Magazine Article | November 1, 1998

Computer Telephony: The Right Prescription For A Chain-Store Pharmacy

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Answering the phone slowed the workflow for ShopKo pharmacies' staff. Adopting an integrated voice response (IVR) system made a difference for this large retail chain.

Integrated Solutions, November-December 1998
ShopKo Stores, Inc. (Green Bay, WI) operates 147 mass-merchandising stores in 16 states. Of these stores, 145 have in-store pharmacies. Until recently, ShopKo relied on multi-line phone systems and pharmacy personnel to handle all incoming pharmacy calls. According to Greg Ahmann, v.p. of retail pharmacy operations for ShopKo, incoming calls interrupted the pharmacies' workflow. Pharmacists had to stop filling prescriptions to answer the phone. Pharmacy technicians had to limit customer service to take calls. The majority of the calls are from customers requesting prescription refills, says Ahmann.

The multi-line phone system also had another limitation. "Customers could call in their prescription refills only when the store was open. Doctors offices, as well, could not leave new prescription information after store hours," explains Ahmann.

To increase the productivity of pharmacy staff, ShopKo decided to enhance its multi-line phone systems. The company chose the Pharmacy Line Integrated Voice Response (IVR) software application from ateb, formerly Synetics, Inc. (Raleigh, NC).

Integration Key To Choosing IVR
Ahmann and Donna Michiels, project manager at ShopKo, narrowed their search for an automated phone system to those offered by ateb and another company. "The system had to integrate into our existing phone system and pharmacy system," says Michiels. Also, it had to run on ShopKo's RISC 6000 hardware platform. ShopKo evaluated the two systems simultaneously for several weeks at its test stores before choosing ateb's IVR software. "We didn't need to purchase additional stand-alone computers for each pharmacy, because of the integration," says Ahmann. The IVR software runs on the pharmacies' existing RISC 6000 hardware.

ShopKo personnel installed the system at all the stores, using ateb for support, says Michiels. "Phone cards were the only hardware item we purchased through ateb," says Michiels. ShopKo personnel also trained employees on the system using printed manuals. Customers received flyers explaining how the system worked, prior to its installation.

The IVR system features an "opt-out" choice, enabling customers to by-pass the phone system and reach pharmacy employees directly. Similarly, for doctors, the system routes them directly to the pharmacist if needed. Ahmann says the opt-out feature was important. "Some of our customers have resisted the system and still prefer to talk to a human," says Ahmann.

System Lets Customers Call Anytime
Today, when customers call a ShopKo pharmacy for a prescription refill, their calls are handled automatically. Using their touch tone phone keypad, customers simply key in their prescription number to order a prescription refill. They come to the store later to pick it up. The system works seven days a week, 24 hours a day. This allows customers to call at any time to leave refill request information.

The IVR system interfaces with the pharmacy system, which contains all the customers' information, such as names, addresses and prescription histories with ShopKo. The phoned-in prescriptions are placed into a "fill queue." The pharmacist then reads the refill orders from the computer monitor.

"The pharmacists and technicians have more uninterrupted time to fill prescriptions and help in-store customers," Ahmann says. "It's not unusual for a pharmacist to come in and have 75 prescription refills in the fill queue first thing in the morning."