06 August 2020

McCabes Pharmacy more focused than ever on digital healthcare
BY Three Business Customer

Pharmacies are a vital part of our communities. Marina Timotijevic, Marketing Manager of McCabes Pharmacy’s group of 27 pharmacies, talks about how they’re accelerating digital healthcare strategies that make customer relationships even stronger.

“We have always been an innovative pharmacy and very invested in the concept of digital healthcare,” says Marina Timotijevic, marketing manager at McCabes Pharmacy. This has been especially true as the brand continues to develop its digital prescription services and video consultations in response to growing customer demand for the services.

It’s all part of a bigger community picture for Marina. “We pride ourselves on being part of our communities and have a unique relationship with our customers. People come into us on a weekly basis, so there is a real and meaningful connection between patients and our pharmacists.” This connection carries on well past the shop door for customers. “If we haven’t seen or heard from someone for a while, we will ring them up to check how they are – we made thousands of telephone calls to our patients in the months of March and April.”

Despite technological advances, the human touch is still at the heart of the McCabes approach. Marina explains, “perhaps because of our elderly customer demographic, the telephone is still a favourite method of communication.” She notes that last year, pharmacists were spending more time on the phone to patients, particularly the elderly or immune compromised. It’s all part of what’s become a much more ‘localised’ service. “If they didn’t want to come in to pick up their medication,” Maria says, “we’d ask if there was someone who could do it for them, or we’d make sure they knew we could deliver it directly.”

Much better prepared

“Because the level of phone calls increased dramatically and our phone system struggled to handle the volume, we are now in the process of rolling out 3Connect across all our outlets.” 3Connect is forming an important part of McCabes’ wider strategy in handling call surges. “We are clear that the telephone will remain a very important channel for our customer demographic. Other changes, however, are focused on expanding digital channels.”

McCabes’ click and collect service has also been greatly expanded and now runs across all 27 of its pharmacies. And that was just the beginning. “At the same time, we made a provision for people who were uncomfortable about entering a store. Reserved parking places were organised where our staff could hand over their prescriptions.”

The pharmacy had always offered a local prescription delivery service, but greater demand over the past year meant that the whole community pulled together to deliver vital medication. “Much of the goodwill that has characterised the Irish response to the pandemic was evident in the support we got. The Gardai, St John Ambulance, The Irish Red Cross, Euro Car Parks and the Covid-19 Medicine Volunteer Delivery Group all helped deliver medication to elderly and vulnerable patients in the community. We would like to take the opportunity to thank them sincerely for their support.”

Looking to the future

It’s clear that customer expectations have change and there will be an increased reliance on digital services and McCabes is adapting. “We increased online availability of stock, putting some items on the website for the first time, and allocated extra staff to handle increased demand in our warehouse and for online support,” says Marina. While revenue is lower on the high street, ecommerce has proven an unlikely hero. “(It has) has more than proved its worth and will be something we continue to invest in going forward.”

The drive to connect with customers has also spread to other channels. An online pharmacist chat service has long been available to customers, but rising popularity has meant more steps to improve the service. “We created a rota system and made additional pharmacists available to answer questions from customers. It’s a great example of how digital can enable close human interaction when face-to-face isn’t possible.”

Marina sums up the drive to digital: “click and collect, online shopping and online chats are now a more important part of our business. Digital innovations across the sector, like GP’s using the HSE’s national Healthmail service to email rather than fax prescriptions to pharmacies, may never go back. And our own plan for introducing a digital prescription service has been stepped up.”

Rising to the challenge

McCabes continues to learn from the lessons of the past year and shows that the best response is a proactive one. “We did not have the luxury of learning from other businesses at the beginning of the pandemic,” says Marina. “By following instincts informed by close customer relationships and accelerating digital strategies that were already in place, we were able to rise to the challenge.”

“My biggest advice to other businesses would be to recognise how customer needs can change and the importance of adapting your business model to follow them. If you don’t, you might not survive. My message to customers is to please support your local Irish retailer. We have seen how important a sense of community can be and how shops of every kind are a valued part of it.”