George’s Corner

These are a couple of things that I wrote about a few years ago. Please let me know if you have tried them (or will). Both are applicable to independent pharmacies. But only because the chains aren’t smart enough to do them. Both are easy. And both will tell you a lot about your pharmacy’s faults and features.

Call Yourself

Let’s talk about “call yourself ” first.

It’s a simple idea, but it takes a little bit of planning. What you want to find out is what happens when someone calls your pharmacy. Too many times when I call a business I get the following: “JandJpharmacythisisoriespeakinhowcanIhelpyou? mayIputyouonho” Lorie has said this so many times and is so tired of saying it she blurs it all together into mush that does not communicate anything. And often pushes the hold button before finishing, much less hearing the caller’s answer. You want to be sure this or other bad things get identified and fixed ASAP. Do it yourself with a muffled voice or have someone who won’t be recognized do it using a speakerphone so that you can hear what happens. Do it during a busy time if possible. End the call by saying, “Oops, wrong number” or just hanging up. Make notes about what happened. If it is just one staff member who needs help, talk to that person. Help him or her revise the standard answer and slow down. If it is common, have a meeting and talk about phone courtesy. In any case, don’t tell them what you did. Just say there have been some complaints. (Don’t say they are yours!) The point is that how the phone is answered is often the “first impression” of your pharmacy. We don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Also, many of your patients are hard of hearing, so talking slowly and distinctly is important.

By the way, a key thing that happens if you do this is that you are creating a way to explain to your community the world of pharmacies and pharmacists.

The above may seem like it is neglecting the IVR systems that are in many pharmacies. If a machine answers, the machine is making the first impression. If it lists nine options, and the caller needs to listen to all nine before being able to do anything, that’s probably not a good first impression. Often it is hard to choose one of the options. You may understand what it means, but the caller may not. Let’s not forget about language issues. Be sure your alternative language says what you want it to say. I mess with these systems on half of the phone calls that I make. My gut reaction is that they all add useless time for the caller in order to save time for the receiver. Make sure yours does not leave that impression. This is something to ask your “advisory board” about, which leads to my second idea.

Pulling It Together

An advisory board is easy to put together and inexpensive, and can be a lifesaver. The objective is to get honest feedback about how your pharmacy is doing. What is good? What is bad? What could be improved?

A group of five or six people should be enough, and relatively easy to manage. One or two should be people who don’t come to your pharmacy. The rest should be happy and not-so-happy regular patients. If you are in a small town, the mayor might be a good one. If there is a major industry nearby, a leader from there might be good. It is important to get people who are willing to share their thoughts and not be bashful about speaking up about issues. Make a list of about 10 candidates. Share the list with someone who can help you decide which ones would be best. Call them at a time that is best for them. Tell them you are setting up an advisory board for your pharmacy because you want to be sure you are providing the best service possible to your community. And that you need their help.

Plan to meet once every three or four months at first and probably less often in the future. I think the best place to meet is at a local pizza parlor on a weekday evening. You do need to have a space where you can get some privacy.

You buy the pizza and beer/soft drinks. I think you should also provide the leadership for the meeting. However, if you are not comfortable doing that, ask one of the members to chair the meeting. Also, that way you can take notes and ask questions. Most importantly, you listen. Try your best to avoid making immediate responses to anything that is said, good or bad. Try to avoid participating in the discussions. All you need to say is, “That’s an interesting thought/comment/suggestion. I’d like to think about it and get back to you.”

These should be rather closed meetings. Assure the members that you won’t go back to the pharmacy and say to your staff, “Mr. Jones said…”

Be sure that you get back to the members regarding everything that was talked about at the previous meeting. Otherwise, you may lose their trust, and that would be very bad.

Don’t hesitate to bring in outside people to talk about issues/subjects whenever it is appropriate.

By the way, a key thing that happens if you do this is that you are creating a way to explain to your community the world of pharmacies and pharmacists. They don’t know. They don’t have an opportunity to ask. And it is easier to ask in a group setting than in an individual conversation. As they learn things, your advisory board members will take them back to the community. There is nothing better than having someone else tell your story.

Tell your staff what you are doing. They will find out. Better they find out from you.

My contact information is below. Let me know how the phone calls and advisory board ideas work out for you. Also, if you have any questions or ideas, let me know. CT