How to solve customer concerns with conversations

pharmacist and senior patient

Listen, educate and provide SOLUTIONS to problems

In brief:

  • Many pharmacists and staff members feel uncomfortable selling.
  • Instead of selling, have conversations with customers about their situation and needs.
  • By listening to needs and solving problems, pharmacies can differentiate themselves, build loyalty and increase sales.

Pharmacists and owners of independent pharmacies are credible, respected, trusted members of communities, who have strong relationships with customers. Based on this role and these relationships, independent pharmacy owners and staff may be uncomfortable with the idea of “selling” to customers. This is because the perception of selling is often pushing something to someone who may not need it, for the sole purpose of making money.

From sales to solutions

Sales professionals know that consultative selling, also known as solutions selling, is a completely different approach. When done right, it isn’t selling at all — as it isn’t convincing or persuading someone to buy something they don’t need.

At its core, consultative selling is about having interactive conversations with customers that reveal problems and needs, so these problems can be solved. By solving a problem, a customer’s situation is improved and they are happier and more satisfied. The goal isn’t selling something to make money; it is solving problems to improve patients’ lives. Increased revenue is merely a result of solving problems.

This approach requires first learning about a customer’s problems and then educating the customer about potential solutions.

Follow these steps when talking with customers:

  1. Know your customers. You may already understand a lot more about your customers than you realize. That includes the prescriptions they are taking and likely side effects, as well as individual behaviors your staff may notice, such as Mrs. Burton always waits until the last moment to call in a refill and is always in a rush to get it.
  2. Ask open-ended questions. Create opportunities for customers to tell you about their situation. Don’t ask Mrs. Burton a yes/no question like, “Do you want to sign up for our medication synchronization program?” She might answer, “No.”Instead, ask a question that requires a more thoughtful, conversational response, such as, “When do you usually realize you need to order a refill?” Other great question-starters begin with who, what, where, how, and why.
  3. Listen carefully. Check that you understand customers’ problems while showing that you care about their situation. For example, if you ask Mr. Garcia how he has been feeling since taking a new medication, follow up on what he mentions. For example, “You said that you have been having aches in your legs. Can you tell me more about that? When did it start? How would you describe the pain?”
  4. Educate. Before offering a solution, take time to teach customers about their options. You might explain to Mrs. Burton that many people have trouble remembering to refill their medications, and there are different approaches for dealing with the challenge. Possible solutions include calling in a refill when filling a weekly pill container, marking a calendar, or even allowing the pharmacy to call when she may be ready for a refill. With Mr. Garcia, you can explain common side effects for the medication he is taking and options for dealing with those.

Customize solutions

With the exchange of information that comes from a conversation, your staff can offer customized solutions to each patient. This is far better and more effective than trying to push a standard product or service. It builds personal relationships, which are the key to long-term success.

And, when you understand your customers’ needs and educate them on solutions to their specific problems, sales will naturally follow. Customers recognize that you are offering ways to help them solve a problem, not just trying to make a sale.

More comfortable for staff

Focusing on conversations that reveal problems as opposed to making sales can be far more comfortable for staff. Most staff members like to help customers solve problems, will enjoy working with customers on custom solutions, and will feel more fulfilled than if they were merely upselling. (Identifying an unmet need or a problem and solving it can be much more fulfilling than a question that is analogous to, “Would you like fries with that?”)

Train staff on how and when to ask conversational questions and how to recognize opportunities to help solve problems. Make those interactions part of the everyday routine in your pharmacy.

When you take time to identify customers’ problems and offer real solutions, you aren’t a distant salesperson seen as trying to make a buck, but are a trusted partner who is working with customers to help solve problems. This can strengthen relationships, build loyalty, and ultimately increase revenue and word of mouth.

Start having conversations with your customers, so you can learn their goals and educate them about potential solutions. Read “Coaching at the Pharmacy Counter” to discover additional ways to improve patient outcomes and revenue opportunities.



Note: The information provided here is for reference use only and does not constitute the rendering of legal or other professional advice by McKesson. Readers should consult appropriate professionals for advice and assistance prior to making important decisions regarding their business. McKesson is not advocating any particular program or approach herein. McKesson is not responsible for, nor will it bear any liability for, the content provided herein.