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Article by Sam Cinquegrani published in Chain Drug Review, Racher Press

Perfect digital touchpoint for retail pharmacy | ObjectWave blog

The pharmacy that’s first to offer a seamlessly functioning, personalized voice recognition service will have a huge advantage over its competitors.
More so than with other voice-activated retail applications, the applications of voice in retail pharmacy can be endless. The good news is that all the elements to put together a great offering already exist. In considering the various voice search and command entrants to the field, starting with Apple’s Siri, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, the key requisite is up and running, and already very familiar to users.
This capability simply needs to be integrated into a specific application that would enable a pharmacy’s mobile app to become the voice of information, the same role a pharmacist might have in customer interactions. And with the understanding of their customers’ current medications as well as their history, retail pharmacies could use voice software to provide an incredible user experience that would build trust and ultimately play to their advantage.

Let’s look at how this might work.

Apple’s Siri has been around for several years now — it’s a great platform. Ask Siri a question, she goes out onto the internet and comes back with the answer. But it’s a ubiquitous answer — it’s the same one anyone asking Siri will get. And although it’s voice activated, it’s pretty much the same answer you’ll get if you type a few words into a Google search.

What Siri can’t do, because she doesn’t know enough about you, is come back with an answer that is specific to you. And for retail pharmacies, an answer that’s specific to you is one heck of a capability. This raises the issue of personalization — something that drug store retailers have been getting better and better at, through data. The next step is to apply personalization to voice search.
A pharmacy chain that wanted to do the Apple Siri or Amazon Alexa response one better would personalize the message that is sent back, based on what she knows about you. The technologies to do it — voice recognition, networking, the voice input device — already exist and are readily available. But the connection that most retailers haven’t yet made is how to personalize it. By putting the interaction and the response to the end user on a personalized basis, the drug store retailer has created something unique.

Let’s say this pharmacy voice app — let’s call it Farmie — is up and running, and I launch it on my smartphone. It automatically recognizes me through a password, touch ID or facial recognition. Good morning, Sam, how can I help you?” it says. I ask, “What are the side effects of this new medication I got yesterday?” Farmie knows what I’ve just been prescribed. It also has access to the history of whatever else I’ve been taking, or may be on right now. And it says, “Sam, there’s a potential concern over the combination of these two — you should call your doctor and talk to her about it.” Suddenly it’s about my specific situation, and not something generic. It’s personal. Farmie even knows my doctor is a woman.

We’re already at the point where it’s easy to receive a generic, one-size-fits-all response to a voice inquiry. In fact, something similar happens with another digital touchpoint, beaconing — a retailer can send out generic coupons and 90% of the people who receive them don’t care. But if the retailer sends them a coupon for something they’re actually interested in, based on knowledge of that specific customer, it makes a big difference. If you’re giving information to an individual that is personalized and timely for them — something they do care about — that completely changes the rules of the game.

The delivery, the hardware, the infrastructure is all the same, and in place — but the retailer needs to make the big leap by identifying who that user is, and apply information about that user in the context of the questions she’s asking.

Using data to deliver personal voice response

Getting back to pharmacies, most retail pharmacy chains have customer data that itemizes what drugs customers are taking, and a history of that information. In fact, it’s required of pharmacies by law in the United States and most other countries. This assumes the customer is using the same pharmacy for all drug purchases, and has done so over a period of time but, bottom line, chain drug stores have a wealth of customer data. What they haven’t done is create information from this data — analyzing and triangulating it to be part of a bigger picture of questions and answers.

So, how do we get from where we are today to tomorrow’s ultra-personalized, voice-interactive search app? The first step is building the intermediate application that takes the customer’s history and information, matches it with the customer’s question, and applies what it knows from that customer’s history to that question. That piece of the puzzle has to be created, formulated and built. It’s a software application.

But as mentioned above, the voice recognition piece of it is already here — the network and devices — these can all be bought off the shelf. Since this capability is likely being dreamed up for a mobile device that already has voice input — probably a smartphone — retailers simply need to build the app. The software component described above is all that’s needed to bring all of this technology together. Most retail pharmacies already have the pieces of the puzzle — they just need to extend it out to serve this new functionality. It’s not complicated, and not outrageously expensive either.

In terms of information to offer, pharmacies can do a lot with just the information they have in their databases about particular drug interactions. That information could be combined with physician reference materials. These are already in electronic format, so it’s all eminently usable. In the case of newer, rarer or more complex drugs, there may be some issues that need further ironing out. Also liability issues need to be assessed, but those could be addressed by filtering customers based on their history and specific issues. For the majority of customers, this could be a very valuable offering.
Building this further out, in addition to basic information on drug interactions there’s an unlimited world of resources on the internet that could be integrated into this voice app. Right now, for example, a pharmacy could probably link with a voice-activated version of WebMD, and simply tie in their commerce piece. It’s out there and available. And this is just the beginning of what could be done with voice search for pharmacies.

Integrating the technology

Creating this personalized voice-activated app for your pharmacy requires some planning, but ultimately it consists of a simple set of steps.
First, you need a voice input device — the most popular is the smartphone. Then, you need a network powerful enough to support the app. Each retail pharmacy has a platform where customer data is maintained — it could a CRM (customer relationship management), ERP (enterprise resource planning) or e-commerce system — and this is another component to integrate into your application. Next, you need to decide which other technologies you’re going to integrate. Do you want to partner with WebMD or the Cleveland Clinic, or create your own expert center? That’s something to consider.

The whole capability comes together when you build the middleware component that takes voice input, translates it, understands it and then personalizes it by interacting with the customer database, the internet and whatever other sources you’re going to use to deliver back to the customer a personalized, informational response. This is the part that makes the mobile app run.
As a digital touchpoint, voice should be part of any retail pharmacy’s digital planning. Perhaps at the outset, your pharmacy could use voice recognition or voice commerce simply as a way for the customer to reorder a prescription. But as time and the technology progress, you can use it more as a source of information, for example for drug interactions, as we discussed above, or for WebMD-like advice. There are some things you can do now, and some things you can plan for, going forward — but either way it should be on your digital road map. It’s clearly the way of the future — especially as Millennials become the largest spending demographic, given their high level of comfort with the medium.
Bottom line, the first pharmacy to put out a personalized voice app will have an incredible first-mover advantage. Will your pharmacy be that leader?

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ObjectWave is a full-service provider of digital commerce solutions. He can be reached at samc@objectwave.com.


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