Are You Truly Listening To Your Customers?
In the new era of pharma, the customer is king – but are companies genuinely listening?
Listening to your customer sounds jaw-droppingly obvious in the age of personalization.
But, just like that ingeniously simple app that makes you think, ‘Why didn’t I come up with that?’ — the execution is not so simple.
It’s one thing to listen. To do it quickly is another. Quick reactions to customer needs are required if firms are to stay ahead in a fast-moving digital age, and this agility requires an update of existing systems.
“At a time when customer expectations are the highest they have been – our focus on the customer experience is absolutely critical,” says Jim Lefevere, Director of Global Marketing Strategy and Services and Head of Global Digital Marketing at Roche. “We are making progress; however, I view this as a journey that is never complete.”
Tools of the trade
“There are many tools available to bring in customer insights, says Debra Hussain, Senior Director of Marketing at Eli Lilly. She cites qualitative and quantitative market research, secondary market research, first and second-hand social listening, and information from the salesforce or advisory boards.
“It is critical to ensure we are proactively assessing the feedback and making a conscious decision about what we're going to do with it.”
“Every organization is going through some form of digital transformation – in some cases flat out disruption – and we're no different from a customer perspective,” adds Lefevere. “We’ve done some things in our recent past to enable the organization to have better access to customer insights, and to have them more readily available for product development and marketing.”
This includes a marketing research repository or “customer insights engine” that offers access to primary and secondary research. A social listening dashboard also provides a way for staff to see what the public is tweeting about or to examine the most popular keywords searched for around a particular topic.
“It's really doing two things,” says Lefevere. “One, it is democratizing the insights, making them available to everyone. Two, it is bringing visibility and transparency. Rather than it being something that you look at once a month in a report, we're trying to make it more available to everybody all the time, so they can get a better understanding of the customers we serve – who are ultimately why we do what we do every day.”
Social listening offers a compliant route to first-hand, immediate customer reactions; from unfiltered, direct reports of the patient journey through to information about payers and competitors.
Deep insights are harder to glean, says Hussain. “Identifying relevant deep human insights is a foundational marketing skill, and not an easy one. However, once we have identified it, the next challenge lies in our ability to clearly translate that insight into experiences in the marketplace that will meet or exceed our customer’s expectations.
“Many of us stop there, but we are just at the starting blocks. Once we launch a set of experiences into the marketplace, we must leverage technology and data to adjust more real-time. We need to understand if our customers are having a positive experience, and if not, it is imperative that we adjust.”
Real-time responses are a goal for Roche, says Lefevere. “In the US and a couple of other countries, we are closer but, at the enterprise level, we’re not quite at the real-time responding level. We don't have a ‘command center’ where people are monitoring minute by minute, but we are on the path to that. As a regulated products company, we're still struggling a little bit with how to make that a reality. It is certainly within 24 hours, and in the US within a matter of minutes to an hour, but that’s not everywhere across our organization.”
The speed and nature of response to customer feedback varies widely, in no small part due to the complexity of the regulatory environment and embedded cultures among staff.
“Real-time responding may be difficult in a highly regulated environment like pharma, but it's absolutely possible, and the technology is the least of our challenges,” says Hussain. “It's the processes and the people that are our primary challenges. We need to ensure we're holding ourselves to the highest standard of delivering on-label, accurate information that is customer-friendly, relevant and understandable. Sometimes these things are in competition; our job now is to reconcile the conflict to ensure we provide meaningful information more real-time.”
Work in progress
If pharma wants to be a genuine partner to its customers, it has a way to go, says Torkild Stenbock, until recently Global Marketing and Launch Team Leader at Vifor Pharma. “I’m not very impressed with how we are feeding back customer insights. It often doesn’t become important until it’s critical – when something has a dark impact on the business model, then we start listening, but if it doesn’t have this impact, we don’t tend to listen."
Preconceptions can be an issue. “We say we listen to the customer but we are very focused on listening to what we're told to find, and when we find things we don't like, we just throw them away,” he adds. “You sit with customers doing market research, and suddenly when they say something that you have also thought, you say, ‘That’s right,’ and you listen. All your campaigns and all your focus are based on feedback that confirm your own beliefs, instead of what your customers actually said. Confirmation bias is natural, in all industries and all phases of life, but we can do this better.”
Creating an open-minded internal culture is as important as new systems, says Lefevere. “Behavior change is extremely difficult. Change management is an ongoing activity and people only change when they're either incentivized, or they have to. Change management means ongoing communication.”
Stenbock would like to see pharma companies dreaming bigger. “When you look at the last 10 or 20 years, what big changes have you seen? The main change has been technological development, but the package and the solution look a lot like many years ago. Instead of putting insights on a page, it’s on an iPad, instead of an iPad, it’s an app; the tools are different, but the goal is the same, and iteration is not very often seen. It’s not a real development of what you are trying to do with your customer image.”
Blue-sky thinking may be required to get pharma out of a reliance on technology to solve the very human issue of customer experience, says Stenbock. “We need to find benchmarks that work well in other industries and see how they do it. Maybe we can borrow or steal some of that and start thinking about how we can add to it.”
“I don't know that I've ever run across anyone who's not aspiring to customer-centricity,” says Hussain. “While it can be challenging and daunting at times, it is our responsibility to forge the path forward. Our customers are waiting, and in this case, our customers are patients who may benefit from the medicines we are bringing to market. We have the privilege to change people’s lives for the better.”
Jim Lefevre will be sharing his insights at our upcoming Marketing and Customer Experience USA event in November. Click here to find out more.
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