US Pharm. 2011;36(7):3.

Have you ever heard the expression “like a broken record”? It is not often used as an endearing term. What it basically means is enduring the annoyance of hearing something repeated over and over again. Its derivation is somewhat generational. You see, before downloaded music, there were CDs; before CDs there were cassettes; before cassettes there were 8-tracks; and before 8-tracks there were records, and records had to be played on a record player. I won't go into the technical aspects of how the sound got from the record to the speakers, but in its most basic form, the arm on a record player had a needle that picked up the sound, which was embedded in grooves on the surface of the record. Every once in a while a piece of dust or a small imperfection on the surface of the record would cause the needle to stick in a groove. Whenever that happened, the music would repeat over and over again until the needle was nudged out of its stuck position to play the rest of the record. This repetition, which could be quite annoying, gave birth to the expression “like a broken record.”

What does all this have to do with pharmacists? Well, like a broken record, for more than a decade the Gallup Poll, the granddaddy of all consumer surveys, has listed pharmacy as one of the most trusted professions. But in this case, hearing it over and over again is not annoying, but quite pleasant. It's something pharmacists like to hear year after year. And while pharmacists have been wearing this badge of honor for many years, they can now add another medal to their collection of kudos. In the July 2011 issue of Consumer Reports (CR), pharmacies were listed as one of the top three businesses to offer consumers the best in customer service, in contrast to computer tech support, which landed at the bottom of the list.

The one caveat to the CR ratings, which were determined by a consumer survey, is the fact that the pharmacies that gave the best service tended to be independents. To be fair, customer service is as much a perception as it is a reality. While I am certain there are many chains offering excellent customer service, it appears from the survey that the consumers' perception is the chains don't offer the same degree of customer service as independents. Maybe it is the size and intimacy of many independent pharmacies compared to the large footprint of a typical chain store; I really don't know. But I do know that I have personally seen all facets of customer service in my travels to pharmacies around the country, and they vary greatly from store to store, whether it is an independent or a chain.

So the question really becomes: how do you measure customer service in your pharmacy environment? According to CR, the yardstick it used was “sensitivity to [patients'] needs.” Pharmacists who are not approachable and do not interact with patients who come to the prescription counter might be giving off the perception of overall poor customer service.

Aside from the many professional and potentially life-saving benefits of face-to-face consultations between patients and pharmacists, there is also the patients' perception that pharmacists are providing excellent customer service with their patient interactions. Whether you work in a chain or in an independent pharmacy, there is no substitute for personalized service. Pharmacists should not take their lofty position in the eyes of their patients for granted. They need to live up to the reputation they've rightfully earned over the years each and every day. And for pharmacists who are stuck behind the prescription counter who cannot, or don't want to, provide consultative services, maybe all they need is a little push in that direction, just like a broken record. 

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