By Alexander Humphries*
Our main wholesaler has now missed four afternoon deliveries in a fortnight. Twenty per cent of our deliveries have failed to arrive as a result. Our business, like every other pharmacy, relies on a just-intime supply chain, meaning that when things go wrong it immediately causes us a problem. Work starts to back up and patients are kept waiting for their medicines.
When we complain to the driver, he tells us that the reason he misses us out is that his employer will not pay him overtime in order to complete his deliveries. This is unbelievable as we’re talking about a multi-billionpound organisation here, but it just shows, if true, how much contempt there is for us as customers.
I’m thinking of moving to a different wholesaler but are any of them truly any better? My wholesaler’s main competitor has supposedly taken to sometimes not sending items out because it is not paying warehouse staff overtime, meaning goods take ages to turn up.
And now, more trouble has arrived in the post...
“When things go wrong it immediately causes us problems”
A couple of weeks ago we received a solicitor’s letter, starting with the dreaded words “Our Client”. It turns out one of our ex-delivery drivers is claiming he tripped over in the pharmacy on delivering boxes, two (yes, TWO) years ago.
This was the first we had heard about this incident. I was immediately dubious because we had nothing but problems with this particular driver.
We had filed numerous complaints about his attitude and conduct, to the point that I believe we were probably at least partially responsible for his subsequent dismissal.
I spoke to every member of staff who had worked on the day that this incident was alleged to have happened and not one of them recalls anything. So now I’ve got a whole load of extra work to do to show a ‘no win no fee’ lawyer that this is a malicious litigant. It does make you think that, even when you do complain about poor service, ultimately the only person that suffers is the complainant.
Another problem I have is with my PMR system supplier, who charges an arm and a leg for technology that hasn’t really changed in a decade. Knowing the contract was running out later this year, I have started looking at alternative systems because I find my current set-up to be really dated and frustrating to use.
It has taken months to get someone into the pharmacy to talk to me about alternative systems and pricing. And this is a big decision – not just because it is a lot of money to a small business like ours, but also because technology is becoming increasingly important to customers.
There is now an expectation about how customers want to engage with businesses, but community pharmacy is at the mercy of large software houses that hardly show any interest in our sector beyond what they can gouge out of us on overpriced hardware, overpriced software or overpriced maintenance contracts.
When our current provider finally came to see us, I was flabbergasted at the arrogance and inflexibility demonstrated towards the needs of our business. The outfit would only offer a four-year contract, had no negotiating room around price and could only offer me vague assurances about its development roadmap. All the other suppliers were the same.
Somehow, customers like us need to reassert our control over systems suppliers because, at the moment, the tail is very definitely wagging the dog.
So what is my prescription? I want a PMR system that transforms the way I work, enabling technology to be a real asset rather than a massive hindrance in the operation of the pharmacy.
I want a system that enables my customers to be able to message me, and for me to message them when they want to ask me a question.
I want technology that makes the pharmacy safer and easier to use. I want a system that gets rid of paper and helps to manage patient exemptions in a more robust way.
I want a system that is integrated with as many of the other systems that I need to use. And I want it all for a fair price. Is that too much to ask.
* Pen name of a practising community pharmacist. Alexander Humphries’ views are not necessarily those of Pharmacy Magazine. What has been your experience with your wholesaler and PMR system supplier? Email firstname.lastname@example.org