US Pharm. 2013;38(9):1.

Customer service is probably one of the most difficult phrases to define. Individually, the words make perfect sense. Retailers certainly know what a “customer” is, and we are well aware of what a “service” is, but put these words together and everyone is quick to offer his or her own interpretation. The list of definitions is long and, at times, can be somewhat esoteric. The words customer service can be applied to just about anyone receiving or providing a service. To add to the confusion, customer service can be received and given in a variety of ways. To some, customer service is subtle; to others, it is obvious. For me, customer service is anything that I receive that is memorable and makes me want to return to the person or place where it was offered. Sometimes, customer service is administered in the most unlikely of places. Let me explain.

Sitting in an airline seat for any length of time can oftentimes be a daunting task, especially if you are shoehorned into a coach seat for several hours. While many airlines try to make the experience palatable, let’s face it, from the check-in process to the landing, flying today is just not that much fun. A few weeks ago I was sitting in such a seat aboard a long-distance United Airlines flight catching up on my reading while listening to music on my iPod, pretty much oblivious to what was going on around me. To my surprise, I was tapped on the shoulder by a flight attendant who handed me a business card. All she said was, “The captain would like you to have this.” I couldn’t imagine what it was. I looked at the card and discovered it was the captain’s business card with a personal message on the back. It read, “Harold Cohen, Thank You for your business! How can we exceed your expectations?” And it was signed by what certainly looked like the captain’s personal signature. I was stunned. I have taken hundreds of flights over my career, and this was the first time any employee of any airline took the time to personally get my attention while in flight. To say I was surprised and impressed would be an understatement. I have no idea what the captain’s motives were, or whether or not he really wanted to engage me in a discourse about my expectations, but this small gesture of customer service left me feeling a bit better about choosing United for my trip that day.

Over the years, I have experienced many different levels of customer service in all sorts of business settings. As the owner of two independent retail pharmacies during my career, I was always asked how our stores were able to compete with the “big guys.” My answer was always the same: “I have a secret marketing tool; it’s called ‘customer service.’” In addition to going out of my way to get to know my patients personally, my phone number was on the front door of my pharmacies, and I encouraged patients to call me after hours to either discuss their medications, open the store to fill an emergency prescription, or deliver a prescription that a patient needed to take immediately. And while some took advantage of these after-hours services over the years, the number of comments I received from patients thanking me for just offering it was enough for me to know that customer service really works.

Pharmacists are some of the most customer service–oriented professionals I know of. And while customer service may come in the form of complex medication therapy management or a simple “Hello, how’s the family?” it’s what makes our profession stand out from many other health care disciplines. We cannot always translate customer service into profit, but it sure goes a long way in cementing a relationship with our patients. There is no substitute for consistently exceptional customer service.

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