How to Improve Pharma Customer Experience: 3 Strategies From CX Leaders

Patient Services | Pharma | PeopleMetrics LIVE

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Trusted Experience Management Partners

How to Improve Pharma Customer Experience: 3 Strategies From CX Leaders

Pharma CX is relatively new and super exciting. Customer focus in the pharmaceutical industry means measuring the experiences that patients, caregivers and HCPs have with the support services provided by Pharma companies. Changing the focus from product to experience - especially during launch - can significantly impact overall treatment preparedness and adherence over time.

In this session, we shared 3 tried-and-true CX strategies from traditional industries like hospitality and retail and apply them to the pharmaceutical sector.

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[GRAPHIC: "Coming Up..."]

Sean McDade: We're talking about like 99% of patients who are satisfied with patient support services feel confident that they're ready to begin treatment. And that's why we're doing this. It's not just to create great experiences. It's because that does convert to behavior...


[TITLE: PeopleMetrics LIVE! Pharma Patient Support Services]

Madeline Good:
Hi everyone, welcome to PeopleMetrics LIVE! Today we are talking about how to improve Pharma customer experience, or CX, and we'll be applying 3 tried-and-true CX strategies from traditional industries such as hospitality and retail to Patient Support Services teams in the pharmaceutical sector. If you've got questions for our team, please drop them in the comments below, and we'll be sure to answer them. Sean, let's kick it off. I'm going to throw this first question to you - 
what is Pharma CX exactly, and why should pharmaceutical companies - particularly Patient Support Services teams - be paying 
attention to customer experience?

Sean: Well Madeline, thank you for that. We've worked with companies in all sorts of industries over the past 20 years... hospitality, retail... Like you said... telecommunications. They've been using what we would call "customer experience principles" for a long time. And we've also worked in the pharmaceutical industry for almost all those 20 years as well. And what we're seeing more and more is what I'm calling a "mindset shift" in Pharma away from products to experiences. And what Pharma CX really is is applying some of those principles from traditional customer experience industries to the pharmaceutical sector and the key 
stakeholders in that sector - namely patients, HCPs, caregivers and other key stakeholders for pharmaceutical companies. So instead of
focusing on, you know, what products can we send out to those 
constituencies, the mind shift is how can we create great experiences for those different groups? My controversial opinion today is: pharmaceutical companies do not produce products anymore, they produce experiences, ultimately. Kirk, what do you think of that? You've been involved in this for a long time. Do you think I'm crazy, or is there any merit to this?

Kirk Lohbauer: Yes, well the good news is I don't think you're crazy. I do agree with this opinion, and I think, at its core, it really makes sense of... if you are just launching a product, that's a failure. And it's similar to - and we call it a form of customer experience because it is like the customer experience you have with any company. I can buy, uh, you know, whether it's pots and pans, I can get this from anywhere, but it's really who can provide me the best experience to get this product that I need? That's who I choose to get it from, and when it comes to the pharma industry, the stakes are much higher because it's not just me buying, you know, something for my home - it's me making choices that will improve my livelihood. And so the stakes are very high. It's not just the product, it's the experience.

Sean: Let me define it a little bit better - a little bit more specifically... So the Pharma CX mindset is pervasive across the organization. So this includes clinical - you know, what is the patient experience through clinical trials? We're not talking necessarily about the efficacy of the medication - the kind of experience we're talking about the experience of them joining your trial and making it through, however long that is. And that's everything from, you know, do they know how to get to the site? Do they understand what the literature says? Do they know what the next phase is? Are 
they going to have results shared with them? It's all these things,  right? I mean we're talking clinical experiences. Product launch is also important. You can think about experiences with product launch - everybody from HCPs to the patients themselves to all the different other entities that are involved in a product launch. And then, as Madeline said, a lot of the work we do with PeopleMetrics around Patient Support Services and how they can provide superior experiences to patients, HCPs and caregivers as patients begin to onboard onto the new medication and hopefully adhere over time and get the outcomes they need. And now, you talked a little bit, Kirk, about, you know, the stakes are high... The stakes are really high on this. I mean, I love working with hospitality companies and helping them get their checkout process to be more efficient and a better experience, but that's kind of small potatoes compared to helping a pharmaceutical company improve their support services so patients have a better experience and then they onboard into medications that will provide them outcomes like a better quality of life or perhaps, you know, saving their life, you know? The stakes are extremely high to make these experiences the best they can be, and you know you've seen this data over the years and you know we see it time and time again in Patient Support Services in particular.

Kirk: Yeah, absolutely. And I think a really important thing you're mentioning there is pharma customer experience is about 
a mindset shift,  in that it is about what do you see as your priorities as a as a company, and you know, when we think of it in the traditional customer experience space, if you are a company that's delivering a customer product and you're not focused on 
customer experience, then, you know, your only focus might be on units sold or something along those lines. And ultimately, your customer experience will suffer. Your sales will suffer because you're not keeping in touch with what the customer needs. And then in pharmaceutical industry, what we're seeing is they're realizing this as well, in that if you are just focused on a kind of unit number and this is what you're tracking, you're not aware of the patient experience. What's the actual day-to-day experience of being on this medication, and that is a major gap that hurts not just some number, but hurts that day-to-day experience for the patient.

Sean: So Kirk, you know, and Madeline, I've been working on this book, right? So one of the things that I looked at... I think I looked at 50 different pharmaceutical company mission statement slash vision statements, right? You know, it's in the annual report, it's public information... and like 90 of them have one of these three phrases in it: "patient-centric," "patient-focused," or "patient-first" Right? They all have something like that, like "we want to have true patient-centricity," right? And we all agree - I don't think anybody disagrees with that, right? That's something that's hard to disagree with. The question is not, you know, can we write these statements  on a report? It's how do we truly become that, right? And how does everybody in the organization link to that kind of mission and rally around it? And you know what I found is there's a lot of confusion around that - so some people say, "okay, you're patient-centric, if you're a pharma company, if you're producing high quality products that solve... that cure disease, right? And that's certainly important. And without that, it's it's hard to have much else. But if that's all you rely on, your product launch isn't going to be as successful as it can be, or could be - and the ongoing sales of the product won't be as successful as it can be, or could be. So Kirk, if you were just to kind of summarize... like what would it take, you think... if you had to give one recommendation to a pharmaceutical company, what would it be to become more customer, or patient-centric? What would be the one thing that you would say you should be doing?

Kirk: Well, the number one thing that you have to do is patient listening - actually hearing from your patients. It's easy for me to have an idea in my head of "oh, I know what patients think," but if you're not hearing that directly from patients - totally unaccounted for, totally unverified - it's easy for you to just go on your own track of "here's what I think," not actually taking their daily experience into account. So let's take Patient Support Services as an example, because it's good to kind of wrap our arms around something tangible. So you know lots of pharmaceutical companies are are investing in this important area to help patients onboard into new medication, right? And then support them in their patient journey over time. Now, a lot of that begins with the HCP, right? So there's communication sent to the HCP, and the HCP is a critical part of communicating what's even available to patients, right? So the HCP is a key conduit. But if you stop with the HCP and you don't go down to the patient, what do you think pharmaceutical companies are losing there if they're just looking at HCP feedback? Well, if you just stop at the the HCP, then clearly what you're missing out on is that understanding of kind of the ultimate users and beneficiaries of this treatment. How are we delivering on that? That's the ultimate core delivery. You're not delivering to HCPs. We're not making medications for HCPs, we're making it for patients. And so if we're not hearing from them, that's what you're missing out on.

Sean: Yeah, I mean we think HCPs, and caregivers 
for that matter, are critical stakeholders in Patient Support Services
teams. And thinking about Pharma CX in general, if you're not getting to that patient, you're not getting the full picture. It's extremely important to listen to patients on a regular basis from the time they're onboarding to a new medication, and checking in over time over their treatment journey. Now that's really the first principle, right, that we were talking about, Madeline. We're getting to this, you said there'll be three and the first one was 
that one.

Madeline: Right, exactly. And you know, you're talking about patient centricity being a part of a mission statement for pharmaceutical companies. Well we can flip that and look at traditional CX and mission statements of companies like hotels restaurants, things like that, that claim to be customer-centric. And the the point is the same, right? That in order to be customer-centric or patient-centric, no matter what the industry, it all starts with doing that listening that you mentioned. Part of being a patient-centric organization and also listening to patients is listening to patients and measuring the customer experience for pharma across the entire treatment journey. Can you guys speak a little bit about that and what it means to measure across the entire journey?

Let's just talk about some big great consumer brands these days, right? So we'll throw out somebody like Peloton, somebody like Spotify, somebody like Apple, somebody like Hyatt... These companies obsess over every interaction they have with customers. And not just obsess... they have data on every one of them, right? They have both behavioral data - what customers are doing - and then they have attitudinal data - how customers are feeling, right? And they literally obsess over every touchpoint. And what a touch point simply is, is an interaction they have with a customer, right? So touchpoints can range from somebody going onto a website, to having an in-person interaction, to,  you know, having a company visit their home to get something done installed or whatever, right So there's all these different touchpoints. These companies obsess over these touchpoints and in turn, they are able to create an emotional connection with their customer. And when you create 
an emotional connection with your customer, what you get typically are things like... I'm recommending them, I'm buying more from them, I feel like I'm going to be a lifelong customer for them, etc. And pharma can use those same principles. Let's just take Patient Support Services as an example in mapping out that journey, right Kirk? And you know this journey better than most, so why don't you talk a little bit about what that journey looks like and 
how they possibly could measure it?

Yeah, absolutely - and to translate from this idea of, you know, these are standards that are already being practiced in the traditional customer experience space, you know, another one of those leaders that comes to mind is Disney, where, you know, if you're going to Disney World, they have those free shuttles that take you from the airport to Disney World. Why? Because they understand my experience doesn't start at the door, my experience starts if you're coming off at the airport and you have a bad airport experience, that impacts your experience at the resort and your desire to come back and return. And then you translate that to the patient experience space, the patient journey is a long one - it starts of course from being symptomatic - from getting that diagnosis. Then from being prescribed to treatment, going through the insurance process, beginning treatment, maintaining treatment... and then once you're actually on treatment, finding out how to navigate these daily activities that will change. It's not the same throughout the year. Maybe I have a change in insurance provider,, or maybe I go traveling for the first time and what's that like on my treatment? And these are the things that it's easy to lose sight of if you're just focused on "we've prescribed, that's it." Then you've got these blinders on to a whole rest of the journey that Patient Support Services need to be aware of.

Sean: And you know, we've developed a model at PeopleMetrics -  and we could do a PeopleMetrics LIVE! on this model at some point - but you know, that model outlines specific touchpoints that patients go through typically when they go on to a new medication. Like you said, you know, they have to have it prescribed by the physician - diagnosed and prescribed - and then they need support. It's not like they magically - especially for more complex conditions and rare disease - they don't just magically get on this medication, right? So they need help and the pharmaceutical companies more and more are providing help, which is great, and it gives pharmaceutical companies a better opportunity to connect with that patient. But they need help in financing it. Like they need to understand what the insurance situation is for that drug, they need to know, like you said, where am I going to get it? Is it going to be at my CVS? Is it going to be at a specialty pharmacy? What is it going to be? The next point is if it's an administrated drug, how do I administer this? Where do I go to get it administered? These are extremely important touchpoints that map out a patient journey.

Kirk: Yeah, and what I'd add to that is... this is common knowledge, as we keep saying, in the customer experience space. And I think what what we keep finding is that this is just not common knowledge in the pharma space of, you know, the two lessons we've spoken to as far as 1) you need to listen, 2) you need to listen throughout the journey... Something I'll often hear when I'm speaking to someone who's considering services is often if they have a third party provider like a Hub, they'll say, "oh, they're already doing it," or you know, "they do quality assurance on a few calls." That's not listening throughout - that's "I have one provider who owns a part of this experience and they do feedback at one point." Therefore, you know, I've checked the box - I'm doing patient listening. That, in any other customer experience space,  would not suffice. And it certainly doesn't suffice in the patient space.

Sean: Yeah, and you know, the patient space also has lots of parallels to the customer experience space and the whole support area. The general support area where now pharmaceutical companies - either through Hubs or through internal case managers or contact centers call centers are opening up support lines for patients to call in and have their questions answered - we find that that's a huge touchpoint. And perhaps that support is thrown into a digital form, either through a portal or a website for drugs that are more a mass market... and you know, it doesn't make sense to have that in-person support for them, but no matter how you are providing that support, measuring that experience of the support is absolutely critical. Every great CX company I know really does that well - like that support touchpoint, they'e measuring lots and lots of experiences, they're following up on ones that aren't acceptable, and they're learning from every single one of them to improve the experience in the future. And that's another touchpoint that's critical.

Kirk: Yeah absolutely, I think, you know, just a core thing is that often... when you have a good customer experience, either in pharmaceutical or any other space, it comes down to consistency. I know what to expect and I had a good experience every time. And so that's where, of course, that treatment journey comes in is... if you aren't listening at each point in the journey, you don't know where it's inconsistent. You don't know where those pitfalls are. And then you don't know how to respond accordingly.

Madeline: This is a great opportunity too to just speak about the CX principle of the "moment of truth" in terms of, you know, if you're thinking of your entire experience in CX, what is that one experience that if you get it wrong, you might lose a customer, or a patient might not continue with their treatment? I'll ask you, Kirk - what would you say is the number one "moment of truth" when you're talking about Pharma Patient Support Services and pharma companies in the journey?

Kirk: Certainly the most critical one is onboarding. And there's a lot, of course, I think anyone who's on Support Services teams would understand - there's a lot that goes on there. It's not just one thing that happens during onboarding. It's the financial component, it's the physical access component,  it's administering the medication... but that's a key touchpoint, so if you're missing out on that, then that's the biggest risk, of course - if you don't understand. But then, all of those things that are so critical during onboarding of, you know, that financial access, physical access, maintaining - later on, these will come up again as pieces that are important. Patient onboarding is all at once, but then these continue through the patient journey.

Sean: I'll throw this out there, Madeline. I think the moment of 
truth is when a pharmaceutical company decides to provide patient support services and informs physicians - the HCPs - that they're available, and makes it clear what is available and how the patients can be helped. Because Kirk, we've seen that patients who 
are satisfied with Patient Support Services - almost everyone who is satisfied with all of those touchpoints that we mentioned - say they're prepared to begin treatment... and they all do. Like, we're talking about like, 99% of them, right? Who are satisfied with Patient Support Services feel confident that they're ready to begin treatment. And that's why we're doing this - it's not just to create great experiences - it's because that does convert to behavior.

Kirk: Precisely, yeah. And that's exactly the case, you know, we do it because we know it works - and that if you have a bad experience, that changes your decisions later on. I think you were right to bring in the HCPs as well, because this is of course a part of these support services. We're supporting the patient's ability... and we're supporting the HCPs. Both of those need to have a good experience, because if you're an HCP and you hear from your patients how frustrated they are, that impacts your decision making as far as, "what do I do with my future patients who have the same condition?" And if you're an HCP and you find it frustrating... You know, if the the start form is more frustrating than others, or what have you, and this is the kind of information we hear... that impacts your decisions later on when you're making future prescriptions, right? And we know the HCP is the one that's telling the patient what support services are available in most cases, right? So they have to be on board, and they have to be communicated with and and know what's going on. 

Sean: You know, the good news is we're seeing more and more patient support services. First of all, patient awareness is way up, 
investment is way up, and you know, it's definitely working. I mean, it's not perfect and I still think there's a lot of principles from CX that can be applied here, and we're talking about a couple of them today. But you know, compared to five years ago, it's like night and day, right, in terms of what's being offered.

Kirk: Yeah, absolutely. Certainly it's more ubiquitous. There's two sides of the coin with this... this is great news because of course, the idea is these programs work. That's why they're becoming more and more common - they help patients onboard and give them a better support experience throughout the medication. The flip side of that is they're aware of it and they know what to expect. And then if you aren't up to par, patients are going to know because they're using these services.

Sean: So Kirk, the last one, and I'll throw you an intro on it: isn't this all just market research anyway? What's the difference between this and just doing a study like once a year or once every two years?

Kirk: That's a great question, and I think the last major lesson from customer experience is that this data - what you collect when you are doing patient listening - needs to be shared in real time with the people who are responsible. That is a key mindset shift from how market research is conducted. And then as Sean mentioned, we've been in the pharmaceutical space now for 20 years - market research isn't new to pharmaceutical companies. They will field a study, hand it off to a market research lead, share that with a brand lead, and then you know the answer. Patient listening is where in real time you're getting this feedback and sharing this with a case manager or acting on a patient's need. That's very new and that's what you need to do.

Sean: This is a continuous stream of feedback, right? So while we will do what we call "relationship studies," where we go out to all patients that you may have served with Patient Support Services and get a snapshot - most of the work we do is after a specific touchpoint. It's normally something like onboarding or after 6 months or 12 months - something like that... But the data is consistently coming in, so there's always something to learn from, to react to, to get better at. And so that's a big difference too, I think, versus something like a market research study.

Kirk: Yeah, and that real-time nature is very important because with a lot of these programs, it's about correcting a negative experience in the moment, i.e. "I'm dissatisfied with this," or "there's something that I don't understand about this aspect of my treatment..." - that's not something that you just want to kind of collate over time and say here's where you know broadly about our patients' experience. The largest issues... that's something that you want to hear from the patient immediately and then follow up with that  individual patient immediately. And you know, speaking to that, when we're talking about real-time patient listening and sharing that feedback with the people who are responsible for that patient experience... it's not anonymous. This is feedback where you want to know the patient who gave that feedback and you want to follow up with them.

Sean: There are rules in terms of PPI that we follow and all that, but that's absolutely true. The beauty of this is things can be changed on the fly, so if you notice that some literature that you've created may not be resonating or is confusing, that's something that you can get from this stream of feedback from your patients. Then you can change it and see what impact that made.

Madeline: Right, so because you're getting that continuous stream of data and feedback from the key stakeholders, even if you're receiving feedback in real time about something that you can't necessarily change right away... for example, if your literature has  the problem that Sean was mentioning, but it's going to take you some time to make adjustments to that, at least you know in real time and can talk to your support teams about talking patients through that challenge while you're working on fixing it.

Kirk: Absolutely, and I think just one thing I would note on that is that especially the case in the pharmaceutical customer experience, feedback is often very specific. It's often because each medication has its own unique process of, "here's how you gain access, here's how you receive this treatment" on an ongoing basis. There aren't often generalities or generalizations you can make of, "here's how we can improve the patient experience..." It's often something specific to you, where you need to hear from the HCP or from the patient: "here's what I don't like about this documentation, or what I don't like about this this pharmacy..." These aren't industry trends that you can learn - this is your company specifically and your experience.

Madeline: Well this is all great guys. So just to recap the three
points that we made today about 3 CX principles applied to
the pharmaceutical sector... So number one, if you're looking to be patient-centric and adhere to your company mission statement, first and foremost, you want to be listening to patients - which means
not just once in a while, but all the time on a consistent basis. Secondly, be measuring that patient experience across the entire treatment journey - and I should say customer experience, because we're also speaking about HCPs, caregivers and any other stakeholders that are interacting with your services. And then third,
to share that feedback in real time with the people who are responsible for the patient experience so that you can be making changes to that constantly. Anything else you guys want to add to
that in terms of CX best practices that we can apply to pharma, or are we ready for a couple questions?

Sean: I think we're ready, and I think this is a good amount of information to provide here and let folks absorb. But I think it's an exciting area. Pharma CX is I think going to change pharma for the better.

Kirk: For sure, I agree.

Madeline: I agree well. We've got time for one question here, and I'll toss it to you guys. So how do support programs generally collect  feedback from patients and HCPs?

Kirk: Yeah, I can take that. The most common way you're generally collecting feedback, and really the best way - what you want to do is what we were describing: this real-time feedback. And it's commonly an email survey that's going out to patients after an interaction with a support team. You're triggering a survey based off of that interaction that goes out as an email invite to that patient. That's the best way to do it if you're if you're starting a feedback program from scratch. The benefits of that is that with an email web server you get slightly longer form feedback. They can fill out an open end, unlike an IVR survey, so you get richer feedback. Also what we find is that patients want to respond - response rates in Patient Support Services tend to be fairly high for email surveys -  anywhere from 15 to 30% - so you can get a good volume of feedback, hear from folks, and really make significant changes. So that's the best way to do it today.

Madeline: Awesome. Well thank you both so much - this was a great conversation about how to improve pharma customer experience using some best practices from CX. I appreciate both of your time today, and on behalf of everyone at PeopleMetrics, thank you for joining us for #PeopleMetricsLIVE

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Posted on 01-14-2021