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Are healthcare companies delivering great customer experience?

The barriers in improving customer experience in pharma

Customer experience

How often nowadays do you get that text? You know, the one that asks you to rate the call/flight/engineer visit/car service/wine delivery/haircut… and the list goes on. Responding to companies trying to work out how well they have performed in meeting our needs is now a standard part of our lives. And we know that companies are listening and responding. The Institute of Customer Service publishes a report twice a year on the levels of customer satisfaction across 13 key sectors, including Retail, Transport and Insurance. The latest results suggests customer satisfaction is at its highest point since 2013 and trust in UK organisations has improved.

But healthcare, pharma and biotech are excluded from this survey, so are we delivering great customer experience for healthcare professionals? The short answer is probably a straightforward ‘No’ or certainly a ‘Could do better’, but pan-industry customer experience research conducted by Uptake Strategies shines a spotlight on some key trends and concepts currently being adopted to strengthen healthcare customer experience.

The biggest barrier

Based on the research findings the biggest barrier to improving customer experience in pharma and biotech is the fear companies have of breaching their national or regional codes of practice. This ranges from a straightforward breach of the local code to

concerns about negative posts on social media, how to register an adverse event if it is raised, how to maintain the confidentiality

of customer prescribing, how to negotiate different legal permissions for sharing emails and finally how to navigate the sheer overwhelming volume of approval stages and documents when trying to gain internal permission to use a ‘new’ customer communication channel. When you consider all of these fears and concerns it is a wonder that anyone is trying anything different! But the change is happening. Slowly and surely the healthcare industry is starting to ‘do’ customer experience, or to put it another way, the healthcare

industry is starting to ‘design and refine customer interactions in order to meet or exceed customer expectations - leading to a stronger brand/company perception, increased customer loyalty, increased advocacy and a sustainable profit’.

Trend 1 - Change in feedback channels

In order to improve customer experience a company needs to know its starting point - how it is perceived by its customers across all interactions, functions and touchpoints. We need to know how the individual experience the customer has in one interaction is leading to a strong level of customer satisfaction, then leading to a high level of customer loyalty and finally leading to customer word of mouth recommendation. It is only once the customer loyalty and word of mouth recommendation level is reached that the increased advocacy can lead to a sustainable profit. What can be seen in the research report is that companies are changing (and anticipate continuing to change) the channels they use to gain customer feedback. Although as an industry we are still not anticipating using the BA and Vodafone style of instant text message feedback after every customer interaction, it is expected that online surveys, email and text channels will gradually start to replace the more formal and rigid methods of quarterly market research and feedback forms. The use of these more nimble and ‘light-touch’ feedback channels will allow the industry to have a more regular but less time-intensive feedback stream from customers. This in turn enables a more responsive approach to customer interactions, ironing out the kinks before they become creases.

Trend 2 - Insight mining

At the moment the investment in tools to provide a greater level of customer insight is heavily focused on qualitative and quantitative market research. Used appropriately, these are two amazing ways of really getting that ‘aha’ moment of customer insight. The drawbacks to market research are the cost and time it takes to do it right. Being pragmatic, these are insight tools that can be used properly only if a specific hypothesis is to be tested or significant decision is to be made. So what are companies doing to add to the insight provided by market research? They are increasing the use of the cheaper and faster tools which have been utilised in consumer goods companies to staggering effect. Many companies anticipate increasing spend behind tools that allow them to capture customer experience ratings, online analytics, Belief Mapping, real-life observation and Customer Journey Mapping, and leverage the insight from these tools as part of their regular customer or brand planning. The benefit of these more agile tools is that teams can start to build up a 360 degree picture of their customer and their needs. They can start to layer the insight to gain a real sense of their customer’s desires and frustrations. The real beauty of the combination of these tools is that the insight is gained and added to on a daily basis, making the chance of a more responsive industry, interested in a real two-way conversation, a very real possibility.

Trend 3 - Measuring quality

As the saying goes, ‘it’s about quality not quantity’ and this is a lesson being taken to heart by many healthcare companies in their pursuit to understand more about their interaction with their customers. Companies are shying away from just quantitative measures such as website traffic, customer calls, etc and are starting to look at how a ‘quality customer experience’ can be assessed. In 2011 Philipp Klaus and Stan Maklan published their Customer Experience Quality (EXQ) scale which they then strengthened in 2013 with a study looking at four dimensions of customer experience quality, which have a positive and significant impact on important marketing outcomes. Figure 2 above illustrates the four dimensions suggested, all of which are directly relevant to many of the objectives healthcare companies have for their customer interactions.

What next?  

So how can we build on the progress already being made? And where do you start if ‘doing customer experience’ is currently in the ‘too hard to do’ box? Figure 1 shares the top changes the pharma/biotech industry can make to improve customer experience. All of the solutions are reasonable and quite straightforward, but to implement them the industry will have to listen carefully and openly to their customers and take simple, practical, measurable steps to deliver better overall experiences for healthcare professionals.

The power of the company mindset

Lastly, and probably most importantly, company mindset is probably the most critical factor. The importance of customer experience as a differentiator needs to be driven at a broader company level to make a difference. As part of this approach ‘more pull than push’ is needed for future messages and communication - too much emphasis is placed currently on push and the ‘sales representative experience’.
The starting point is relatively simple: make interactions or access to information simpler, quicker and more consistent, ensure a ‘one joined-up company’ approach to customer interactions, ‘do what you promise to do’ and empower customer-facing teams to take small, thoughtful, personalised actions to add value or be of service to their physician customers.

Article by
Stephanie Hall and Maxine Smith

Stephanie Hall is managing director and Maxine Smith is director at Uptake Strategies

19th June 2017

From: Marketing, Healthcare

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