Pharma Brand Building: Criticality of Enhancing End-To-End Customer Experience

In today’s fast-changing world, the types of medicines being developed, the way technology contributes to health, and how the value of health care is calculated, are all undergoing a metamorphosis. A wave of cell and gene therapies are bending the definition of what constitutes a drug, both clinically, and in terms of expectations of outcomes, duration of treatment and costs. Global health is poised to meet a series of key turning points, and changes seen in 2018 will mark the key inflections that drive the outlook for the next five years and beyond.

These are examples of key observations, as captured in the March 13, 2018 research report, titled: “2018 and Beyond: Outlook and Turning Points,” of the IQVIA Institute (previously IMS Institute). Arising out of these, the report envisages the following key impacts on the pharma industry in the next five years – from 2018 to 2022:

  • Patent expiry impact will be 37 percent larger than the prior five years, including both small molecule and biologics.
  • New medicines’ growth will be slower in 2018 – 2022 than the period from 2013 -2017.
  • Net price levels for branded drugs will rise modestly in the United States at 2–5% per year but will fall in other developed markets.
  • Volume for existing branded and generic medicines will remain slow, with the ongoing shifts towards newer medicines over time.
  • To increase access to medicinesGovernment and other payers to focus on addressing outstanding healthcare disparities or to invest in approaches to address system inefficiencies.

Such a situation, would obviously impede performance and productivity of many pharma players – both research-based and also the generic ones, across the world, including India. Against this backdrop, I shall discuss about the criticality of ‘enhancing end-to-end customer experience’ in pharma brand building exercise. The words to specially take note of are – ‘end-to-end customer experience’ and not just in some ‘touchpoints’. This would help many pharma players to navigate through this strong headwind to remain in the organizational growth trajectory.

Not a solitary finding:

Another series of articles from Bain & Company, published on June 30, 2015, May 25, 2017, May 09 and May 23, 2018, not just reflect similar core concern, as articulated in the IQVIA article. Moreover, the barriers to deliver growth from the in-market portfolios being tough, many drug companies are using even steep price increases as a key lever to achieve their financial goals. It continues to happen, despite strong criticisms both from the public and some powerful governments, such as the United States and also India, further denting industry’s public reputation.

Pharma sales reps no longer a primary learning resource about medicines?

It also came out clearly from some of these articles that ‘doctors in many developed countries have been moving away from pharma sales representatives as a primary resource for learning about medicines.’ It’s just a matter of time, I reckon, similar situation will prevail in India. So, what do the pharma organizations do now – wait for a similar situation to arise and then act, or initiate a proactive strategic marketing process, as soon as possible?

Enhancing customer experience in pharma brand building:

To mitigate this, a new concept for improving market share is gaining ground. It suggests, the intrinsic value of a brand, and its value delivery system should enhance the customer experience during the entire treatment process with the drug. Achieving this would prompt widely capturing and in-depth analysis of targeted customer expectations, preferences and aversions. Just listening to a patient or a doctor won’t suffice, any longer, for a pharma company to succeed in business.

The February 24, 2017 article, titled “The Case For Managing By Customer Episode,” published in Forbes very aptly said, ‘companies that once relied on developing new product features and improving customer service increasingly see competitive advantage rooted in the entire experience that’s wrapped around the product.’

The same point has been corroborated in several research studies, since the last few years. For example, a 2014 survey by McKinsey & Company came out with some interesting findings. It highlighted, by optimizing customer experience at every ‘touchpoint’ – ensuring a reasonably seamless customer journey, a company can potentially increase its revenue by up to 15 percent and lower the customer service costs by 20 percent.

Another research article dated May 23, 2018, titled ‘Why “Episodes” Matter for Doctors’, published in the Pharmaceutical Executive finds that about 40 percent of a doctor’s drug recommendations are linked to how effectively a firm delivers an overall experience, as distinct from product-related attributes such as clinical data. This share rises to about 60 percent for factors within the control of the commercial organization. Doctors who give high marks for their experience with a company, are between 2.3 and 2.7 times more likely to prescribe the company’s products as those who give low marks.The authors further highlighted, loyalty scores run low, both for the average firm and for many individual episodes for the pharma industry as a whole. That’s because firms have focused mostly on pushing out sales and marketing messages through as many channels as possible.

Units of ‘customer experience’ management:

Different publications acknowledge the need to have some key unit for managing customer experience. These units are described in different names by different experts, such as ‘episode’ or ‘touchpoint’.

Bain & Company said, each ‘Episode’ covers all tasks that a customer requires to complete for fulfilling a need. For each unit of ‘episode’, the clock starts as a customer feels and identifies a related need and ends when these are met with his/her full satisfaction. ‘The sum of a customer’s episodes over time comprise the entire experience of dealing with the company.’ So far as ‘Touchpoints’ are concerned, according to  McKinsey & Company, these are the individual transactions through which customers interact with parts of the business and its offerings. It reflects organization’s accountability and is relatively easy to build into operations.

Difference between ‘episode’ and ‘touchpoint’ in ‘customer experience’ management:

There is a difference between ‘episodes’ and ‘touchpoints’. Whereas ‘touchpoints’ are each point of contact or interaction, between a business and its customers,‘episodes’ focus on end-to-end design of a specific customer-need of an organization, as they align management and the front line around the customer experience.

Many companies believe that customers will be happy with the interaction when they connect with their product, customer service, sales staff, or marketing materials. However, McKinsey found that this siloed focus on individual touchpoints misses the bigger, and more important picture: the customer’s end-to-end experience or the ‘customer journey.’ It includes many things that happen before, during, and after the experience of a product or service. The companies providing the customer with the best experience from start to finish along the journey can expect to enhance customer satisfaction, improve sales and retention, reduce end-to-end service cost, and strengthen employee satisfaction.

Thus, only by looking at the customer’s experience through his or her own eyes, throughout the entire journey taken – a company can begin to understand how to meaningfully improve its performance.

Focus areas to create an exemplary customer experience:

According to Bain & Company there are 5 imperatives to focus on to create an exemplary customer experience, which I summarize, as follows:

  • Examine the experience from the outside in – from the customer’s point of view, not the organization’s structure and processes.
  • Meet customer expectations consistently.
  • Invest to provide outstanding experiences in the areas that have the greatest impact on customer advocacy.
  • Use rapid prototypes to deliver new services to customers.
  • Develop closed-loop feedback processes, continuously refining experiences to match or exceed ever-rising customer expectations.

Conclusion:

The mediocre performance of the pharma industry, especially, since the last few years, is bothering many stakeholders.The challenges to deliver business growth from in-market portfolios, coupled with frequent backlashes for using steep product price increase as a key lever to achieve financial goals, are some of the key causal factors.

Enhancing ‘customer experience’ in the process of pharma brand building initiatives, has also caught the imagination of some players. This is commendable. Nonetheless, several research studies indicate, if these are focused on individual customer-‘touchpoint’ based strategies, which, I reckon, is rather common, the outcome may remain quite far from expectations.

What really matters, is enhancing end-to-end experience with a brand – throughout a patient’s journey for disease prevention or effective treatment or even cure. This may, for example, begin with the search for effective and affordable treatment options – participating in arriving at the right treatment – prescription of right drugs, and finally receiving continuous requisite guidance throughout the course of treatment for better management of the disease or effective cure. Thus, pharma brand building by enhancing end-to-end ‘customer experience’, now assumes a critical strategic dimension.

By: Tapan J. Ray  

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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