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The state of pharma customer experience

New research reveals the industry’s customer experience leaders and laggards in the evolving post-COVID-19 hybrid environment

customer experience

Customer experience (CX) in the pharmaceutical industry is increasingly moving centre stage as companies look for practical ways to assess how well they are meeting the expectations of their stakeholders.

Chief among these are healthcare professionals (HCPs), but these are changing times for everyone as countries, customers and companies continue to navigate their way out of the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There has certainly been a course correction after the sharp pivot to digital in the spring of 2020 that pharma commercial operations were forced to make, just as we all were in our everyday lives. But things will never fully return to how they were pre-pandemic. Instead, the industry faces an environment that is still adjusting after the shocks that COVID-19 brought.

As it does so, the often-voiced aspiration for commercial organisations to be more customer-centric brings with it a clear need for metrics to determine if these best intentions are being transformed into reality.

In the past, our research has shown that HCPs have a greater belief that a company understands both their challenges and those that their patients face when the CX they receive is excellent rather than poor.

CX can also drive clear business results for the leading companies, and we’ve found that HCPs will believe more in a company’s products, have a better perception of a firm, and engage more with it, if their expectations are met or exceeded.

In our latest research we took a global look at the state of pharma CX, surveying 6,270 HCPs across 14 countries and eight therapy areas between July and September 2022. The study is based on the respondents’ two most recent interactions with a pharma company and is the widest application of our Customer Experience Quotient (CXQ) metric for one of our public studies to date, adding to the CX research we’ve been conducting since 2017.

Figure 1

Figure 1

CX in pharma and its COVID-19 dip
The headline finding from our study, The State Of Customer Experience In The Global Pharmaceutical Industry, 2022: HCP Interactions, is that CX in pharma was ranked as good, with a CXQ score of 59, but good is really the least the industry should be aiming for. Added to which, the 2022 score is by no means a strong good score and finds the industry to be some way from achieving the excellence for which companies should be striving – a place where it is driving the business results mentioned before.

At a country level, you can see pharma companies providing customer experiences to HCPs that are fair to good (Figure 1). Notably, companies in China – at the time of our research still deep in a strict lockdown – provided HCPs with a customer experience that was on a par with Europe’s two largest markets, despite Germany and France having largely ended their own COVID-19 restrictions by then.

Naturally, the scores are influenced to some extent by different nations’ response styles and, because this is the first time one of our public CXQ reports has been run on a global level, it’s not yet possible to look for country-level trends across the entire data set.  However, when we isolate the group of North America and Europe’s five largest markets that our research has traditionally focused on, their combined CXQ score dipped by four percentage points during the pandemic before recovering in 2022 to the same CXQ score of 61 seen in 2018. Depending on how China’s relaxation of its COVID-19 restrictions goes, there may be a similar COVID-19 bounce to pharma CX in that country.

Figure 2

Figure 2

UCB takes narrow lead in CX
In our customary scores of pharma company CX, the expansion of this year’s research added further depth to the rankings of individual firms. The three-fold increase in the number of HCPs included in this year’s study saw 32 companies ranked by the customer experience they provide HCPs, bringing a wider variety than ever before to the firms included.

One of those new entrants in the study was UCB. As the highest scoring company, the Belgium-based firm edged a narrow lead over Gilead and Novo Nordisk, who shared a joint second place (Figure 2). The CXQ rankings focus on HCP judgements about the relevance, simplicity and trustworthiness of the content (whether information or services) that they receive or look for themselves. For UCB, it was a strong showing for the simplicity and relevance of its content that propelled it to first place in our 2022 study.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the CXQ rankings, it’s perhaps not a surprise to see Moderna and BioNTech take the last and second-to-last slots respectively. The huge pressures faced by those two COVID-19-focused companies in particular, combined with the rapid expansion of their operations, will have made it very challenging to provide a consistent level of CX.

The scale of change that, for example, Moderna faced saw the company’s revenues skyrocket from $803m in 2020 to $18.5bn in 2021, thanks of course to its Spikevax vaccine. During that time the company more than doubled its workforce to around 3,000 employees – certainly a considerable increase for one company in just 12 months, but also quite a lag behind the more than 23-times increase in revenues. As with its COVID-19 compatriot BioNTech, the rapid increase in the size of the company, the difficulty of knowing how to right-size for the future and the complexity of navigating a still-changing commercial environment will have added to Moderna’s CX challenges during this period.

Those are issues that, to a greater or lesser extent, continue to affect some of the largest pharma firms in the industry. When you dig a little deeper into our CXQ research, disparities between how effectively digital channels are compared to their non-digital counterparts are revealed (Figure 3). On a company level, the three firms leading in the provision of customer experience through non-digital channels were Novo Nordisk (with a CXQ score of 69), Gilead (68) and Pierre Fabre (also 68).
That trio tracked slightly ahead of the companies providing the leading digital CX, where Bristol Myers Squibb (66), Boehringer Ingelheim (65) and Merck (also 65) made up its top three.

Another theme from this research is the fierce level of competition found towards the top of the rankings. Although there was a 33% gap between the scores for UCB at the top and Moderna at the bottom of our overall CXQ rankings, a full third of firms were grouped within just five percentage points of each other at upper echelon of our listings. With a similar bunching of scores seen in the CX companies provide through digital and non-digital channels, and in ranking of our personalisation scores, there is a clear opportunity for companies that can prioritise CX to pull ahead.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Post-pandemic customer engagement
Any company’s customer experience journey is always going to be a multi-year endeavour. For those looking to make CX a focus in 2023, there’s a need for a customer engagement framework that really focuses on choosing the right channel for the right purpose. A key part of that will require firms to reconcile their use of high-tech channels with those that are high touch.

Reps are still among the most important channels for pharma, with the use of video conferencing by medical reps achieving the highest score in our 2022 CXQ survey (Figure 2). But it should give companies pause for thought that a digital call with a sales rep is almost identical, in terms of the CX it delivers, to a traditional face-to-face call. Of course, all the different rep channels, from face-to-face to email communications, have different strengths and weaknesses, with companies’ particular portfolio challenges further influencing the right mix for an individual company. However, to ensure that they’re protecting the right experiences, firms should continue to develop their field force so that they can be enabled to embrace digital capabilities at an appropriate level and understand customer engagement models that keep evolving.

There will also be an increased place for the hybrid operating models that were born out of COVID-19 conditions, and these will need careful refinement for the industry’s largely post-pandemic engagement. Getting this right will require pharma companies to offer a more personalised experience to their stakeholders, doubling down on the segmentation and targeting it requires. There’s already considerable pressure for companies to get omnichannel orchestration right, and data and insights are a crucial way to guide channel and content mix decisions.

The State Of Customer Experience In The Global Pharmaceutical Industry, 2022: HCP Interactions report is available at

Dominic Tyer is a Research Director at DT Consulting, an Indegene company

14th February 2023

Dominic Tyer is a Research Director at DT Consulting, an Indegene company

14th February 2023

From: Marketing


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