What's the key to launching a new patient service?

For many pharmacists, the process of launching a new patient service begins with that lightbulb moment when they conceive of a breakthrough idea. Often, they are so passionate about their idea that they believe its merits will be self-evident to prospective customers. It will sell itself!

Reality check: just because you’ve developed a cool product or service doesn’t mean you have a good business idea. Too many entrepreneurial thinkers spend time developing solutions that don’t necessarily have a market problem. The truth is, creating a service, pushing it out the door and hoping it sells itself is not a business strategy. You need a better compass than that.

Habit #2 of Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People is: Always begin with the end in mind. As Covey says, “If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.”

In every planning endeavor, you must begin with your ideal customer/patient/stakeholder and work backwards from them. Identify the outcomes and outputs they want, the benefits they seek. Then create your patient service to deliver those wants and needs.

Next, when creating a patient service, get the model in front of customers and key stakeholders as quickly as possible and get them involved.

Potential customers are likely already going somewhere else for their pharmacy needs: What would convince them to come to your pharmacy instead? To answer this question and develop your plan, begin by asking what they want from a pharmacy. Is there something about current pharmacies in the area that frustrates them? Ask physicians what they are having problems doing or getting for their patients. One proven method when launching a new service is to conduct a focus group, or interview key stakeholders. Ask if your proposed prices are reasonable, how they would like to be reached, and about their likes and dislikes; anything that would help your pharmacy serve them better.

Engage your employees. They have the potential to collect valuable information about your customers every time they speak to one. Be an active listener. For each customer service interaction, define the learning outcomes and design a list of questions that will get the information you require. Your questions must be designed with the customer perspective in mind. Don’t force “why or why not?” questions on the customer; you want this to be a natural extension of the dialogue taking place. For example, when a customer complains about something; invite them to take part in creating your future. Present your organization as eager to learn, always anxious to do better for them. Learning through observation is also an effective way to get valuable customer information. Coach everyone in your organization to watch, learn and record what they hear and see.

Third, use your website or social media channels to gather information about customers. What kind of information are they seeking? Are customers researching product information? Do they want to buy something? Are they looking for a contact? Every message coming through your website Contact Us button, and each comment on social media can be a source of data. Reply as soon as possible. A quick reply will earn you the right to ask customers for more information.

When developing a new professional service, it can be hard to find the time to do the ground work. Immediate client needs and business management duties often get in the way. But the reality is, marketing activities build upon each other; neglecting them will have compounding effects that you often don’t see until it’s too late.

If you start with your customers when developing your patient services, you’re more likely to develop a product that’s informed by their true needs and wants. And those are the kinds of services customers are more likely to pay for.

Gerry Spitzner is principal business adviser at business management consultancy