How pharma can excel in customer experience

Pharmaceutical companies provide one of the, if not the, most important products to HCPs – the medical advances that make a huge difference to patient outcomes.

But bringing new medicines to the market and ensuring they are available for doctors to prescribe is only part of the challenge the industry faces – it’s no longer enough to simply offer products to healthcare professionals.

If companies are to succeed in today’s competitive landscape, they need to also offer a relevant customer experience. That is to say, pharma must attract doctors and engage them with content that is trustworthy and valuable, and then build this relationship over time through personalised, relevant content that supports better practice and better patient health outcomes.

Pharma and customer experience

But what does ‘good’ look like in customer experience? It’s a question that was examined recently in The State of Customer Experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry, a new piece of research by Aptus Health. Looking at how adept pharma is at meeting, or exceeding, the expectations of its customers, Aptus quizzed more than 2,600 physicians drawn from the members of its Univadis online community for healthcare professionals (HCPs). Respondents were located in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, UK and the US, and included representatives from general practice, retail pharmacy and seven specialty areas.

Looking at some of the research’s standout findings, Aptus’ chief strategy and marketing officer Houda Kamoun Follot said: “We found that the vast majority of our global HCP members on Univadis have three key expectations of the interactions they have with pharma: trustworthiness, relevance and simplicity in that order of importance. In terms of content, there is a gap between what HCPs want from pharma and what they receive.”

Physicians in the survey said they receive a lot of, and probably too much, information from pharmaceutical companies about prescription drugs, but not enough medical education and patient materials. It’s a finding that underscores the need to make the branded content that the industry does produce as effective as possible.

“It’s really important to present prescription drug information in a format that physicians will enjoy and appreciate, but an effective HCP engagement strategy must also include content HCPs expect, and which brings value to them,” said Houda.

Service levels that are good, or even exceptional, make a real difference to all of our day-to-day interactions. But, with so many other pressures on time and resources, why would providing good customer service matter to a pharmaceutical company from a business standpoint?

Houda explained: “Great customer experience will unlock additional value for the pharmaceutical companies and, more specifically, this will, for example, increase the number of customer engagements.

“Customers who are satisfied with their interaction are more likely to save all the materials about the product or the service for future use. They are also three times more likely to share the information that they receive, which is very, very powerful.”

There’s also an image and reputational dimension to this. “Having great customer experience will create a more positive view of the product and the company. We saw in the study that 44% of the time that an HCP rated an interaction as great, it significantly improved the opinion of different products and services. The positive positioning of the products in the minds of the customer can change the current and the future prescribing behaviour.”

The Aptus survey also dug into which pharmaceutical companies were judged by physicians to be providing an excellent customer experience. Asked to rate their customer experience with nearly 20 global pharma companies, eight firms were ranked as ‘fair’ to ‘good’, but only one company, Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim, actually made the grade, with an ‘excellent’ rating. For the rest of the industry, the results should provide some food for thought.

Boehringer Ingelheim’s approach to customer experience

Linda Valenta is global team leader, digital marketing at Boehringer Ingelheim. She said it is important that everyone in the company puts time into ensuring good customer experience. “All the teams across Boehringer Ingelheim are invested in making sure that they understand the needs of our customers and give them that optimal customer experience. I would say we’re not necessarily 100% there yet or 100% perfect at it, but certainly, everyone is invested in getting better at ensuring these good customer experiences.”

An important part of this is developing an understanding of what Boehringer Ingelheim’s customers want from their various interactions with the company.

“From a product perspective, our customers recognise that pharma companies are the experts on their own products. They do expect, and want to see, information at their fingertips about those products when they have questions. They do expect there will be a promotional aspect to it, but they don’t want to be over-promoted to – so one of their key needs is that the information provided be trustworthy,” Linda said.

But whether providing branded product information or non-promotional medical information, such as guidelines and treatment recommendations, time and delivery channels are key factors. “We really strive to give them the right information at the right time in the way that they’re looking for it. It’s also about making the content and information digestible for them in a way that shows we respect their time.”

What gets measured, gets managed, as influential management thinker Peter Drucker once wrote. The notion is central to how Boehringer Ingelheim operates in customer experience.

“Even before we release anything, we start by measuring what are the information needs and preferred channels so that we can decide what the optimal content or information mix is for them,” Linda said. “Then we assign digital metrics to all of this information and regularly measure them.”

For Linda’s own digital marketing team, the sweet-spot for gathering this information is once a week, which allows them to identify actionable learnings and adjust their efforts as they go along. A more frequent measurement cycle might be possible but would put a real strain on the company’s medical, legal and regulatory processes, she added. 

How could pharma improve at customer experience?

“We’re not shy about partnering with other third-party providers, because we appreciate the channel preferences of our customers,” said Linda, when asked what the stand-out companies could do to excel.

And it’s clear that, while customer experience doesn’t demand a particular channel, pharma must ensure it follows doctors’ channel, topic and format preferences if messages are to be deemed relevant by their intended audience.

Houda added: “To improve companies need to ‘stick to the basics’ and put HCPs at the centre of what they do. They need to engage with the HCPs and the channels they prefer, like the third-party sites, especially for medical news and education.

“From a content perspective, if I look at how our machine learning and artificial intelligence model provide us insights in to what HCPs want, we see what the market is talking about from a content perspective.”

Customer experience starts with listening

Listening to what HCPs are doing, or want to do, in order to define relevant messages and the right channels, and then articulate that in a way that engages HCPs, is a key understanding to have.

“Pharma needs to grasp the full scope of what the market is talking about,” explained Aptus’ Houda, “and that’s not necessarily the same as what pharma is talking about. Using behaviour analysis to look at how the audience is individually interacting with each piece of content allows companies to understand how HCPs engage, and what affinity they have, with the content.”

To do that data and analytics can play an important role in guiding the development of an engagement strategy for HCPs and ensure that doctors’ preferences are taken into account. 

Boehringer Ingelheim’s Linda concluded: “For me, it all comes back, once again, to the needs of our customers. There’s a happy middle ground within what they need and what we need. Aligning around that brings us value as trusted partners in the healthcare environment and allows us to cater to healthcare professionals’ needs.”