary market.


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Elements is written and produced by PBA Health, a buy-side solutions company.

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