December 15, 2016
A fan of Seinfeld for many years, I find that when you talk about challenging customer satisfaction, George Constanza always pops into my head.
If the show was still on the air, I suspect his gripe may be with his pharmacist, and he’s not alone. In the past few years, consumers have raged against spiking drug prices, poor automated prescription services, slow service and much more.
But what George and many other unsatisfied consumers like him don’t realize is that customer service isn’t at the root of the problem here. Most pharmacy-related grievances actually stem from kinks in the supply chain. If pharma wants to win back the George Costanza consumer, it first needs to streamline supply chain management.
The Devil Is in the Details
Many customer grievances are actually quite granular in scope – like the upheaval that ensued after CVS got rid of Target’s red prescription pill bottles. Those little red containers had an opening at the bottom, functioning more like a dispenser than a bottle, and Target’s old customers were not happy to see them go.
As hair-splitting as that may seem, what’s happening here is really quite simple: Pharma’s customers want medicine on their terms. That means getting their prescriptions filled fast, affordably, automatically – and in the pill bottle of their choosing – all of which really comes down to the supply chain.
After all, CVS got rid of the pill bottle upon the acquisition because they were inconsistent with the containers used at the other 9,600 pharmacy locations. Using these containers just for their Target-based locations would almost certainly require restructuring of the company’s supply chain – and that’s not ideal when you’re the second-largest pharmaceutical retailer in the world.
For some consumers, the discontinuation of their favorite pill bottle may have felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Maybe the doctor’s illegible chicken scratch resulted in a delay. On top of that, maybe the physician accidentally filled the prescription for the brand name, which isn’t covered under the customer’s insurance, instead of the generic version. Maybe the Rx was a rare one that needed to get called in. A pill that finally arrives after a Seinfeld-like comedy of errors in an unusual pill bottle – well that’s a recipe for a conniption of Costanzian proportions.
Reconciling Consumer Demand and Supply Chain Efficiency
The good news is that this is hardly an insurmountable debacle – and believe it or not, the solution isn’t actually about compromise. There is a way that pharma retailers and consumers can both be satisfied thanks to the emerging autonomous supply chain.
In this non-zero-sum game scenario, pharma retailers make every byte of data available to them searchable. Immediately, this makes it possible to know where an order is at all times. Then, using machine learning, predictive manufacturing analytics can give the drug manufacturers an extraordinarily accurate understanding of how prescriptions are filled by SKU and location.
Fittingly, machine learning also allows an autonomous supply chain to “prescribe” action that affordably expedites the delivery of the order. Thanks to the use of cognitive computing applications that leverage learning algorithms to make on-the-fly adjustments, as well as longer-term supply chain shifts (for example, squeezing in enough room to manufacture red pill bottles), time to respond to consumer expectations is dramatically reduced.
Additionally, the pharmacist is armed with better information on the consumer prescription process – because we know the Costanza-like consumer doesn’t want a complicated explanation, and he certainly doesn’t want to hear, “it’s not my fault, George, it’s the supply chain’s fault.”
A Smarter Supply Chain = Happier Consumers
The moral of the story here is simple: While much attention is given to the efficiency, capital cost savings of digitalization, a major payoff for business will be the consumer experience and convenience that will certainly result from reducing the number of George Costanza interactions and creating a more valued experience.
For more on how autonomous supply chain can help create better customer experience, check out this video.