Tip of the Week: Trust in Pharmacists Is Key to Customer Loyalty

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Paying close attention to the pharmacy’s operational and financial success does not have to come at the expense of quality patient care.

While pharmacy continues to evolve into more patient-centric practice, we should not lose sight of the fact that pharmacy is a business, as is the case with medicine and other health professions. If the pharmacy is forced to close due to poor management, then it will obviously never again offer patient-centric services.

Paying close attention to the pharmacy’s operational and financial success does not have to come at the expense of quality patient care. In fact, the best pharmacists are those who understand how to meld business and clinical aspects of practice. Successful business hinges upon customer and patient loyalty. In simple terms, loyalty refers to a series of actions that promote customers’ intentions to have a relationship with a given business. Loyalty transcends patronage and encompasses the desire to engage with that store (or even that person, like a technician or pharmacist), spread positive word of mouth, and continue visiting that store even if one particular encounter or transaction is less than optimal or if a competitor offers a good or service at a discounted price. As such, customer loyalty is borne not from mere satisfaction, but from extreme satisfaction and positive confirmation of expectations.

Castaldo et al. examined the use of various marketing strategies deployed by community pharmacies to develop store loyalty.1 This study involved analysis of responses to 735 questionnaires gathered telephonically from patients of multiple community pharmacies, with items related to potential determinants of loyalty that were derived from previous literature and from qualitative data. The study results revealed the importance of relationships. The study also showed that factors such as modernity of the pharmacy layout, display of merchandise, and pleasant shopping experience (all of which the researchers assumed would play an important role in developing patient loyalty) were actually not significant determinants of customer loyalty. Development of relationships fuels the formation of trust. A person is more likely to develop feelings of loyalty with someone or even something that they trust, thus mitigating the temptation to shift their patronage elsewhere. That being said, there were indeed other aspects of the store that drove loyalty, such as the creation of a warm environment and availability of a wide variety of items for sale that helps them meet needs or contribute toward solving their own health care problems.

Pharmacies and pharmacy managers must reconcile the difference between providing services that merely facilitate satisfaction versus those that engender loyalty. Clear, caring, and genuine communication with patients, in addition to kind gestures such as learning a patient’s name, can help spur the development of bonds that lead to trusting relationships. This does not preclude the need to stay on top of operational aspects and to ensure that patients’ needs are being met. This speaks to assurance of integrity in supply chains and staying on top of items in stock. Trust is eroded when a business or store is continually unable to meet patients’ needs, particularly those that are endemic to the customer base you are serving. Loyal customers will keep returning to your store and might also be healthier and happier as a result.

Additional information about Merchandising and Creating and Managing Value can be found in Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 5e.

Sina Hosseini is a PharmD Candidate at Touro University California.

Shane P. Desselle, PhD, is a professor of social and behavioral pharmacy at Touro University California.

REFERENCE

1. Castaldo S, Grosso M, Mallarini E, Rindone M. The missing path to gain customer loyalty in pharmacy retail: The role of the store in developing satisfaction and trust. Res Social Adm Pharm. 2016;12(5):699-712.