How to make pharmacies grow: introducing the quality system to pharmacies (Dr. R. Agosta)

How a to Make a Pharmacy Grow:
constructing a quality system to cater to each customer’s needs

Modern retail pharmacies are becoming more and more like small businesses and should be managed likewise. Pharmacies need to create a robust organisational system and become quality orientated companies. In order to accomplish this, a quality system needs to be constructed around the customer,  showing how all internal processes, staffing policies and customer relations can be developed according to a methodology that places the customer first and their needs at the heart of every decision making process.

Dr. Roberto Agosta on “Partnership”, June 2005

Modern pharmacies are become more and more customer centred and consider customer satisfaction to be of paramount importance. This is because satisfied customers become loyal customers, and customer fidelity is the objective of all modern businesses. As John Fraser-Robinson once wisely commented “to earn money is not the goal of a company but the result of its capacity achieve its true goal: serve its clientele and make them happy”. This has led many pharmacies to adopt modern managerial techniques and marketing strategies. The aim of marketing is not only to sell more products but rather perfect the management of the business as a whole. As marketing has evolved, businesses are moving away from being simply marketing orientated to being quality orientated through setting out thorough quality system.

What does quality orientation mean in this context? Well the concept of a quality orientated company was developed from that fact that so-called “focus” of the marketing e.g. the customer, could be found on the inside of company as well as on the outside. Every member of staff is also a so-called “internal customer”, received a given service from another supplier. Quality orientated companies ensure that every process is designed around such internal customers and ensures that each member of staff performs their job to a quality stand. As long as each employee conforms to this standards, everyone is able to perform to the best of their potential without being hindered by any constraints imposed upon them by other “internal suppliers” further up the chain. In other words, if you optimize your own performance and the quality of your work, than this will have a positive effect on other staff members further down the chain as they will have everything they need to perform optimally and keep quality high. By setting quality standards at every part of the process, you can ensure that excellence is present at every level of the entire company structure.

Two concepts are being outlined so far:

  • The “internal customer”
  • Defining a standard that each operation has to meet, which is the true goal of the operation and the company in general.

Setting such a quality standard also provides us with a way of measuring performance as well as a good opportunity to reflect on the way we work. This standard or objective could anything that can be measured, realistically reached and/or shared, or timed. If you decide that the objective is to increase your turn over, you must calculate a percentages for each sector and define the invests and initiatives necessary to meet these targets. You must go about setting your targets in the same way if you want to increase quality standards. For example, when setting standards for each operation, you first must analyse the present situation and then define all of the different parameters which can used to evaluate this operation, be it the reduction of errors, improvement in time to market, increase turn over and customer satisfaction.

Why it it important to adopt such techniques now? Well, the pharmacy business has radically changed over the last 60 years yet pharmacists have been slow to change with the times. In the 1950’s pharmacists gradually stopped selling medicines they had prepared themselves and were relegated to a secondary role distributing medicinal drugs produced by the large pharmaceutical giants. Another big change happened in the 1970’s when people started to search for pharmaceutical products to help them feel good and prevent illness rather just wanting medicines to help cure existing health problems. At the same environmentalism also contributed to a growing demand for natural products and the desire to stay young lead to the creation of a whole range of new health services. This mini revolution in healthcare products and services allowed customers to satisfy all their needs independently of the pharmacy.

Pharmacists generally found themselves unprepared to meet these new challenges as their  university qualification was largely technical and pharmacological. Furthermore, due to the growth of their business they were now in command of a growing staff without any specific managerial skills. For this reason a detailed and efficient organisational system is imperative to be able to manage successfully a modern pharmacy. This is not something that can be imposed from above, a sort of preconceived mould that can be made to fit all businesses, rather it has to be worked out in detail on a case by case basis. Customer satisfaction should be its centre and all internal processes must be carried out in such a away to achieve satisfaction for both external and internal customers and reinforce best practices.

In detail, this quality system is a set of rules and regulations on staff behaviour and best practices as well as a detailed explanation of who does what in the pharmacy. It is necessary to analyse the way every single action is undertaken, either confirming its validity or correcting it. Therefore, to create quality system you must:

  • Analyse the way every action or operation is carried out: arrival of goods, checking, storage, stock taking etc etc
  • Verify that the process is correct and that all staff members know the correct process and agree that it best practice
  • Write down a workflow so that everyone knows exactly how things should be done

As Peter Druker says, a “a modern company has to be like an orchestra and its conductor since everyone should now the instrument and piece they have to play and when to come in.” Everyone has their own well defined and codified role but also knows what everyone else’s role is. Such clarity about what each person has to do leads to a cohesive organisation centred on a common goal: customer satisfaction. All of this must be done remember the ‘internal client’, in other words, your co-worker who depends on you.

What does all of this have to do with pharmacies?


  • Pharmacists are no longer alone in the pharmacy but surrounded by a numerous group of co-workers to whom they have to offer a model example of how behaviour with the customers and do one’s own job. Furthermore, this model has to be clear and accepted by everyone
  • The objective of modern pharmacies is not simply to sell products but conquer customers, gaining their loyalty through pharmacists’ ability to satisfy their needs
  • If a pharmacy is organised well, then this give a positive impression to the customer. First and foremost modern businesses must look after their image.

Pharmacies must standardise how staff members treat and serve customers, both internal and external ones. The standards set must aim to improve quality, that is customer satisfaction. Pharmacists must set about spreading best practices through:

  • Taking in consideration one’s employees
  • Involving staff in decision making
  • Sharing good results

All this must take place in a clear hierarchy where the owner always makes the final decision.

In summary, how to spread best practices through the workplace:

Orientate all your process towards to get client satisfaction: offer products that solve his provlem, not ours

Allow staff to work independently: involve staff in defining projects and do their job yet ensuring adequate checks on performance.

Spread the business mentality: get everyone focused on customer satisfaction and winning a larger market share

It is not often not easy to define quality standards for businesses in the tertiary sector like pharmacies. However, here are some starting points. First of all, pharmacies must be to offer solutions to any kind of problem that many occur. In other words, pharmacists have to be able to listen to the client and cater to his or her individual needs, creating in time a relationship based upon trust. If we have a quality standard regulating customer-pharmacist interaction, then it becomes much easier for the pharmacist to satisfy customers’ needs as the customer is well aware of how they should be treated. Here are some more concrete examples of quality standards that could be applied in pharmacies:

o All products delivered to the pharmacy must be checked for damage and to ensure that none has past its expiry

o All products should be stocked behind those that are already there to ensure that older products are sold before newer ones

o All expiry dates must be recorded in a computer database and constantly kept up to date

o Stock needs to be checked periodically for damage

If all of these actions are completed according the above quality standards, then the ‘internal customer’ or member of staff does not have to think about anything else than serving the customer. This is the objective of every quality system and highlights how the customer always come first.

Therefore in every pharmacy you need to create marketing oriented employees who are completely focused on satisfying the needs of both internal and external customers. These kind of employees are the ones that deliver high quality service which make your pharmacy a quality pharmacy. Pharmacies also have some advantages over other points of sale, which put them in pole position to conquer customer loyalty:

  • A pharmacist’s charisma and professionalism makes customers want them to become their personal health advisor
  • An open-ended dialogue with the customer that starts as soon as they enter the pharmacy allowing the pharmacist to understand what customers need and how that need can be best satisfied
  • A white shirt – immediate credibility and trust

Do not let these vantages go to waste but use for to define a codified quality system based on customer satisfaction.