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Caring About People And The Community
Martin Grunstein
Customer service expert Martin Grunstein shares the secret to sustainability for your business.

Customer service expert Martin Grunstein shares the secret to sustainability for your business.

Caring about people and the community

Some years ago I was chatting with a GP at a business conference. He knew that I spoke on customer service and he was complaining that patients were very disloyal these days. He asked me, “what can I do to get more loyalty from my patients?” “Simple,” I said, “Why don’t you ring them up to see if they got better?” A stunned silence followed. I wasn’t joking. Perhaps the question should have been: “What can I do to give my patients a better experience when they visit my surgery?”

When I was a child in the 50s and 60s and doctors would regularly make house calls, if ever I was sick and the doctor came to visit me, he would always ring my mother the next day to see if I was getting better – and you kept the same doctor for 35 years! Everybody did.

I am a baby boomer. These calls, although now a thing of the past, are a great way to reach someone in my demographic. They bring with them a nostalgia, a sense of good old-fashioned customer service, signifying that you actually CARE about them. As Bernard Salt noted on page 4, “the Number 1 challenge for the healthcare industry over the coming decade will be dealing with the volume surge of ageing boomers not to mention the, ahem, amped-up attitude that this group of pre-retirees might have about the services that they think they require and are entitled to”. So why not give them more than they think they are entitled to? To exceed their expectations?

Your follow-up, for the Gen Xers and the Ys, would be an entirely new ball game. Given their key concerns are them and them, this simple strategy should go down a treat. As Bernard says, Ys want diversity – employment or otherwise. As they look for the next thing, you need to reach out to create a relationship, to remind them to reconsider you,as continuity of care leads to better outcomes. And for those among the Xers and the Ys that are new parents, it will be especially appreciated!

The follow-up is so simple, but it very rarely happens any more. Sure, technology changes but people stay the same. And, if you have the technology, use it! Turn to social media to grab the Gen Xers and Ys, and more traditional mediums like your phone call for the older demographics.

Your follow-up call gives you firsthand information about those in your community.


One of the guys I play golf with had a hip replacement and couldn’t play golf for a while. About 10 days after the operation, he invited some friends over for a barbecue on a Sunday. At about 2pm on that Sunday, he received a call from the orthopedic surgeon just to see how he was recovering post-op. That surgeon’s patient-centric attitude did notgo unnoticed by the 10 or so people gathered. They said that when they had their operations they would insist on having that orthopedic surgeon perform the surgery.

This anecdote applies directly to pharmacy: loyalty should not be underrated, especially as people have choices. You need to make a connection with your customer, to pay them attention, to form a relationship. Nicky Muscillo’s story is a great one. She changed the face of her pharmacy with the installation of a dispensing robot so her pharmacists could spend more face-time with her customers. This tactic brought her pharmacists out from behind the dispensing counter and onto the floor – and made them available to her customers.

Sure, Nicky said that the automation path isn’t for every pharmacy, but at its heart is facilitating a more intimate relationship with your customers – so how can you do this in your pharmacy?

By actually talking to your customers, you’ll get a firsthand understanding of what they need and what they value.


The more you listen to your customers, the better idea you will have of the broader needs of your immediate community. Are you, as Bernard flagged, dealing with a sudden onslaught of school aged children and their sports injuries? Or are you dealing with first-time parents who need more support when it comes to infant care? So, ask yourself: how can you get closer to your customers, how can you better listen to their needs? You need to put strategies in place that help youbetter understand which health services and activities are most valued by the customer.


You might consider an at-counter feedback form, or a standard question with each transaction.

Remember, though, that communities, however slowly, change. So be sure to review these outcomes regularly.

It’s all about that follow-through: how can you remind your customers that you care, that your service extends beyond your pharmacy walls? People don’t consult companies, people consult people and stay with those who make an impact on their health and themselves. And the phone call I get from you to see how I am going is remembered and talked about to my friends. And that is why people change doctors and pharmacists.

If you know that your patients are on a regular medication for glaucoma, how hard is it to ask them how their eyes are and do they feel the need to get them tested again? The same with customers who are taking medication for chronic pain, every once in a while ask how things are going to see if they may need to explore other options. This isn’t hard selling, this is CARING and caring leads to loyalty.

This is why it’s so important to define exactly who your customer is.

Caring about people and the community


Let me offer you another example from my own consumer experience that I believe is very relevant to those in the pharmacy game. I used to buy my milk, bread and eggs from the corner store near where I lived. The owner of the store always used to chat with me and ask how my wife and children were and I liked the guy. One day a major supermarket opened up about a kilometre away and the corner store was threatened. Under pressure to compete, I noticed the drop in the level of customer service and decided that if he wasn’t going to chat with me, I may as well get the milk, eggs and bread with the rest of my shopping from the major supermarket. And that’s what I did. A few months later I noticed that the business had changed hands. I am sure the original owner thought the reason I left was because his prices were too high but that wasn’t the case. I left because he stopped building the relationship with me and the ‘relationship’ was his point of difference over the major supermarket. Once that wasn’t there, I had no reason to pay the extra to shop with him. I see the same thing happening today in pharmacy: the influx of the discount or supermarket chemist has threatened

a lot of independent and community pharmacies. The point of difference is the local pharmacy’s ‘relationship’ – and this needs to be strengthened rather than diminished in order to maintain the centrality of pharmacy to the community’s healthcare.

You don’t fight fire with fire, you fight fire with water! Customer service is essential for loyalty. I believe community pharmacists need to communicate the ways they add value to the community rather than assuming that everybody knows this. Look to your communityand pick up the trends. How can you reach out to each of your demographics and show them you care? If you sponsor the local under-eight footy team, put it in your window. Who’s impressed? Parents of kids in the under 10s. If you are a member of Rotary, Apex or Lions, put that in your window. Pay attention to the trends around you. Serve the community that is your community.

Caring about people and the community

“Community pharmacists need to communicate the ways they add value to the community. If you sponsor the local under-eight footy team, put it in your window. Who’s impressed? Parents of kids in the under 10s. Pay attention to the trends around you. Serve the community that is your community.”

And be sure to promote this: community pharmacists should have a ‘Community Involvement’ page on their website detailing all the ways they help the local community. They should also remind people at point of sale what they do for the local community and even in their local marketing because caring for the community is a key differentiator.


Here’s another critical issue for the local pharmacist. Hiring of staff.

My perception of your business will be based on who I come in contact with, whether that be the boss or a casual employee, so it is important you have good staff.

How do you get good staff? Simple. Hire on attitude rather than skills.

A client of mine in the hairdressing industry told me of a random event that changed her hiring policy forever.

She lost a staff member suddenly and needed a replacement. She used to get her lunch every day from a sandwich bar and the girl who served her was very pleasant and had a bubbly personality. She asked her if she would ever consider becoming a hairdresser. She said she had no skills in that area. My client said she would train her in the skills and that’s what happened. It turned out that even though she was never as skilled a cutter of hair as the other hairdressers, she always had lots of clients because she was a nice person. From that day on, my client never hired another specialist hairdresser, she hired nice people and taught them to cut hair. And her business reached levels of success that it had never reached before.

I think that’s what pharmacists need to do. Just because someone has worked in a pharmacy for 20 years doesn’t mean they are going to give great service. In fact, there are lots of unhappy people who have worked in a pharmacy for 20 years!

Find pleasant people, who like dealing with people, and train them in the skillsrequired to work in a pharmacy. And if you want a strategy for ongoing recruitment of staff, try to hire the friends and relatives of the good staff you have. A note here on the much-maligned Generation Y. Yes, to quote Bernard, they “don’t want to remain in the one job for life” – but do you want them at your pharmacy counter for life? You need to choose those who are right for you for right now – be they Xers, Ys or baby boomers!

Ask yourself, what is the real cost of not getting the right people at your coalface?

Psychologically, the strongest drive we have as human beings is self-preservation. And that is closely followed by revenge!

One application of this is how customers react when they feel they have been treated poorly. Understanding this concept can determine the success or failure of your pharmacy.

For more than 25 years I have been running customer service workshops and during those workshops I ask people to relate their poor customer service experiences and I ask them how they react after they have had such an experience. The result I expected initially was that they won’t do businesswith that person or retail store or professional again. But what happens in reality is SO much more that that. Customers who have been treated badly will take revenge and some will go to great lengths to do so, often inconveniencing themselves to make a point to punish the business that has treated them badly. They will go out of their way – literally – to avoid you and your business!

As a pharmacist, your sustainability has a lot to do with your people skills and your ability to be of value to – and support – the community that will keep your customers loyal to you – continuity of care is essential to achieve health outcomes.


Finally, let me finish this article with a humorous story.

There was a hairdresser in a small U.S. country town who charged $25 for haircuts and was doing very nicely because he had never had a competitor in his life. One day a salon opened across the road with a big sign in its window that said ‘$6HAIRCUTS’ and the first guy was in trouble. He thought that if he kept his price at $25, he would lose a lot of his customers to these $6 haircuts and he may not get them back but if he matched the competitor’s price, he’d go out of business because he couldn’t afford to take $19 off his margin.

In this country, most people believe that you either match the price or lose the sale – which is rubbish because what this guy did, which was outstandingly successful, was this:

He kept his price at $25 and put a big sign in his own window that said ‘WE FIX $6 HAIRCUTS’.

Local and community pharmacists fix $6 haircuts every day. They care about their customers and support the local community.

So, how can you fix $6 haircuts?
• How about telling people about your extensive experience in the industry?

• How about positioning your staff as ‘there to help’? Have a staff boardwith photos and something personal.

• How about testimonial evidenceof past satisfied customers so there is credibility in the promise you make of a good result? A great way to do this is through your newsletters. Interview a customer every so often and profile them in your communications with your clients.

• How about offering personal accessibility so that your customer can contact you when they need to?Nicky and her team did just this, installing automation so they could come out from behind the dispensing bench.

• How about reviewing the range of products and services you offer?Make your business a ‘one stop shop’ rather than making the customer waste time going to other places?

Pharmacists, understand your customers and the community and build relationships with them and hire nice people to work for you. This will make your customers happier and your healthcare business more sustainable.