Pharma and its customers: the new deal

Shifts in models of consumer engagement in the pharmaceutical industry could transform its relationship with its customers.

A female pharmacist works on a computer in a bright room

There’s never been a better time to be a customer. Catered to by a veritable army of algorithms, artificial intelligences and smart devices, the customer of the digital revolution is able to put in less effort to get access to more goods and services, for less money, than ever before. From retail goods to holidays to financial services, the customer is most definitely king.

And then there’s the pharmaceutical industry.

Even as other sectors leap headfirst into whole new planes of consumer engagement, the customer relationship within the pharmaceutical industry is typically still rather opaque. But there is a route to change available. 

Creating empowered customers

Traditionally, the pharmaceutical sector has been a “push” industry, i.e., one where marketers and salespeople “push” their products on to customers, be they physicians or patients. But now the spread of new digital platforms, and the organizational models they permit, are prompting the emergence of a “pull” industry, i.e., one where customers are empowered to understand their personal needs and seek out the appropriate solutions and products accordingly.

The “empowered customer” is a laudable concept, but it can be very easy for buzzwords such as this to remain just that. Making empowered customers a reality is harder than just talking about them, and building a robust customer engagement strategy would require  pharmaceutical companies to meet several distinct challenges. 

Catching up

The pharmaceutical industry needs to catch up quickly. To help build a road map to achieve more consumer-centric solutions would likely involve several steps.

  1. Define strategic intent. In other words, organizations can decide what their relationships with their customers will look like at the end of the road. This will involve deciding which customer base (e.g., doctors or patients) they should prioritize, or with which traits they would ultimately like to be associated (e.g., strong customer care).
  2. Understand “moments of truth.” A customer's relationship with a brand is not experienced through marketers’ spreadsheets. It is experienced through prompt subscription deliveries, responsive customer service and high-quality medicines – moments of truth in which concrete services overlap with a customer's overall opinion of a brand. Identifying exactly which moments shape customer experience is important for formulating a workable strategy.
  3. Assess capabilities. Once an organization understands the kind of engagement it wants, and the specific points that could lead toward that, it can assess exactly what resources it will need (e.g., manpower, technology and organizational structures), and get them into place. The resources can then be mobilized and the strategy can commence. 

Around these steps, the pharmaceutical industry can create a new, wider culture of organization innovation and agility. This could mean adopting a process culture which is iterative, one in which there is space and resources for failed process to feed back into new strategies, i.e., to learn from past mistakes. Processes should be allowed to “test and fail fast.” Experimentation is essential in periods of wide-scale transformation. If failures are allowed to stagnate, they can end up pulling down bottom lines with them.

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