Life sciences customer experience: What’s next?

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Aaron Bean
Director, Life Sciences
Ernst & Young LLP, UK

Frank Kumli
Executive Director, Life Sciences
Ernst & Young AG, Switzerland

Gabriele Vanoli
Partner, Life Sciences
Ernst & Young AG, Switzerland

For years, there has been talk about how best to evolve the commercial model to move from push-based to pull-based models. Over the past year, there has been growing evidence in the industry of a change of approach to one that is more strategic, putting the necessary customer engagement capabilities and enablers in place.

What it takes to win in markets has fundamentally changed. Customer leaders (such as Uber, Alphabet and Apple) have fundamentally redefined what customers expect across all industries. More than ever, customers are shaped by their experiences in dealing with companies in all walks of life.

The issue is now understood

In response, life sciences leaders are beginning to think “outside in” rather than “inside out,” emphasizing customer experience as the starting point and moving away from a “build it and they will come” mentality that was prevalent in marketing automation, dashboarding and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions.

Success stories around multichannel engagement are also multiplying. When taking stock of what their organizations are currently doing, executives are immediately confronted with an extremely fragmented landscape of customer engagement-related initiatives, each pursuing different business goals, using different tactics and relying on a myriad of external agencies. This fragmentation is increased by the siloed approaches within countries, across business units and brands.

The key questions these executives are grappling with are: “where is the value?”, “how do we deploy?” and “how do we make it sustainable?”

Strategy — where is the value in customer experience?

Any meaningful journey starts with defining a destination. Deep insight is critical to understanding customers’ needs, behaviors and attitudes, but most insight efforts still focus too heavily on customers’ perceptions and awareness of a product or key message. To get this right, life sciences needs a broader and more aligned approach to customer engagement design and experience. The best companies obsess over solving their customers’ biggest problems first, knowing that if they do, the relationship will be secure. It’s time to engage customers beyond the simple provision or exchange of information.

The competitive environment has moved toward value-adding services that allow companies to differentiate from the competition or create new markets. For life sciences, there are three strategic paths to take:

  1. Accelerating the current business: Doing “more of the same” but doing it better, and engaging the customer with information along their decision-making process.
  2. Adding new services: Providing services that help the customer in their day jobs and support their decision-making by providing services that will create a level of relationship with the company not necessarily linked to prescription and treatment.
  3. Exploring new territories: Providing services “beyond the pill” - addressing new business models that can potentially be monetized with payers or patients.

In life sciences, the bulk of the effort is often focused on initiatives targeted at accelerating the current business model and some aimed at exploring new services. Following the second path (new services) is an effective way to learn by doing and, therefore, prepare for the future, to move beyond the pill and focus on delivering health care outcomes.

Deployment model — how do we deliver the experience to extract the value?

Delivering a great experience requires new capabilities. Consistency is critical, as experiences are built up over time, with every interaction. One poor experience can ruin all the hard work built up over years of engagement. Consistency requires a balanced approach, having the right blend of focus on technology, business processes, data and insight, and capability development of their people. Sacrificing any one of these leads to weak spots that put your target experience at risk.

Any investment and road map need to be aligned to the local market challenges to enable them to be focused on the right areas and to deliver value. The role of global or the region should be to foster sharing and alignment across markets where it makes sense, such as in content management or training, and leverage centers of excellence and deep expertise across markets.

The design of a global and regional operating model is determined very much by the interplay between a company’s culture and its overall organizational setup. The extent to which the end model will be centralized versus decentralized will be a significant determining factor. Irrespective of the end state, centers of excellence can be one of the best options to support countries as they implement their road maps. These can provide direction and know-how, as well as hands-on implementation teams during this phase.

In our experience, an effective vehicle for deployment is to focus on addressing real business issues. This not only proves the value of the approach by delivering rapid results, but also focuses investment and effort where it is most needed and helps cut across silos and functions that can often be reinforced in the way deployment programs are managed.

Sustainability — how to make it stick?

We believe sustainable solutions are those that are developed and deployed with the following four ingredients.

To achieve successful customer engagement, commercial executives need to move away from the temptation to define all of a problem’s parameters, thereby creating a single solution in a linear fashion. Instead, they should invert their thought process and start with a deep understanding of the end customer, enabling them to develop, in an iterative approach, what the customer actually wants.

  • 1. Solutions that are focused on customer needs

    Most industries have long embraced design thinking as an approach that enables the development of solutions that may be fully focused on customer needs, helping those customers achieve specific goals. Even though life sciences has only recently embraced design thinking, it is bringing the right perspective at the right time.

  • 2. Solutions that can be successfully deployed in dynamic environments

    When deploying initiatives targeted at customers within life sciences, the working environment is challenging. Market dynamics are very different across countries, making a one-size-fits-all solution a no-go. Additionally, the organization itself is siloed and fragmented, making it extremely challenging to bring all the required parties together to deploy a solution.

    Using an agile approach to solution development and deployment can help tackle many of these hurdles. A solution that has been developed at headquarter level should quickly reach the minimum viable product stage, and then can be fine-tuned and honed to the specificities of the local market conditions in iteration with the local affiliates.

    For local deployment, applying selected elements of agile project management approaches has proved to be very successful in breaking silos and aligning different stakeholders. This enables an organization to allow the relevant requirements and solutions to evolve through collaboration between these cross-functional teams.

  • 3. Solutions that can be deployed in alignment with legal and regulatory considerations

    Including legal and regulatory colleagues in the team is critical for assessing what is possible in each country when addressing the specific customer's needs. Legal and regulatory experts should also be involved in all the solution design activities. This will provide insights for the design team, helping them to understand what’s possible, while also feeding into the proposed approaches and solutions at an early stage. They can also support in-country deployment by working alongside local legal and compliance teams.

  • 4. Solutions that are endorsed and driven by the local teams

    In our experience, 70% of the effort in customer engagement or multichannel management is change management. One of the main enablers of change is the creation of a shared vision between headquarters and affiliates. This helps promote affiliate engagement, involvement and buy-in among the different local teams. A program steering committee should be put in place and given the right level of accountability, with a mix of headquarter and local representation from both the business and the technology side of the things.

What’s next?

For executives embarking on the largescale deployment of multichannel management initiatives, the prospects can seem daunting: multiple markets with different and evolving needs, a myriad of ongoing initiatives and pilots across markets, business units and brands, and, at the same time, multiple local success stories that need to be encouraged and leveraged across markets.

Successful organizations are those that take the time to step back and recognize that, in order to be market leaders, they don’t need to try to be all things to all customers. Instead, they focus on the elements that their customers value most. In this way, they are able to differentiate themselves from the competition.

This article is an extract from Performance, Volume 8, Issue 4, November 2016. The full journal is available at