Secrets of Pharmacy Customer Service


Going the extra mile for all customers and dealing with belligerent customers calmly are key to success in retail pharmacy.

Patients, customers, whatever you call them, they are the people who ultimately pay for my living expenses and allow for some savings. I do my best to treat them like members of my family. Unfortunately, sometimes that means I’m dealing with someone who walks up to the pharmacy counter acting like a drunk uncle from the other political party at the Thanksgiving table. We'll get to that in a bit. Right now, I want to focus on good customer service, which entails more than you might think.

Community pharmacists have a lot of knowledge and are in a position of power. However, lording this power over your patients is not the way to go. I was arrogant about my skills 19 years ago. I tooled around in my compensating-for-something 1972 Corvette like I owned part of the world. If I had a time machine, I'd go back 19 years and punch myself in the face.

Our patients need our help. When my Dad went terminally ill, I learned the hard way how stressful it is to be a family caregiver. The last thing a person in this situation needs is to be given a hard time by their pharmacist. They need compassion. They need you to make their lives as easy as possible. If they are coming through the drive-thru and need a bottle of chewable antacid, I’ll grab it for them. If they need light bulbs, I'll grab them, too. If I can fit it through the drawer, I'll put it in your order.

I have adopted what I call “The Ritz Carlton Service Method.” If you have never been to a Ritz, drop a few extra nickels and go. It is worth every penny. High-end service reaps the benefits. So, following this model, I greet customers, and, if they need my help (provided I'm not in the middle of attending to a medical emergency), I'll stop what I'm doing and take them shopping if they need to go. I recommend products and always go for the higher-margin store brand products. I use the truism of, “It's what I give to my son.” Works like a charm. When I am done, I thank them for their business and, if they thank me, I say (just like they do at the Ritz), “It's my pleasure.”

Indeed it is. The other night, 5 minutes before closing time, an obviously panicked older woman came in with her daughter and granddaughter. She had felt dizzy all day and wanted her blood pressure taken. I took her into our new consultation room and sat her down. Her blood pressure was perfect. I sold her some OTC meclizine and told her that she should call her PCP if her dizziness continued to Monday. If she got worse, I told her to go to the ER. I had to stay 10 minutes later, but so what? I have a new patient now.

Now, about those “drunk-uncle” customers. I have learned during the past 42 years that some people like to hear themselves yell and will take full advantage if given the slightest chance to do so. Recently, as happens on very rare occasions, a customer had dropped off refill bottles and, when her husband came back later in the week, we had no electronic record of having contacted the doctor's office. The “gentleman” lit into my tech.

I immediately stepped in—NEVER let your staff get abused—and prepared to take my lumps. The man did everything short of question my parentage, and while I may have gotten a bit snarky at times, I generally took it. In the end, I resolved the situation by faxing and calling the doctor to get the quickest response possible. We got the scripts and filled them immediately. I called the wife, gave her my sincerest apology, and offered the prescriptions at no charge. Apology accepted.

Unfortunately, she was not the one who came in to pick up the order. When I offered my hand in apology to her husband, he refused it. He took every shot he had at me, and I (well-paid and well-medicated) took it. It was a customer service nightmare in which no matter how much you try to make amends, nothing will ever be good enough. You have to deal with this sort of thing every now and then. You just have to deal with it and not take it out on the rest of society.

Do I have my pet peeves? Sure, but they are few and far between. Patient interaction takes up a lot of my day in between filling 300 prescriptions plus a day. I wouldn't have it any other way. Peace.

Jay Sochoka, RPh, is happy to help.

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