Drug stores' success relies on customer service

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT In the never-ending battle for customer loyalty, independents rule and service is still king.

(THE NEWS: J.D. Power and Associates' pharmacy study addresses cost, customer service. For the full story, click here)

The latest national customer satisfaction survey from J.D. Power and Associates showed that personalized, above-and-beyond service still outweighs price for a majority of consumers — even in a dour economy beset by economic uncertainty and joblessness. A majority of the more than 12,300 pharmacy customers polled by the big research firm in May and June of this year gave their highest satisfaction scores to pharmacists that took more time to answer their questions, help them find over-the-counter medicines and, perhaps, even remembered their names and family situations.

This, despite the growing cost sensitivity among Americans about the prices of their medicines and the out-of-pocket expenses they incurred at the pharmacy counter. As Jim Dougherty, J.D. Power’s director of the healthcare practice, put it in a conference call to discuss the survey results, “Pharmacies that are focused on service garner the highest levels of satisfaction ... even in an environment where cost has become increasingly important.”

That’s good news for small-scale, owner-operated independent pharmacies. It’s also good news for the Big Three drug wholesale giants that operate the major networks of independents, franchised and otherwise, that scored the top results.

Again this year, survey respondents ranked independents tops in overall satisfaction. Customers gave their highest scores to Good Neighbor Pharmacy, the huge network of some 3,700 independents that operate under the buying, merchandising and store-support umbrella provided by distribution and health services giant AmerisourceBergen. The two largest groups of independent-owned franchises, McKesson’s Health Mart and Cardinal Health’s Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy, ranked second and third, respectively, in the poll.

Among mass merchants, Target’s pharmacy operation got highest satisfcation marks for the fourth year in a row, while Publix rated tops among supermarket pharmacies.

Efforts to give the best possible service pay off, both in additional revenues and in measurable customer loyalty. Highly satisfied customers can bring in an additional $227 each year in prescription business, researchers found. What’s more, J.D. Power reported, “brick-and-mortar pharmacy customers who are highly satisfied ... are more than three times more likely to say they ‘definitely will’ return to their pharmacy and 10 times more likely to say they ‘definitely will’ recommend their pharmacy to others, compared to customers with low satisfaction levels.”

That’s a lot of free word-of-mouth advertising.

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