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Did you ever have a product or service you didn’t really like, but avoided getting rid of it because it felt like too much trouble? For example, did you ever use a certain web browser even though you hated it – because all your bookmarks were there, and you had learned to live with the slowness? The thought of switching to another browser just seemed like too much of a pain. Welcome to stickiness! (The bad kind.)

The good kind of stickiness is like my email marketing platform. It has a few downsides, but I love the good things so much I gladly put up with the small annoyances. Even though I’m bombarded with great offers to try other services, I pass them by because I don’t want to change something that works so well for me. This is the good kind of stickiness. Stickiness is a value that inspires you to stick with something even as the market around it grows more competitive.

Why a Sticky Pharmacy?

Consider this. There are nearly 2,800 pharmacies in the U.S. that define themselves as long-term care pharmacies. This is roughly double the number that existed in 2015. The goal of each one of these competitors is to unstick your customers from your pharmacy. Your goal is to keep it from being easy to do. If you want to get more familiar with the overall idea of customer stickiness or retention, there are a wealth of resources out there, such as this article with five examples of customer retention programs, and this one on the magic that makes customer experiences stick. But let’s focus on pharmacy now.

Examples of Sticky

Years ago, I worked as VP of Public Affairs (lobbyist) for a major long-term care pharmacy chain. To connect with our local member of Congress, we invited the member to tour one of our pharmacies. Most politicians don’t know much about LTC pharmacies, so getting them to come wasn’t very difficult. We put icing on the cake by inviting some of our customers to join us and meet the congressperson or senator. Customers jumped at the chance to get face time with a policymaker and often commented to our local managers how much they enjoyed it. Result: stickiness.

I have worked with a regional pharmacy chain for which I publish a monthly newsletter that goes to their customers. Most of the content is related to policy, either federal or state, and the reception has been good. The customers know my client is on top of what’s happening in Medicare, Medicaid, and payment policy. Result: stickiness.

You can probably think of dozens of examples of things you can do to add value to your relationships that go above and beyond the core elements of your daily responsibilities. These things, if done properly, can build a bond that will help you immunize your customers from the temptation to sign on with your competitors.

Avoid the Bad Sticky

No matter how well you do good sticky, if the bad sticky is bad enough, your customers will eventually make the decision to end the pain and go with someone else. After all, you eventually got rid of that old internet browser, right? The transition may have been painful, but you would never go back.

Examples of bad stickiness abound, and we can learn from colleagues in all kinds of businesses. How difficult is it for a customer to contact someone in your pharmacy who can solve a problem? Don’t guess. Ask your best customers to report a problem and to let you know how it goes. Treat it as a training exercise and learn from it, no recriminations. Unresponsiveness is often the bad stickiness that will prompt a customer to move to another pharmacy.

How easy is it for a customer to communicate through your online interface? If “Internet Explorer” is frequently mentioned, you have a problem that’s worth fixing. How about your communications? Unnecessary communication is often done with good intentions. Many managers believe heavy communication demonstrates attentiveness, but what the customer sees is low-value intrusions into a busy schedule that kill productivity.

Are there others? Sure. The best way to find out is to make finding out a part of your business review with customers: “What are we doing that annoys you, slows you down, wastes time?” Sometimes ideas that sound great to us don’t actually make customers happy.

Don’t Get Distracted from the Main Thing

Of course, you can provide all sorts of extra value to your customers by thinking creatively, but if you don’t get the basics done well, you are more likely to be replaced. If you produce an engaging and informative newsletter but routinely deliver incomplete orders late, your customer will eventually endure the pain of change and find another pharmacy. Just remember that stickiness is the icing, not the cake.

X Factors for a Sticky Pharmacy

  • Brainstorm special talents and opportunities to add value to your usual services. Include your staff and remember that it’s OK to start small and build.
  • Uncover negative sticking points during business reviews with customers. “What are we doing that annoys you, slows you down, wastes time?”
  • Don’t forget your core services. Stickiness cannot, over the long haul, replace a lack of value in your basic business model.

Do you find it harder to keep customers than it used to be? How are you adjusting?

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Written by: Paul Baldwin, Baldwin Health Policy Group
Paul’s pharmaceutical industry experience in public and government affairs led to becoming Executive Director of the Long Term Care Pharmacy Alliance, helping lead the industry through the Medicare Modernization Act and creation of the prescription drug benefit. Paul was VP of Public Affairs for Omnicare before founding Baldwin Health Policy Group.
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