I Tried to Book a Flu Vaccine

I Tried to Book a Flu Vaccine

As we head into winter, getting a flu vaccine is deemed as important, in our collective bid to protect the NHS, as having the covid vaccine. We are being regularly reminded by the media (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-58836218) and NHS campaigns to vaccinate ourselves against flu this winter.

If you are not eligible to receive this via the NHS, you can choose to pay for the vaccine privately, but what options are available for consumers?

To discover more, ABa undertook informal research of the various brands offering the flu vaccine – seeking to understand similarities and differences in the experience overall.

Leading pharmaceutical brands, supermarkets and independent pharmacies are all offering the flu vaccine this autumn. However, our research indicates customers should shop around, because the experience varies significantly, both by brand and geographical location.

It is not just the price that differs, with the cheapest at £8 and most expensive at £14.99; the booking experience, appointment availability and information exchange vary considerably from brand to brand.

Brand experience

The earliest appointment that I could get at my closest branch was 6 weeks away from the time I was booking.

I had the choice of booking online or calling the store. I gave them a call, the phone was answered promptly, and the colleague informed me that I could simply walk in, and I did not need to book.”

Appointment availability

Regional availability In our tests, 40% of customers could not book an appointment within the next 7 days, with the longest wait time of 46 days (weekday appt) or 53 days (weekend appt).

We also found that getting a suitable time slot, outside the constraints of full-time employment, is a challenge.

  • Only 3 providers were offering appointments at the weekend. Just 1 provider offered appointments after 17:30.
  • 1 provider was only offering jabs between 2 – 4pm, weekdays only
  • Information on the website regarding appointment timings did not tally with information provided by the in-store pharmacy team
  • Independent pharmacies are most likely to offer walk-in appointments. These, however, highlight that their supplies of the vaccine are intermittent, and that therefore they cannot guarantee availability on any given day.

Customers in the North of England are more likely to get an appointment within 7 days than those in the South or Central areas. Just 37.5% of customers in the Central area were able to successfully book an appointment within the next week.

When I tried to ring them at around 10:40am, the phone rang twenty times and then hung up on me. There was no option to leave a message or any explanation. I rang again in the afternoon. The colleague didn’t greet me, just stated that I was through to the pharmacy in a bored manner, and as soon as I made my enquiry, they hung up on me again. At this point I was very frustrated, so I didn’t try to ring back again and continue with booking the service.

Ease of booking

Our research found that 1 in 3 customers were unable to book an appointment, either due to online booking errors, lack of knowledge from colleagues or no appointment availability. This meant that customers were left with little choice as to the booking method they could follow.

  • 48% of customers had to book their flu jab online, with 2 providers requiring the customer to first set up a store account
  • 40% of customers had to call their local store/pharmacy to make a booking
  • 1 provider required the consumer to book via their store app, or alternatively they could walk in and see if there was availability

For some, the information required for booking an appointment was as simple as name, address, and email, with the process taking only minutes. For other providers, customers were asked to complete in-depth health forms including name/address details of their GP along with pre-payment.

Information exchange

We discovered that 1 in 4 customers were frustrated by inaccurate information or a lack of information shared with them when booking.

  • 60% of customers were told what to expect at their appointment, such as: length of appointment; requirement to wear a mask; need to complete a pre-consultation questionnaire; how to reschedule the appointment
  • Just 2 providers took the opportunity to promote additional services that were available. Only 1 brand actively encouraged customers to have the pneumonia vaccine at the same time as their flu vaccine.

There was no information regarding booking a flu jab on their website, even though it was advertised. When I called my local store, the colleague said I had to book online (for which there was no link) or call 119.

The final page said that I should arrive ten minutes early for my appointment, but no other information was given about what to expect on the day. However, I did appreciate the button giving me the option to create a calendar reminder. The confirmation email arrived in my inbox within three minutes of making my booking, and this had more information on what would happen on the day, including that I would be asked to fill out a pre-consultation, letting me know about their covid safety practices and requesting that I wear a mask. There was also information on how to contact the store if I needed to change my appointment and a link to follow if I needed to cancel.

Where does this leave the consumer?

If price is a key motivator, the cheapest vaccine available is £8. Here, however, the adage of ‘getting what you pay for’ rings true; customers paying less should be prepared for restrictive appointment times and may need to be patient when trying to book, as speaking to a colleague is often dependent upon trade levels in-store.

Those willing to pay higher prices can access a straightforward online booking and should expect to find some early evening/weekend appointments. Even here, however, booking early is key as waiting times will typically be longer than 7 days.

Local independent pharmacies are a good mid-price option for those customers who have flexibility for a walk-in appointment or can attend an ‘on-the-day’ appointment, when vaccine supplies allow.

Overall, booking a private flu vaccine is currently a ‘hit and miss’ experience. Customers should be prepared to shop around to find the best-fit provider for their individual circumstances. To maximise our chance of boosting immunity within the UK, there is work for the providers to do to improve this service; by making it easier; by offering customers a choice of how they book. By simply delivering a more flexible and customer-centric experience, in short, we believe pharmacies could go a long way to improving vaccinations and immunity – and protecting the NHS.

To find out more about this project and our expertise in CX measurement programmes that deliver a better customer experience, please get in touch with ABa via the details below.

Danielle Sones Experience Director danielle@aba.co.uk / 0161 431 1221

(Source: Flu vaccine project, 5th - 12th October 2021)