Extensive research across industries over the past two decades shows that customers do more business with companies that deliver better experiences. Additionally, organizations that prioritize customer experience are more valuable than those that don’t. Companies that effectively measure and manage customer experience outperform their competitors in terms of key bottom line measures including profitability, revenue growth, shareholder value and stock market performance.

This is as true in pharma as it is elsewhere.

A large recent study by McKinsey quantitatively demonstrates that customer experience in pharma has bottom line impact, concluding that “paying more attention to the customer experience, (pharma) companies can not only increase satisfaction but also boost sales and market share”.

Pharma customers – whether we’re talking about HCPs, patients or payers – are people too, and the basic behavioral principles of customer experience apply to them just as they do in every other business environment. Of course, product efficacy and safety are critical elements, but they are not the ONLY factors in the broader framework of customer experience in pharma.

In today’s connected world, pharma customers’ expectations are changing. They compare their experiences with pharma companies not just to other pharma, but to other service providers including wireless and internet providers, investment and financial institutions, even retail businesses like Amazon and Apple.

Awareness (and measurement) of customer experience may have arrived late in healthcare, but it is here to stay. The Affordable Care Act has institutionalized customer experience metrics through CAHPS and other measurement standards and requirements. And leading healthcare organizations like GE Healthcare, Abbvie, Mayo Clinic, Eli Lilly, and Cleveland Clinic have embraced customer experience as a key strategic focus and an important element of their organizational performance measurement.

Why do most customer experience metrics in pharma fall short?

Most pharma companies have multiple sources of customer experience data, but those sources tend to be fragmented and isolated. They include call center data, usage and attitude studies, brand or brand equity trackers, sales force VOC measures, digital channel marketing metrics, corporate reputation assessments and customer satisfaction surveys. All of these data inputs are important. But having multiple sources is simply not enough.

This fragmentation and isolation indicates the lack of a cohesive strategy and execution for a truly customer-centric focus. And it tends to drive action that is also fragmented and isolated.

Take, for example, a situation where a company’s sales force metrics indicate a level of HCP engagement with the sales force that lags behind its competitors. Sales leadership sees the data and pulls the levers available to them: adjusting call frequency, messaging or sample volume. But the root cause for the sales force engagement problem might be associated with engagement from the medical side of the organization. Or perhaps the digital channel content offered by the company is failing to adequately support or reinforce its sales communication.

If either of those is the case, adjustments to call frequency, messaging or sample volume won’t solve the problem. Resources and effort would be invested with no improvement to HCP engagement. What’s worse is that other parts of the organization may be reacting to their own isolated metrics and “pulling levers” in a way which is, at best, uncoordinated and wasteful and, at worst, counterproductive and detrimental.

What is the vision for a better approach?

Pharma companies urgently need a more holistic, cohesive, and actionable framework of customer experience measurement to understand the multidimensional nature of their customer relationships. And only a more holistic and cohesive approach will allow companies to take action to truly improve those relationships and build long-term equity with those customers. Because that is the ultimate goal of CX focus in pharma. When companies prioritize customer relationships, they can build long-term profitability and growth, despite product life cycles and patent expiries.

This requires a holistic, cross-functional approach to understanding how all the elements – sales force, medical, marketing, digital channels, products, corporate reputation – fit together at both a macro (factor) level and a micro (attribute) level to create equity with customers. This integrated approach to identifying the various elements and quantitatively analyzing their relationship with each other and with overall customer equity (as a dependent variable) provides a framework for coordinated action that ultimately drives results. Anything less is a disjointed strategy that relies on insufficient data to provide solutions based on conjecture.

No pharma company would even consider making data-driven decisions regarding pipeline products that are as poorly informed as the customer experience decisions they’re making every day.

Based on our experience in building customer experience insights and measurement in pharmaceutical companies, the journey toward better customer experience starts with defining a pilot focus. We suggest focusing on a particular therapeutic area within a limited geography for the initial work, establishing a solid foundation for the approach and outputs.

Next comes an assessment of the customer insights, voice of the customer research and customer experience data available. These could include market research, tracker data, call center inputs, customer journey maps, touchpoint analyses and other inputs. Once this inventory of inputs is complete, a gap analysis reveals what is missing in the data to tell the complete story.

Finally, companies should systematically fill these gaps to build a unique, holistic and fully integrated customer experience model which drives coordinated action that resonates with pharma customers to build long-term equity and loyalty. This process can then be replicated and scaled across other therapeutic areas and geographies for the client organization.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Even though pharma is behind in customer experience measurement, we’ve seen companies make rapid progress. Why not take the first steps this year!