Why do you support certain businesses and recommend them to others, while some businesses make the hair on the back of your neck stand up?

 I would like to start with a story; one that I am sure so many of you have endured before.

A few weeks ago my 80-year-old mother-in-law had to go to her physician for an ailment for which she was given a prescription. Now to set the scene for you she is NEVER sick, NEVER goes to the doctor and NEVER gets a prescription.  In 2005 I signed her up for a Medicare PartD plan, just in case the time came when she would need a prescription, and that time came a few weeks ago. She had forgotten that she had a PartD plan and all she knew was that she had Medicare. When she went to the “Big Box Giant Pharmacy” near her home, all she could tell them was that she had Medicare.

The staff at the pharmacy did not offer to help her in any way or attempt to look up the eligibility through the dispensing system (like all Independent Pharmacies that I have worked with do), where they can just look up her Part D plan & ID number with nothing more than the last 4 digits of her social security number and her date of birth…….Instead they charged her cash for the prescription!

None the less this was not going to fly with me, so when I visited her eight days later I went to the pharmacy to request that they re-bill her prescription to her Part D plan and give her a refund. I had the good fortune to speak to the pharmacy manager (great I can get this taken care of by the head honcho)….NOT. This was the most frustrating and aggravating experience and they refused to do anything for her. He stated that they can’t re-bill the prescription after seven days, and he had NO idea he could look up her part D information and actually HELP somebody….I left angry, irate and adamant that myself, my family and anyone who would listen…..never set foot into this store again. Even though I have not mentioned the store name here, I have told everyone I know and so has my mother-in-law

This is the story of the “unreferrable”….the bad experience, the one you tell everyone about…This is NOT what you want.

In the Pharmacy setting you generate referrals from two avenues, Your Customers (Patients) and HealthCare Providers (Prescribers).

7 steps to Creating Your Referral Machine

1.     Train your Staff: Employees treat customers the same way that you treat your employees. How does your behavior affect your business’s ability to generate referrals? Create a process for your employees to follow with an operations manual “How We Do It Here”. This will outline your philosophy and have everyone on the same page. The fastest way to more customers is through your staff…create a happy, safe and friendly work environment and the joy and enthusiasm will trickle down from you through your employees to your customers.[i]

2.     Create BUZZ: You want your customers to want to be talking about your pharmacy, the more they talk, the more referrals you get. What is your “culture of buzz”. Here are some examples to get you thinking. Free events, outrageous acts of kindness. Do something that no other pharmacy in your area is doing. What if the customer comes in and has to wait for their prescription….how about having a staff member come out from behind the counter and offering the customer tea or coffee with a chocolate chip cookie while they wait. Think this won’t create buzz!

3.     Create a GIVE to GET Mentality: this is the basis of how I have always done my business and how I get the referrals and business that I have. Always GIVE. Come from a place of service and the rest just falls into place. You will be rewarded like you can’t imagine. When you give, the business then naturally follows because customers want to support your business and tell everyone that they know to support you too! “Your business growth and success is the side effect of coming from a place of service to your customers and community”[ii]

4.     Build a Referral System Into Your Marketing Plan: You need a referral system, something that is part of your marketing plan that you and all your staff incorporate into your daily activities of doing business. Ask customers for referrals and reward your big “referrers”. Remember that as pharmacists we cannot reward customers financially for referring others, but we can create a “preferred referral club” where you can give the customer a gift certificate, something from your store or better yet…invite them to a special lunch, where your top referrers could have lunch with you, interact with you and feel special.[iii]

5.     Educate Your Customers: Give your customers “An Experience” and when they come to your pharmacy and teach them TIHWDIH (This Is How We Do It Here), show them your remarkable difference right off the bat.

6.     Customers Become Your Advocates: There is nothing like a happy customer. They go and tell everybody they know about the amazing experience that they had at your pharmacy. Included in this category are the Healthcare Provider referral sources, the prescribers who will only be too happy to refer to your pharmacy if you interact with the office, help them troubleshoot and TAKE CARE of their patients every time, so they have less work.

7.     Be Remarkable: What sets you apart from your competitors? “Good customer service” is not good enough, it’s something that all businesses say and think they do…What sets you apart? What is your USP (unique selling proposition)? Why should the customer use YOUR pharmacy over another? What’s your positioning? Find the “thing” that sets your pharmacy apart from others

I know none of you have the “unreferral” process like my story at the beginning. Create your Referral Machine, have fun, and grow your business while keeping your staff and customers HAPPY!

For the 10 Step Mind Map go to MichRxConsulting.com/ReferralMap or scan the code here.


[i] Tony Hsieh, CEO Zappos “Delivering Happiness”

[ii] Michelle J Sherman, President MichRx Pharmacist Consulting Services, Inc.

[iii] John Jantsch, The Referral Engine