For Amit Kakar, owner of Avalon Pharmacy in Yucca Valley, CA, the pharmacy business has never been about just medications and transactions – it’s always been about people.
Since becoming a pharmacist more than 21 years ago, Amit began a journey to make a difference in a community setting.
After working for several years while in school with chain Pharmacies, Amit discovered the best way to make that difference would be through personalized customer care. That was the genesis of Avalon – a local, independent pharmacy that provides next-level customer service and a variety of prescription options.
“From the day I started pharmacy school, I realized that I could make a difference with a good supporting cast and I later saw the need to have an independent pharmacy.”
From the first day with Avalon Pharmacy, 21 years ago, Amit invested heavily in advanced technology to customize each patient’s experience and increase staff efficiency. He credits his team’s dedication and outlook in offering a level of service not found in big-box competitors.
“The business is very competitive, but we are vastly different from big-box in so many different ways,” Amit said. “We look at it as a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. With big box retailers there’s a fixed mindset. This is the way they do things, so it has to be done that way only. They just don’t listen to the demands and needs of the patients.”
“We have a drive-thru; we have a free delivery service; we really deal with many patients who have multiple medical conditions. That’s kind of what our specialty is.” In addition, Avalon offers 24-Hour Automated Refill Voice Response and Medication Sync (patients may refill all prescriptions at once, so they don’t have to come in on different days).
Even in the midst of growth, Amit recognized the store needed something else to boost the business to the next level.
“We didn’t know who’s coming in or who’s going out. On a daily basis, it was very hard to engage with patients.” Although Avalon was receiving some positive feedback from patients, Amit felt they had never been able “to do it right before.” Amit heard of the concept of automated marketing and reached out to Keap, formerly Infusionsoft, to leverage their all-in-one CRM and marketing automation platform and was soon introduced to the Automation Agency to help him receive award-winning coaching.
The Automation Journey
After an initial meeting with the Infusionsoft Certified Partner specialists at Automation Agency, Amit learned how Avalon could leverage the double-edged power of Infusionsoft and Keap CRM to super-charge customer engagement, communication and feedback, as well as taking database organization to a new level.
As he recalls this journey, Amit says “it’s hard to look back at that and see how far we’ve come. But I will say that our primary goal was to engage with our patients and to grow. We have so many great ideas we just couldn’t do it until we started using Keap with the Automation Agency.”
Before being introduced to the Automation Agency, Avalon struggled to capture all of their patients and all the data that was coming into the store — not doing it in a way where they could automatically follow up.
“I would say the number one obstacle was getting all of the patients in one single database and being able to sort of engage with them.”
“Now, when patients come in, we actually have a way of tracking them and knowing who they are and when they came in. That helps with sending a thank you message and filling prescriptions easily and on time.”
“Every time a patient comes in and out, we think ‘How can we fill your prescriptions more easily?’ That stresses communication and that is what Automation Agency has brought.”
Amit adds that he was “on board” after his initial consultation with the Automation Agency. “It’s everything that I wanted to do! I didn’t know how to do it to be honest and we felt that we didn’t have the time or resources.”
After launching a new automated program, Amit and staff were able to better engage with patients – especially during the first stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were better able to listen to patient concerns and needs.
By revamping Avalon’s website, patients can communicate with Avalon in a variety of ways. Avalon, in turn, can capture more contact data and know how patients prefer to communicate.
“We can look and see who [is communicating]. We have patients who are 80 years and older. We have emails from them on a daily basis and the emails are not so much what they need but rather to say a simple thank you or ‘we appreciate you.’”
“We’re able to really capture this better with Automation Agency. They provide us with so many avenues and ideas that we’re able to capture patients. It’s just unreal. I really had no way of doing it. [With Keap and Infusionsoft], you have the program there and Automation Agency combined with it – they sort of take that to the next level.” Depending upon how they selected a contact form, patients get followed up and nurtured with very strategic emails and text messages.
“Through the Automation Agency, we mastered this part.”
For Avalon, postcards have been used for a long time to inform and greet customers. Amit and staff grew frustrated with having to send out these postcards manually every day and week. He said the process could often get three weeks behind due to time and resource constraints.
“We were at a point where we were handwriting postcards and sending them out [manually]. We weren’t able to get active addresses because we didn’t really have a sign in mechanism [to capture updated data].” With Keap and the Automation Agency, Amit sends postcards automatically with tagging based on specific types of content. Now, postcard time is something Amit anticipates as a fun activity.
After working with Amit for a while, Automation Agency suggested he increase Avalon’s online content presence by launching a short video blog. During the first months of COVID lockdowns, patients were craving quality content they could consume from home. Thus was born “Minute With Amit” – short videos in which Amit talks about a relevant health or wellness issue. Now, Amit even has a fan base who anticipate his regularly scheduled posts.
Since partnering with Automation Agency, Avalon’s database has significantly grown using Infusionsoft and Keap – a change Amit says has made an unbelievable impact on his business – especially during the pandemic.
Before this partnership, Amit already created monthly goals for new patient acquisition. “We didn’t always hit those goals. The day that we started with Automation Agency, we’ve hit those goals every month since.” Automation Agency not only helped Avalon create an action-based method of setting and analyzing goals, the team also checks in with Amit on a weekly basis.
“During the pandemic, when businesses are unfortunately closing or stagnating, we’ve been able to grow at least a minimum of 10 percent, which in a pharmacy industry is great.”
“It’s amazing the type of growth that we can start receiving because we’re now more focused on the key areas of our business. Keap and Infusionsoft is a very powerful platform. There’s so much you can learn. [Automation is] a coach there to guide you through the steps and sequences.”
Amit notes that powerful tools like Infusionsoft and Keap can empower any pharmacy to jumpstart patient engagement.
Avalon is able to track customer engagement metrics across the entire sales cycle going back months or even years as the cycle extends over time. Amit meets once a week with the Automation team to review and fine-tune the process.
By deploying powerful tagging and segmentation tools, Amit can appropriately communicate with every patient in his database with the right message at the right time along the sales cycle. That’s especially important for a pharmacy since the communication process involves medication management with his patients.
After Avalon launched the Infusionsoft/Keap solution, Amit saw an immediate leap in 5-star customer reviews on Google and other platforms. “We saw a doubling or tripling of Google reviews.” Amit adds. He explains why that’s important to pharmacies –it enhances patient interaction since they can directly interface. “Before, we could not interact as much because we just didn’t always know what they were saying,” Amit notes.
The Automation Agency Difference
When asked what benefits Avalon immediately saw after partnering with the Automation Agency, Amit pointed out a massive payoff in terms of patient engagement.
“Having [marketing] segmentation and then the ability to know exactly who your prospects and who your customers are really helps you to focus in building better relationships with your customers.”
“With Keap or Infusionsoft, everything is 100% trackable. You know exactly how much your database has grown; you know your open rates; you know your click through and your engagement.”
Amit also notes that Automation Agency approaches his needs in a cost-conscious manner. “I think that’s what separates them from many others. They actually care about every single dollar you spend.”
The Road Ahead
“I think the future – it’s exponential. I mean you can grow as much as you want to grow and learn and that’s all really awesome,” Amit says.
He adds that when it comes to working with an agency that can empower a business with a powerful CRM there is “no other option.”
“You have to do this. It’s basic marketing — using a CRM program such as Infusionsoft and using Automation Agency to build the next level.”
His advice for other pharmacies is simple: “Don’t waste your time. Get started now with the Automation Agency, Infusionsoft, and or Keap. I wish we had started months before.”