Consumers’ Changing Service Expectations


Pharmacies offer better customer service than most other industries. This was a conclusion from the July 2011 issue of Consumer Reports, which ranked pharmacies the third-best industry in terms of service provided.

Consumer Reports also confirmed the long-held belief that independent pharmacies provide the best customer service. A survey of almost 44,000 readers found that 94% are highly satisfied with their experiences at independent pharmacies. More than 90% gave independents high scores for speed, accuracy, personal service, helpfulness and courtesy, and the pharmacists’ knowledge of drugs and other products. Consumers who shop at community pharmacies are twice as likely to rate their pharmacist as “easy to talk to” as those who shop at chains.i

“We found that the independents made fewer errors, offered swifter service at the pharmacy counter and were more likely to have medications ready for pick-up when promised.”ii
— Tod Marks, Senior Editor, Consumer Reports

The service advantage of independent pharmacies is a common trait among small businesses. A report by American Express found that 81% of consumers say small businesses place greater emphasis on customer service than do large businesses.iii American Express research also confirmed the many known advantages of great service:

  • Consumers spend more at places with great service
  • Great service positively impacts an organization’s brand
  • Customers switch to buy from providers of great service
  • Good service leads to repeat business (and poor service leads to lost sales)
  • Customers tell others about their good service experiences, and are even more likely to tell others about their bad service experiences

Expectations Are Changing

The immediate access to information on the Internet and the speed of some transactions is changing consumers’ expectations. Consumers now expect everything faster, and they expect it to be accurate and personalized. These changing expectations are putting pressure on all retailers.

Even though most customers of community pharmacies are satisfied today, continuing to deliver the same levels of service won’t be good enough in the future. That is because customers’ expectations for the service they receive are affected by all of their commercial experiences — and these expectations are rapidly changing.

“When one company raises the bar for service quality within an industry, it raises the bar for other industries as well.”iv
— Gary Tucker, Senior Vice President of Global Services and Emerging Industries, J.D. Power and Associates

Consider the following:

  • The Economist Intelligence Unit found that in 2000, 50% of people were willing to complain about bad service. But by 2010, 75% of people were willing to do so, and people now are more likely to tell others about bad service.v (Posted on YouTube are numerous videos of bad customer service experiences, including frustrated customers recording their experiences in pharmacies. Also, consumers use websites such as Yelp to provide both positive and negative feedback about their experiences. Such videos and consumer posting can have an immediate and a significant impact on a store’s business.)
  • The Grip-o-meter

    Source: Consumer Reports, July 2011

    According to Consumer Reports, the customer service gripes that bother customers the most include when they can’t get a live person on the phone or can’t find someone to help them in the store, when a salesperson is rude or pushy, or when they have to wait on hold (on the telephone) or at the counter.

  • J.D. Power and Associates has found that customers have a seemingly contradictory expectation for both standardization and customization. They expect to receive service that is consistent and reliable, and at the same time is customized to their specific
  • J.D. Power reports that pharmacy customers have increasingly higher expectations for shorter wait times. Customer satisfaction falls significantly if a customer has to wait more than three minutes to give their prescription information to pharmacy staff. In 2010, satisfaction didn’t fall until a customer had to wait seven minutes.vii

“Customers are expecting more from their brick-and-mortar pharmacy — not just in terms of wait time, but also in terms of contact with the pharmacist and the pharmacy staff. In fact, brick-and-mortar pharmacies are able to better differentiate themselves by offering additional services from the pharmacy staff. These personal contacts may help distinguish the store experience as satisfying for pharmacy customers.”viii
— Rick Millard, Senior Director of the Healthcare Practice, J.D. Power and Associates

What to Do?

With expectations for service continuing to rise, a few ideas for community pharmacies to consider include:

  • Understand. It is important to understand what your customers expect and to understand how satisfied they are with the service you are delivering. In addition to speaking with customers, much can be learned from simple surveys, using online tools such as SurveyMonkey. Such surveys can ask about what aspects of service matter most to customers and how satisfied customers are with the most important service dimensions.
  • Listen. Customer service experts emphasize listening carefully when customers express dissatisfaction, acknowledging a problem, apologizing and then working to resolve the problem — without trying to sell the customer. This builds loyalty, relationships, good will and positive word of mouth. Also, train staff on the importance of listening and empower staff to resolve problems.
  • Measure. For specific areas that impact satisfaction — such as wait time before serving someone at the pharmacy counter or number of rings before the phone is answered, develop ways to periodically measure your pharmacy’s performance, such as through monthly spot checks.
  • Communicate. A best practice identified by J.D. Power among customer service leaders in all industries is that they communicate effectively and proactively with consumers.ix Pharmacies can communicate promises — for speed of filling prescriptions and expertise in assisting customers — but need to have the operational processes in place to deliver on what is communicated.

Once you understand how customer expectations are changing and how you need to evolve to continue to exceed these expectations, your pharmacy can continue to deliver the outstanding service you are known for.


i Consumer Reports Press Release April 5, 2011
ii Consumer Reports Press Release April 5, 2011
iii 2011 Global Customer Service Barometer,
iv J.D. Power and Associates Inaugural Cross-Industry Report, Achieving Excellence in Customer Service, February 17, 2011
v Service 2020: Megatrends for the Decade Ahead, Economist Intelligence Unit, July 2011
vi 2011 Global Customer Service Barometer,
vii J.D. Power and Associates 2011 National Pharmacy Study
viiiJ.D. Power and Associates 2011 National Pharmacy Study
ix J.D. Power and Associates Inaugural Cross-Industry Report, Achieving Excellence in Customer Service, February 17, 2011