Back in May, 2021, when many businesses were cutting their operating hours or shutting down completely, one pharmacist in downtown Toronto was opening up shop and providing health care services when it suited customers best.
Alexander Mihaila admits he took a risk opening his independent boutique pharmacy – Mister Pharmacist – in the middle of a pandemic, but he was confident he could provide a customer experience he wasn’t seeing in big chain pharmacies in the area. “My outside banner says, ‘you are more than a prescription’ and I really did want to create a space where people didn’t feel rushed and would be comfortable asking any questions about their health,” says Mihaila.
Half of his 800-sq.-ft. pharmacy is a waiting room, complete with hardwood floors, a comfy couch, and a fridge stocked with free refreshments. During the height of COVID-19 vaccinations, Mihaila even provided free first-aid kits to anyone who got their shots at his store.
Professional service providers like Mister Pharmacist are recognizing that customers want to feel valued, or they’ll go elsewhere. Whether it’s via follow-up calls, around-the-clock access or waiting room amenities, customers’ expectations around service experiences are escalating.
As they become used to digitization and convenience in other areas like food service and retail, they now expect that across the board.
At Mister Pharmacist, Mihaila leverages technology to ensure he is always accessible to customers. “If they call the pharmacy and get voice mail, it directs them on how to text me,” he says. “Texts are always coming in and if I can answer right away I will, even if it’s just to tell them I will get back to them later that day.”
Sandra Greene is president and chief strategist at Toronto-based SG Consulting, which specializes in helping companies enhance their customer experience. She says the excuses around understaffing that were prevalent during the pandemic no longer fly. “If you’re understaffed, then fix it,” says Greene, noting that genuine human connection can have more impact on customer loyalty and spending than operational efficiency. “People want personalized service with as little friction as possible and an organization to understand their unique needs.”
For those looking to enhance service experiences for their clients, Greene advises creating an organization-wide statement on how they want their customers to feel, and then to design their space and services around that. “Ask customers about their experiences and listen with an open mind,” she says. “Understand what the root causes of those gaps in expectation are and then address them.”
At Baker Tilly in Windsor, Ont., a focus on customer experience has earned the company top votes as best accounting company in the city five years running by the Windsor Star. Managing partner Scott Dupuis says it’s a focus on building meaningful relationships that keeps the business thriving with some 2,000 clients and growing. “We’re getting more and more people calling us saying they’ve heard about our services from existing clients,” he says. “Some of it’s also our competitors dropping the ball in terms of providing a poor customer experience.”
Clients who visit the office, which is in a redeveloped historic building, are greeted by a live receptionist whose title is director of first impressions. “People come in and notice that title on a plaque on her desk and it sends a message that this first experience needs to be a good one,” says Dupuis. “They get offered a coffee and there is a little banter back and forth.”
Baker Tilly is also leveraging digitization to improve efficiencies and keep communication lines continuously open. Whereas people calling in before could expect a response within 24 hours, Dupuis says it’s now texts and emails that get responded to within hours. “It’s not necessarily that we have an answer for you today, but we’re letting you know we’re working on it and will get back to you tomorrow or in a week, depending on the complexity,” he says. The growing acceptance of video meetings during the pandemic is also providing more opportunities to quickly connect with clients when it’s convenient for them. “We’re also getting to a point where we’re using technology internally to do things faster, so we can spend more time on the advisory side of our business.”
Dupuis says another key to enhancing the customer experience and building loyalty is retaining good staff, especially in professional services where turnover rates are high. “Our customers like dealing with the same people year to year as that builds a comfort level,” he says. By tailoring employees’ roles to their strengths and what they enjoy doing most, he says the firm has been able to keep turnover rates at just five per cent. “We have a very positive environment here, so it leads to better ideas and solutions – and I think our clients see that too.”
Greene says it’s important for professional service providers to remember it takes time to make changes that stick when it comes to improving the customer experience. “You don’t have to come up with the perfect solution from the start and can pilot ideas first,” she says. “Design something new and then try it with a few customers and get their feedback before you roll anything out.”