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A Data-Driven Approach to Customer Retention


What motivates people as pharmacy customers is a complex topic. Why do some consumers remain loyal for years while others disappear? Why are some diligent at picking up prescriptions while some neglect to at all? While individual consumers have unique motivators for continuing to visit a particular pharmacy and for medication adherence, understanding overarching behavioral patterns can contribute to healthier individuals and increase pharmacy business success.

Change Healthcare recently analyzed more than 15 million consumer prescription records to try to gain a deeper understanding of their behavior. This information can help retail drug stores become increasingly relevant through more strategic patient communication promoting loyalty and retention. The analysis uncovered multiple opportunities for engaging and creating loyal consumers while also improving medication adherence.

Improving customer engagement

One important consumer element revealed in Change Healthcare’s analysis is an increase in “pharmacy hopping.” As consumers assume greater responsibility for the cost of their medications, the days of pharmacy loyalty are winding down. Savvy retail organizations recognize that customers have many pharmacy choices, and those pharmacies that fully optimize retention strategies generally come out on top.

In analyzing customer retention, it appears that emotion drives motivation. When consumers feel a connection to a pharmacy that is based on accountability and mutual trust, they are much more likely to return. This is largely a matter of interpersonal engagement. The pharmacist who takes a moment to ask the customer how a drug is working for them and whether they have any questions about their medications serves as their trusted health advisor. That’s an important step in building customer loyalty.

Improving medication adherence

Medication adherence behaviors impact pharmacies and patients in significant ways—both positively and negatively. Change Healthcare’s data confirms that one of the greatest challenges to medication adherence is follow-through with prescription refills. One study identified cost as the leading predictor of Rx abandonment. By reviewing the patient’s benefit plan and co-pay schedule, it found a 1.4 percent rate of abandonment for patients with co-pays of $10, a 3.4 percent rate at $30 and $40 co-pays and a 4.7 percent rate at a $50 co-pay. While cost is the leading predictor of prescription abandonment, age, drug class and past pharmacy behavior were also named as top factors.

Pharmacies that design strategies to improve refill rates stand to improve both patient health and their bottom line. For instance, patients appreciate simple reminders of pending refills, or receiving a scheduled refill when insurance permits earlier dispensing, when they are present in a pharmacy. Incentive programs—such as offering a discount card to patrons who refill maintenance medications on time all year—are also effective.

Data analysis also reveals that patients who have difficulty taking or administering a drug are less likely to follow through with medication therapies. As such, pharmacies that create a culture of “nurturing” patients through education and support strategies establish strong bonds that contribute to greater adherence and retention.

Improving the bottom line

Few retention and adherence strategies speak louder to consumers than placing money in their pocket. Identifying opportunities to reduce medication costs is a highly effective way of building trust while also making it easier to patients to continue purchasing their medications.

An analysis of clients from Change Healthcare Engagement Solutions revealed that a switch from brand name to generic drugs would equate to savings of nearly $7 million across some 5,000 consumers for average savings of $1,270 per person. As generics are equally effective for 99 percent of patients, many opportunities exist for pharmacists to suggest this option. This requires a bit of education.

Change Healthcare surveys have consistently revealed that the primary reason consumers don’t opt in for generics is that the word “generic” suggests inferior quality. Having a pharmacist assure them that a brand and its generic are the same medication with the exact same effectiveness can quickly dispel that notion.

The same analysis also identified more than 34,000 health plan members who qualified for entry into prescription savings programs. That equates to average savings of $110 per person for a total of more than $3 million dollars in savings simply from program enrollment. Pharmacists who take the initiative to uncover these opportunities for their customers not only develop strong customer bonds but are also able to tout these achievements to the greater public.

Ultimately, consumers need a partner in their pharmacy.  Connection drives loyalty and accountability for maintaining health. Leveraging the power of behavioral science is a key strategy for building solid customer relationships and ensuring patients are receiving quality treatment at a manageable cost.


Tabitha Burcham, Ph.D., is a Behavioral Scientist with Change Healthcare.

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