Speech Technology Magazine

IVR Is the Right Prescription for This Pharmacy

TalkRx keeps small, independent stores competitive with retail giants.
By Leonard Klie - Posted Sep 10, 2012
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Delta Pharmacy operates five stores in South Carolina. Its main store is located in Charleston, with other locations in Daniel Island, Moncks Corner, Eutawville, and Elloree, with a sixth set to open soon. In addition to basic medications, some stores carry pet medications as well as diabetes testing supplies and home medical equipment.

Like most small, independent retailers, the family-owned Delta Pharmacy is constantly seeking cost-effective ways to maintain a competitive footing against big national chain-store rivals like CVS, Rite-Aid, and Walgreens. And, as with any retail business, responsiveness to customer needs and expectations spells the difference between success and failure.

Delta Pharmacy last year rang up $18 million in sales.

"We want to do the same thing as the big chains, but we can't afford to lose the personal feel," says Willis High, the third-generation owner of Delta Pharmacy. His grandfather founded the company in 1935.

"Over the years, we've tried to use as much technology as possible but still keep that hometown service," he says.

The biggest technology implementation so far has been the TalkRx integrated telephony and pharmacy management platform from Vow, which is based in Boiling Springs, S.C. TalkRx is a server-based Voice over IP phone system that also provides an interactive voice response (IVR) portal and other call center capabilities. Delta Pharmacy has the system installed at all five stores and will roll it out to the sixth when that one is ready to open for business.

Delta Pharmacy has implemented a number of system capabilities from the TalkRx solution, including:

  • a prescription refill IVR;
  • call routing based on caller ID information that enables premium customers, doctor's offices, and others needing special attention to bypass the standard IVR interface and connect directly to the appropriate store and pharmacy staffer;
  • integrated call and voicemail recording and archiving that allows messages to be retrieved over the phone or computer and sorted by date and time, prescription number, patient or doctor name, or unique message ID codes;
  • specialized alerting features to identify incoming calls from doctors before they hit the queue;
  • customized greetings and IVR prompts with flexible scheduling to accommodate store hours, holidays, cold and flu season, or other times of the year;
  • detailed reporting on call volume, calls on hold, and other metrics that can be used to determine optimal store staffing levels;
  • flexible outbound dialing features to alert customers to prescriptions that are ready for pickup or provide other messages; and
  • multilocation connections that allow stores to transfer callers between locations just by dialing an extension.

Besides submitting refill requests, customers can go through the IVR to access important information, including the number of remaining refills, prescription number, and other details related to their medications, all without waiting on hold for a pharmacy employee.

"We can get to the important calls more quickly because we're not taking unnecessary calls," High says, noting that the IVR handles 40 percent of all incoming calls. Routinely, the busiest store handles about 300 calls per day. Most of the others average about 150 to 200 calls.

The stores are closed on Sundays, but that doesn't mean customers can't get through when it suits them.

"When we come in on a Monday morning, there could be 150 to 200 prescriptions phoned in [over the weekend] that have already been logged into the system and are ready for processing," High says. "That has streamlined everything. It lets us spend more time with customers who need to talk to a pharmacist."

Accordingly, pharmacy personnel can answer calls more quickly. While many calls were waiting in queue prior to the TalkRx implementation, all are now answered within two or three rings.

TalkRx's outbound messaging capability has resulted in the main store logging as many as 100 pickup alerts and other messages a day.

The system also incorporates unified messaging capabilities so prescription requests coming into Delta via fax, the company Web site, email, or the company's mobile application automatically get logged into the archival system to further streamline record keeping.

"TalkRx is the best system out there for us," High says. "I can't think of anything we need that it doesn't do. The system is in a league of its own."

Vow also provides managed antivirus, network support, offsite data backups, and smartphone and Web application development. It worked with Delta Pharmacy to create the company Web site and mobile phone application, which lets customers submit prescription refill requests through their mobile devices. The free mobile app has been downloaded by more than 700 customers in just a few weeks.

But Vow's flagship product is still the TalkRx solution, which is designed specifically for smaller, independent pharmacies.

Vow counts among its customers about 200 community pharmacies across the country, which fill more than 1.5 billion prescriptions per year.

"Our customers are not IT or telecom specialists. They need a solution that works right out of the box and provides the level of convenience, reliability, and quality experience that most consumers have come to expect from a retail pharmacy," says Chip Simmons, Vow's president and CEO.

Another selling point for the TalkRx system was its ease of use. "We're looking at expanding to another store, and we can have [Talk Rx] up and running in a few hours," High says. "There's really no learning curve at all."

And that's the way Simmons likes it. "The pharmacy staff needs to pay attention to safely and effectively serving customers, not figuring out how the phone system works," he adds. "TalkRx is designed at every level to be reliable and easy to use."

So far it has delivered, a change from previous operations at Delta Pharmacy. "Before TalkRx, it was chaotic. The phones were always ringing off the hook, and we had to do a lot of manual work with our old phone system," High recalls.

Now that much of that work has been automated, "the phones don't ring the way they used to, but we're still as busy as ever," he states.

App at a Glance

Since implementing the TalkRx IVR and VoIP phone system at its five locations, Delta Pharmacy has seen:

  • a 40 percent reduction in the number of calls that are answered by in-store personnel;
  • all calls answered within two or three rings; and
  • 150 to 200 prescription refill requests logged in on the weekend when stores are typically closed.

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