Can the customer ever really be king in pharmacy?

Attending the SMART Conference last week served as a reminder of the enthusiasm and drive shown by all working in the pharmacy sector to provide an excellent experience to those it serves.

Ascertaining the best way to do so poses a challenge and this was a key conference theme, centred around a debate on whether or not the “customer is still king” in pharmacy. This provoked an interesting level of discussion but little resolution, with an audience split down the middle at the end of the debate.

What was apparent was that, although there may be disagreement as to whether or not the customer is king, there was a general consensus that they should be.

On reflection though, is this ever really possible in pharmacy or is there a fundamental tension for pharmacists between their role as healthcare providers and their role as retailers.

In the majority of retail settings, the needs of the customer inform the type of service offered. So if a time-poor customer says that they want to be served promptly, without having to answer a range of questions before making a purchase, the retailer can respond to this. As a responsible healthcare provider the pharmacist may need to ignore this desire and ask difficult questions to ensure medication is given to the right person in the right way, especially with POM to P switches.

Conversely, if a customer wants to spend time chatting through their options, a pharmacist may be torn between meeting this need and filling an ever increasing number of scrips as accurately and efficiently as possible (though of course, consistent, high-quality training for counter staff can help ease this this situation).

This tension is perhaps best illustrated with a question posed during the conference – are we talking about customers or patients? Perhaps the most realistic outlook is to view those walking through the door as both. 

Ultimately pharmacies, and all those who work in them, are there to guide people in making the best  possible decisions about their healthcare – the best for their circumstances, the best for their budget and, most importantly, the best for their wellbeing.

Maybe the customer doesn’t need to be treated like a “king” they simply need to be placed at the heart of the service the pharmacy provides.  The word “service” is key here and good service is something that can and should span both healthcare and retail settings. Pharmacists are in a unique position to help people and, with the right training, team and attitude in place; they can drive the self care agenda forward and genuinely change people’s lives for the better.