As a young Pharmacy Manager, my retail disposition and people pleasing demeanor differentiated my pharmacy service from others. Eager to serve, I put people above all tasks. This surprised and delighted many, because people were not used to a happy-go-lucky pharmacist in retail.

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This quickly set up my pharmacy for fame and glory, and I reaped the benefits of stellar customer surveys.

I was a pro at verbal de-escalation, and I knew how to empathize skillfully. I made my patients feel good about themselves, made them smile, and showed them how much I truly cared for them and their health. And they returned the favor in kind.

On the other hand, my staff pharmacist led workflow and operations differently. Much differently.

She was short and to the point with patient care and customer service. Furthermore, she was quick, detail-oriented, and accurate with problem solving. Never over the top, but always honest. However, in retail pharmacy, being honest will set you up for complaints to headquarters.

At first, I would hear complaints from some patients that they did not want to come to the pharmacy on days I wasn’t present. They would talk about how much they appreciated me and only me. Oh, how I loved the flattering.

Over time, I had a following of patients come on the days I worked. One would think that this was a good thing. It turns out I was wrong.

I realized that many of these patients were difficult patients. Some were overly picky about how they wanted to be serviced. Others were high risk patients on too many narcotics. Some only dealt with you if you had a white coat on. Others were patients who only liked to be worshiped and given attention to their every beck and call.

Blinded by Ego

At the time, my ego only let me see things from the patients’ perspectives. They wanted great customer service, and I knew how to bend over backwards and give it to them.

But when they would come to the pharmacy on my off days, they would be greeted by a stone-cold staff pharmacist.

This pharmacist was not me, not even close. She knew how to serve professionally, but she was not a flatterer. She was not a people-pleaser and far, far from a pushover. And some patients did not like that.

Through many discussions and disagreements on how to handle certain patients, she learned my perspective and what was important to me and the culture I wanted to build. Most importantly, I appreciated how she had the courage to voice her opinions and concerns about the way I delivered service. My staff pharmacist didn’t like the way I was catering to certain patients because she could not do the same; nor did she want to.

It took me a while, but I realized that it wasn’t important for her to be the same as me. While I was over the top in my service, I was unknowingly creating unsustainable expectations. I blindsided myself into ignoring serious red flags ranging from unsafe opioid regimens to troublesome patients who stressed my team out with their relentless demands. I needed to make a change.

Different is Good

I learned that catering to a patient’s every whim and desire is NOT the right strategy for creating world class customer service. It’s about genuinely being yourself. We all have different personalities, and that’s more than okay. My stone-cold staff pharmacist is quick, efficient, direct, and transparent, and patients love her. She gets amazing customer surveys and compliments, and has her own following of patients that visit on her days. Patients and technicians continually praise her for her effective clinical care and sharp eye for interactions and clinical problems. They trust and adore her, and also shower her with gifts.

From my partnership with her, I have since learned how to set boundaries with my difficult and demanding patients. I still like to flatter and please, but not at the expense of my team or their longevity. In addition, I do not teach my team to be more like me, but rather lead them to be better versions of themselves. It is important that their character shines through, untainted by forced culture. Diversity and differences in personality are our strength and competitive advantage as a pharmacy business.

Some patients come to the pharmacy to exchange banter, while others come to visit about family and current events. Some patients don’t want small talk, but just a friendly smile and caring tone. Others want us to come outside and give them a hug, and a few want bullet point counseling. Regardless of their preferences, they get amazing, world class service when they visit our pharmacy because we are all leaders who can simultaneously adapt AND show resilience in our own way.

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Business Tips from The Corporate PharmD

  • Use both short-term and long-term thinking when solving customer problems
  • Have courage to stand up for your beliefs and also to set aside your ego
  • Partner with people who have strengths in your areas of weakness
  • Diversify your talent through hiring and develop your team to be better versions of themselves

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