How to Find the Right Distance to Keep with Customers

In a community pharmacy, close to 2/3 of the work is devoted to contact with customers. A successful interaction consists of ensuring there is a balance between personalized attention and the right distance. How do you find it?

Instill trust

According to Pierre-Marc Gervais, pharmacist in Montreal, it’s a matter of presenting yourself, stating the reason for the consultation and making sure the customer is available. “It is a question, for example, of understanding the relationship with patients with an illness – some see it as fatal, others as an obstacle to be overcome,” he says. A sense of security and the credit accorded to the pharmacist favours the patient adhering to their therapy.

A relationship of professional support

Active listening and counselling involves real communication skills. “I have a duty of truth to my customers,” Pierre-Marc Gervais emphasizes. “Carrying it out in a friendly relationship would be more difficult. I act as an expert and that’s what lets me discover what is best for a patient.”

“I’m not trying to protect myself,” the pharmacist continues. “The consultation framework is defined by the code of ethics and the values that underlie the profession. I am forbidden to interfere in the patient’s private affairs.” Understanding the patient’s difficulties does not mean allowing yourself to become personally involved with them.

What obstacles?

Not being available, controversial expertise – for Pierre-Marc Gervais, these are clichés. “If the customer or caregiver is short of time, it’s possible to make an appointment or talk on the phone at a more convenient time. Sometimes I receive patients before the pharmacy’s opening time.”

There are also customers who are less receptive due to the multitude of information accessible online. “In fact, it’s rather the other way round,” Pierre-Marc Gervais says. “Customers need to unravel the true from the false. Some arrive with the right knowledge to be validated, others with beliefs to be corrected. Overall, it’s a big plus that people take their health in hand.”   

Solid training

The future pharmacist is trained in communication and management of emotions. In an internship, he is faced with delicate cases. Continuing education also offers training in communication techniques. This goes far beyond the mere technical act of issuing medicines. “Half of the consultations about a non-prescription medicine terminates with the shared conclusion that the customer doesn’t need the medicine,” says Pierre-Marc Gervais.

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