Building a Patient-Focused Cannabis Dispensary, Episode 4: Professionalism

How do we develop a new face of professionalism and elevate the cannabis industry to a higher standard?  The mindset of a patient-focused dispensary is to deviate from traditional practices of a “sin industry” and instead highlight the ability for cannabis to act as an instrumental tool for holistic well-being. Many of these practices may seem like a no-brainer for retail or client-facing operations, but in order to best serve a patient with medical needs, extra layers of attention must be weaved into the conversation.

  • Attitude

Beyond having staff members display positive, vibrant smiles on a daily basis, patients should be held as the center of attention as if they were visiting a physician’s office. The entire experience and interaction should be tailored around the framework that we are open to serve you, and only you. Dispensary staff need to be homed in to recognize who’s walking the floors of the dispensary and exercise an unwavering willingness to engage with them. This ties back to Episode 3 of ensuring the dispensary layout is designed for an unobstructed interaction and appropriate ambiance to limit external distractions.

Everybody coming through the doors of the dispensary has a story of what they’re experiencing and what they’re looking for. Employees should recognize the dual utility of cannabis as both a medical and recreational outlet and be prepared to provide an effective experience for either side at any given moment. The exchange of words and knowledge can and usually will remain casual; however, there’ll also be customers dealing with traumatic experiences and terminal illnesses seeking advanced clinical guidance.  Empathy is an emotion that can’t be simply learned by reading books or taking classes but is perfected through practice. Using an analogy to a community-based pharmacy: the medications for a patient will be the same regardless of which pharmacy they visit, so what drives loyalty in this case? Displaying empathetic compassion is the easiest way to garnish trust with new patients, develop meaningful bonds, as well as build a customer for life.

“Using an analogy to a community-based pharmacy: the medications for a patient will be the same regardless of which pharmacy they visit, so what drives loyalty in this case? Displaying empathetic compassion is the easiest way to garnish trust with new patients, developing meaningful bonds as well as building a customer for life.”  

  • Active Listening

Hearing words is easy. Actively listening and understand what the person in front of you is seeking while reading between the lines is an art. In the modern digital age compounded with the road back to post-global-pandemic normalcy, physical socialization may not come as second nature to the retail workforce anymore. Practicing and maintaining eye contact is crucial for interactions with customers. Being cognizant of our tone of voice and body language when interacting also brings a sense of comfort to the situation. My experience working in as a pharmacist involved providing exceptional medical care for my patients, but more often than not, simply a set of ears to listen. It’s possible a customer is simply craving a warm body to interact with. Take the extra moment to learn something unique about them and ask how their day is going. You’ll be amazed at the long-term connections that can be made through active listening.

  • Setting the Expectation

In order to the set the tone and pace of the conversation, it’s extremely important for staff members to identify who they are right out of the gates. If advanced medical questions come flying in, a simple wording such as “I’m not a certified medical professional, but I’m going to try my best to help you out today” will set the expectation that they’re not speaking to somebody with a clinical background. Dispensary employees should always recognize where their level of conversation especially focused on medical guidance should be capped at, and also confidently know where to direct more advanced questions towards.

This holds true from the consumer side as well. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times that a patient would come into my dispensary with mounds of printed articles from the internet about how cannabis will cure their medical conditions. Acting as a true professional is to not only recognize but emphasize that cannabis can’t be treated as a panacea. Many patients are experimenting with cannabis as a 3rd and/or last line medical option, desperate for answers and a miracle cure. Be very clear about where the science of cannabis-based medicine is, and the limitations of what it can accomplish. Honesty and transparency are monumental when it comes to setting the patient expectation.

  • Motivational Interviewing

The collision of cannabis and healthcare is highlighted by the importance of self-discovery. Many patients are not comfortable with being at the reigns of their own clinical outcomes, but cannabis-based medicine provides that avenue. Instead of a transactional nature, the interaction with a patient should be customized to provide an educational experience. Be able to empower consumers to use their own decision-making abilities when selecting products. A conversation from a cannabis professional focused on teaching versus selling is what’s going to drive confident consumerism and set the bar higher for the industry as a whole.

What else can be done to maintain the face of professionalism in this growing industry?

As always, let’s continue the conversation.


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