At some point in time, every traveller meets a fork-in-the-road, for which the choice is often a one-way journey thereafter. One pathway represents a continuation of the journey long-travelled thus far. It has been a bountiful journey, which is hard to deviate from. Alas, this continuing pathway takes the sated traveller to an inevitable destination – a burning platform.

The journey travelled thus far is no more. The alternative fork in the road takes travellers to another place. It’s “promised land” destination is not a new place for the pilgrim. At least not new in terms of what was described and heard on the journey travelled thus far. But until the fork in the road, the attraction to hoe an alternative path to this mystical destination was not compelling. After all, the road travelled has been very enjoyable and rewarding; almost a fool’s paradise. Why change?

But now, at the fork,  the choice of the friendly road known so well suddenly reveals itself as leading to a burning platform, versus an alternative unknown, potentially pot-holed and even treacherous road taking us to a so-called new promised land …. this a decision node filled with angst for the intrepid pilgrim.

Now, instead of traveller, apply this cute little parable to Australian industries we all know well. Reflect on the rag-trade in Australia. The car industry. Print media. Manufacturing. The list goes on. Over recent memory, these industries have all reached their “fork in the road”.

Now add retail pharmacy. These industries that reached the fork in the road before we in retail pharmacy reached ours, serve us well with a litany of lessons. The common theme that emerges is that those that reinvent their service model to survive then thrive in the new world order, are typically the ones that find the promised land upon electing the alternative, unknown pathway at the fork. Those that continue on to the burning platform often consign themselves to history.

According to our research studying the dispensary workflow of some c140 medium to large, community based retail pharmacies over recent years – specifically measuring health customer engagement effectiveness and script processing efficiency – approximately 3-5%  have elected the new road. Ouch! The good news is that they are consequently becoming the beacons, shining the light on what it really means to be THE health destination in their community. In this series, we are going to highlight the learnings applicable to all owners, managers and staff in the dispensaries of all Australian pharmacies, drawing from two broad themes….

  • The wealth of insights from the ever-growing pool of data being progressively collected across 30 parameters related to customer engagement effectiveness and script processing efficiency
  • The case studies, vignettes and cameos of leading “new world” pharmacies who are bravely conquering the alternative pathway

The stories to be published in this series will , in their unique, interesting and compelling way, point in the direction of assisting owners, managers, staff invent and/or continue to develop a high counsel, high selp forward oriented service model at the dispensary.

What is selp? This is selling, when really you are helping your customers choose the right products and services for their needs. After all said and done, this is the heart and soul of the “promised land” that the alternative pathway directs us to. But this blue-sky aspirational state is not a one-size-fits-all. One of the lessons we are learning is that this concept has as many shapes and forms as there are pharmacies that have tailored their own and executed. Bending the grey matter around this notion often impugns firstly the “what needs to change and why” question…and then the inevitable “how” question.

Forward dispensing in Australia is not a new concept. It was documented in quite some detail 20 years ago, with the advent of the Pharmacist Advice concept. Only now as the vast majority of pharmacies face the fork in the road and look down the path that continues in the same direction as that before the fork and see the burning platform at the very next step, is this concept awakening from its two decade dormancy.

The problem we often see in regards to the dual question of “what needs to change and why” is the state of denial. “I am out there speaking to my customers all day, every day!” Innocently, the pharmacist often truly believes this to be their reality. Unwittingly, because they see this situation from their solipsistic perspective, this is what it truly feels like day in and day out in the maelstrom of the busy dispensary.

But when this same situation is measured independently, objectively and from the customer’s perspective, we often see that the customer’s service experience is undifferentiated from one pharmacy to the next as they shop around. Engagement is shorter than disengagement, counsel is but a small portion of the engagement and average waiting time is comparatively longer. We will explore these sorts of stats in forthcoming stories, as they represent the current standards of the service elements delivered by the retail pharmacy industry to Australian health customers and what they mean for owners/managers/staff that want to proactively differentiate themselves from their local competitors.

The dual problem we often see regarding the question of “how” is another scenario borne of innocence. Firstly, the “how” question does not even make it onto the Richter scale if there is no acceptance of “what needs to change and why”. Right now, too many owners/managers/staff are still looking at that pathway that has served them so well for so long, staring at the burning platform in disbelief. For those that make the brave decision to take the new daunting pathway, there is usually the quick recognition of lack of skills, knowledge, experience, insights, and a healthy dose of chutzpah to overcome inertia and make it happen.

All of the folk involved in the case studies, vignettes and cameos that we will showcase in this series regale their war-stories of days, weeks even months where they took two steps forward, three steps backwards. Deep fundamental change, cultural change, change of hearts and minds, people and processes is never easy. That is why a relatively small subset of the total population forge the new direction as early pioneers. We will explore their insights , their learnings, their mistakes, and their emerging commercial return in forthcoming stories, as they represent that beacon that lights the way forward and gives us clues and answers to the demanding question “how”.

Make a mark in your reminder system now to catch the first in our series kick-off August AJP issue, where we will take a dive into the data collected from the c140 cohort, and see what it tells us in terms of the benchmarks of service standards across the array of elements that constitute the health customers experience at the dispensary.