I have long been admired the mental agility of Seth Godin, the US marketing guru who was the author of an Internet transforming book titled “The Ideavirus”.
Basically, he identified and predicted what has now come to pass, in that “word of mouth” would be displaced by “word of mouse”.
His words reported further along this article are headed by the title “The client and the customer”.
Being able to define an idea or process such that appropriate words are able to generate form and substance, enables that idea/process to be understood by others for incorporation into their own business and marketing plans.
i2P has been promoting this identical concept for pharmacy in the form of “the patient and the customer” derived from original research dating back to 1978.
The concept that “the customer is always right” but “the patient isn’t necessarily right” has always been behind the management and marketing strategies that i2P disseminates through its publication.
Check out Seth Godin’s words and adapt them to a pharmacy setting.
You should then accept that this is an important concept for pharmacy, because recent events have illustrated that pharmacies can now be defined as community pharmacies or retail (discount) pharmacies.
The difference between the two pharmacies is the ratio of professional business to total business (expressed as a dollar value to create a simple performance indicator), and Pareto’s logic would indicate that the boundary might be represented by the 80/20 rule i.e a retail pharmacy derives 80 percent of turnover from retail sales activity, while a community pharmacy derives 80 percent of its turnover from professional sales (including dispensing).
The client and the customer
This is a choice, a huge one in the life of the freelancer, the entrepreneur or anyone who seeks to engage with the marketplace.
The customer buys (or doesn’t buy) what you make.
The client asks you to make something.
The customer has the power to choose, but the client has the power to define, insist and spec.
There is a large number of potential customers, and you make for them before you know precisely who they are.
There are just a relative handful of clients, though, and your work happens after you find them.
If a customer doesn’t like what’s on offer, she can come back tomorrow. If the client doesn’t like what you deliver, she might leave forever.
You can do great work for either.
But don’t confuse them.
Choose your customers. Choose your clients.
And most of all, choose which category you’re serving.
[Worth noting: Software and the internet let us disrupt a market by transforming clients into customers and customers into clients. People who used to have to take what was an offer can now get a customized version almost as easily. And people who used to pay extra for the bespoke version can now have the convenience and economy of merely buying what’s on offer.]
If you have been confused because you have been describing all your consumers as “customers” and occasionally intersperse the word “patient”, then what you may have been feeling (rather than recognising) is that your consumer entered your pharmacy as one category (customer), but suddenly changed at some indefinable point to become a patient – and then reverted back again, all within minutes, or even seconds, separating the transformation.
That has always been the unique (or schizoid) nature of pharmacy.
Retail pharmacies have policies in place to attract customers.
As Seth Godin would express it, they “make” very little themselves and only offer what can be commoditised and discounted.
Even professional services are commoditised.
Is it little wonder that pharmacy consumers are confused when a community pharmacy develops (makes) a service available (that is valued by a patient and who is prepared to pay for that service), is suddenly confronted with a commoditised (repackaged) format that fits into the marketing funnel of the retail pharmacy.
The trick, as always, is to keep advancing the quality of a service until it reaches a point where it cannot be disrupted or adapted to the retail marketing funnel.
It is possible for a community pharmacy to cultivate and satisfy a large number of customers.
Winning customers is a competitive business and it costs more to win customers because there you are in the same space as major supermarkets, discount stores, warehouse and discount pharmacies.
You have to spend a disproportionate amount of time and money to win customers, because of the intensity of competition required to generate a sustainable market share.
Winning patients comes from converting customers to become patients.
This means that you have to become a missionary by promoting your “bible” to customers so that they may have “faith and trust” in your professionalism and the service products that you offer.
Patients have to be personally recognised as patients and “sold” as to service quality.
That takes time, effort and a total belief in what you are about, so that a patient can see and experience the standards of practice.
A true professional would:
(i) put the patient need as a prioritised “first”;
(ii) put your own needs (efficient infrastructure delivery) as a “second”; and
(iii) put your own personal income last – but still as the “third” priority.
Practicing your profession by meeting the above priorities will build trust and satisfaction that would be difficult to achieve in a retail pharmacy environment.
And if you speculate at to the motivation of retail pharmacies you might think that they originally set out to dominate the community pharmacy market as a first objective.
Somewhere along the way they developed into and even looked more like a supermarket.
Then came the spectre of deregulation and open ownership of pharmacy and a large segment of retail pharmacies joined the queue outside of Woolworths head office and offered their pharmacies for sale.
As a strict investment approach it may have given a good return.
As a moral investment for community pharmacy, it was a bankrupt one.
It is till happening today, even though the Pharmacy Guild of Australia (PGA) has successfully thwarted government lobbyists to open up all of pharmacy for their traditional predators to “gobble up”.
What the retail pharmacies do not understand is that the Woolworths of this world will develop their own pharmacies once they have the power of ownership and freedom of location.
There may be an intermediate step, such as in New Zealand, where the law stipulates that Woolworths can only own up to 49 percent of a pharmacy business.
But that is only a pilot study prefacing the major prize of total ownership within Australia.
Currently, the Woolworths of the world are left with having to develop their version of “self care” which is being frustrated because they have been unable to transfer a version of trusted information that is acceptable to their consumers.
Hence, the frustration of these entities through not being able to capture major market shares, as for the pain market, even though computers and notepads were installed to overcome this problem.
The lesson here is to develop a self care market in pharmacy that is offered in a style that a supermarket cannot match.
To me, that means a pharmacist must place a personal “blessing” on every single transaction of this type, so that every self care patient experiences a quality that matches their need.
Turn the derogatory phrase of “will you have coke and fries with that?” to mean do you need “quality assistance and advice through a pharmacist?”
Instead of reducing pharmacist hours in a community pharmacy, they should be expanded in a systematic fashion and backed with recognisable infrastructure.
This is why the PSA study of “forward pharmacists” affecting the bottom line positively, should be encouraged, supported and systemised in a manner that non-pharmacist retailers cannot emulate.
Believe it or not, there is a whole new world of opportunity available for community pharmacists if they can understand and meet the needs of their patients.
Not forgetting that an understanding of their customer base is also required.
Both customer and patient numbers should be capable of measurement, because without a measure they cannot be managed.
This basic indicator should underpin every policy, every strategy and marketing plan, and every whole of business plan.
This directional change may be offset through the introduction of robotic dispensing, to release pharmacists for “forward” medicinal advice and to release dispensing assistants to become clinical assistants – the latter needing to be recognised and trained to support the “forward” pharmacist and the “clinical” pharmacist who will implement the fee for service professional extensions.
It’s a bit overdue for this activity to be implemented, but it is definitely not too late.
And it may have some impact on government thinking when it tries to deliver other programs in primary health care and collaborative programs such as “patient-centred homes” – community pharmacy needs to be differentiated from retail pharmacies so that politicians can understand what they lose as they destroy the stability of community pharmacy.