Category Archives: Customer engagement

Building trust with customers is achievable. But is it worth the effort?

It seems that most folks agree that the industry is suffering from a trust deficit and that it needs to change the way it is perceived, but, I think it is important to say that while this is a problem common right across the industry it is a problem that needs to be addressed by each individual company and they should not wait for the industry as a whole to act.

Why? A couple of reasons stand out: it is incredibly difficult to change the perception of a whole industry. There is always likely to be an individual company that ‘lets the whole side down’, and the other reason is that there should be an incredible competitive advantage to the company that changes it’s behavior and is perceived as being different and better than any of its competitors.

I don’t think we need to discuss the economic benefits of being trusted or the compelling benefits of being a trusted organisation, lets take that as a given, and focus on some of the practical measures that can be taken to build trust with customers and stakeholders?

It’s actually not that hard, and contrary to popular belief, it does not take too long and it is not expensive, but it does require change.

So, like most programs this is all about change management and as such requires some basic fundamentals:

  • Clear ownership linked to the executive committee and responsible for installation into the company culture
  • Senior level active sponsorship
  • Articulate the need for change, the burning platform
  • A clear, succinct, well articulated strategy, preferably one that is written down and available across the organization
  • This is not a project, or a pilot, or a test. This is how the organization as a whole will operate from now on
  • Provide tools and training so that people know what to do
  • Align rewards and recognition to outcomes

There is nothing in this list that is new or difficult per sec. The issues exist around implementation and execution.

First, it is important to keep in mind that this requires action, not words. Telling stakeholders that they should trust ‘you’ most often has the opposite effect. When the Chief Executive Officer of Pfizer, Ian Read recently told UK MP’s that they needed to trust him in the potential AZ merger, the message probably did not have the effect Mr. Read intended. Building trust and being trustworthy are built by actions over time.

I think most of us, as human beings know what it takes to build trust. Identifying what needs to be done is relatively easy and most corporations would already have a pretty clear of what needs to be done. Doing it is another issue.

Charles Green, author of Trust Based Selling, identifies the single most important behavour that limits building trust, and for him it is ‘self interest’. When an individual or company is focused on itself first, and has an expectation of reciprocity then it is difficult to be trusted.

In other words, I will only do this because I get a benefit from doing it and I expect something in return.

Pharma have a reputation and track record of being not only internally focused but also self-absorbed so this shift away from self-interest is going to be hard.

So what can a pharma company do today?

My recommendation is to start small, after all it is the little things that have the most power to surprise and delight customers (they expect the big things to work and to be right).

Again, Charles Green’s recipe for building trust is:

  •  Speak more truth
  • Intimacy – take more risks
  • Reliability – do more service
  • Self orientation – think more of others

David Horsager in his book Edge of Truth has 8 foundational pillars:

  •  Consistency
  • Clarity – people trust what is clear
  • Compassion – think beyond yourself
  • Character – do what is right over what is easy
  • Contribution – results are powerful in building trust
  • Competency – staying fresh, relevant and capable
  • Connection – ask questions, listen, establish genuine connections
  • Commitment – stick with it

There is no rocket science here but it takes effort and purpose, and in pharma’s case a commitment to make it happen. For me the biggest hurdles for the industry are twofold; transparency and self-interest.

Let’s look at these two aspects in more detail and while they are obviously closely related it is worth looking at them individually.

Transparency is more than just around clinical trials, although there continues to be a heated debate on this topic as there is around pricing, and while the industry is addressing aspects of both of these they remain major stumbling blocks.

Of course the current approach is usually defended on the basis on commercial sensitivity, and while this is true to some extent, it should not stop the company being more transparent than it is today. And there are other things that can be done.

For example with Account Management, does your company have a clear account plan for each account, is it written down, measured and monitored and most importantly, was it co-created with the client and shared with them and agreed with them. Building a plan with the customer, sharing with them the measures that you will use and the success measures you will both be comfortable with is an amazing way to build trust. If you want to build trust – and build fantastic relationships, building account plans like these are very powerful tools.

Self-interest is perhaps more complex. Today, many folks look at the industry and see ‘profits before patients’ and this perception is reinforced with pricing policies, the single minded focus on the company’s brands, the aggressive push around adherence, the approach to side effects and more.

In a trusting relationship, customers do not need to be convinced by companies that they have their best interests in mind, they know it. Pharma has a long way to go before its customer base is convinced that they have their best interests at heart.

The solution to both lack of transparency and self interest are action orientated – pharma needs to be proactive and look for opportunities to engage stakeholders and, as you look down this list of some of the things one can do to build trust, it is remarkable how similar the list is to what needs to be done to be more customer or patient focused. Indeed, it is hard to be patient focused without having a level of two way trust established, and this is clearly one of the reasons that such past initiatives have failed to produce the promised impact.

17 things you could start doing today that would help build trust:

  • Conduct meetings as if the customer was sitting at the table with you. How would that change your meetings?
  • Share objectives and plans with customers – not just brand plans. Be transparent!
  • Co-create account plans
  • Measure what is important to customers and share the results
  • Access your metrics for success and ensure right balance between long and short term objectives
  • Look beyond ROI to customer lifetime value and return on customer to ensure you are actively increasing customer value by building trust
  • Talk about customers, often and everywhere
  • Learn about customers, be curious, and share customer stories
  • Invite customers to become involved in customer advisory boards to have input into company strategy and planning (not brands)
  • Begin every problem solving discussion by asking what would be in the customers best interest
  • Provide easier access to clinical trial data
  • Stop pushing brand messages through marketing detail aids and truly engage customers in discussions that are more relevant to them
  • Encourage customer feedback – they don’t all want to talk to you about side effects, they have other concerns that you could help them with if you bothered to ask.
  • Engage the legal department and involve them in what needs to change – get them involved early with a clear expectation that their role is to help make this happen.
  • Be clear about expectations. Just because some of this is hard, don’t let it get derailed.
  • Dare to be different.
  • Involve all customer types not just HCP’s. Building trust with patients, payers, hospitals is critical.

Most important though is to stop doing things that do not actively build trust. Pharma does a lot of ‘stuff’ with customers, and like customer centricity and it’s newer relative, Patient Centricity, it is often thought of as doing something else, on top of what you have always done before. This is not an additive model, indeed, often doing less is more effective and in the case of building trust it is imperative that the company stop doing things that do not build trust.

And for most of pharma this is incredibly difficult to do.

Accenture wrote about the need to build trust and the importance of ‘aligning business strategy with customer values’ where company vision, messages and offerings are aligned with their customer’s core values. This alignment demonstrating to customers that the company is not merely focused on generating a profit.

How well aligned is most of pharma’s strategy with customers, for example payers? In simple terms payers want to improve patient outcomes and reduce the costs of healthcare delivery while maintaining quality and they want their customers to be satisfied with the healthcare they are receiving. And while pharma can clearly align with better patient outcomes, for pharma, that can only come at a price.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson ex CEO Carlson Companies summed it up very well ‘trust reduces transaction cost, it reduces the need for litigation and speeds commerce, it actually lubricates organisations and societies’.

Sounds like a whole lot of effort, but is it worth it? For me, I am not sure how you can become patient centric or customer focused or continue to be successful when so many of your customer don’t trust you and don’t see your company as trust worthy.

Only time will tell.





What do you KNOW about your customers?

No, this is not going to be about segmentation and targeting, we’ll save that for another day, what I want to do is focus on what ‘we’ the pharma industry know about our customers.

I’ve had lots of folks tell me how customer focused their company is; how the company works with customers everyday, and how many resources they allocate to customer facing roles and how much money they spend on customer research and so on. But when you scratch the surface, and I recommend you go and scratch it at your organization, I am sure you will uncover some very interesting insights.

As a start, it is an interesting exercise to ask your colleagues ‘who is the customer’? I’m sure you’ll get a bunch of different answers to this simple question. And, if you can’t agree on who the customer is……..what can I say?

I’ve heard lots of answers, including one that even identified company colleagues as customers, ‘internal customers’. How does that work? Is it still doctors, or does it now include nurses and other HCP’s, what about patients, caregivers, hospitals, payers, pharmacists, healthcare consumers? Clearly, having a good definition is a great way to start, that way your company will be aligned and focused on what matters most.

Pharma is a product-orientated industry. That probably is not going to change, this customer centricity, patient centricity discussion is not about moving from being product focused to customer focused, that is too big a step change for pharma right now, so this is about being more customer inclusive, realizing the importance and value of the customer and ultimately, for most businesses, it is the realization that ‘you’ will sell more product and be more profitable if you become more customer centric. It’s simply a better way of selling!

But, you need to be careful. If all you are doing this for is a cynical strategy to sell more stuff then beware. One of my favourite quotes of all times comes from Martha Rodgers of Peppers and Rodgers fame, she said, “If your goal is to sell more stuff to your customers you will compete on price. If your goal is to add value to your customers, then you’ll end up selling more stuff’.

So being customer focused is a better, more effective and, yes, more efficient way to sell, and it begins with what you know about your customers.

Go ahead and look at your own data, really dig into it, try doing it from a customers’ perspective and you’ll be amazed. Put yourself in the customers’ shoes and ask ‘what does the company really know about me’?

Look at call data. Do you have a single view of a customer, can you see all the interactions across all channels, with a particular customer, start at an individual customer level – don’t be tempted to do the segment average type approach.

Here’s what you are likely to find?

  • You don’t know much about an individual customer
  • You have good call data, but likely not consolidated across all channels and brands
  • You have some contact information, address, business phone etc probably not personal email addresses and other critical business information
  • There will be very little additional customer data – often precluded by out dated and overly conservative legal policies
  • Representatives have more customer information that they do not share with the company
  • Spend a disproportionate amount of time and effort with the wrong customers
  • There is no factual reason one customer is seen more often than another – it could be simply that reps have access
  • Unable to identify your most important customers
  • Some customers are not profitable, you expend too many resources and calls on the wrong customers
  • You don’t treat different customer differently, other than call rate.

Overall, there is very little customer insight to be found.

Most of pharma still, if we are talking healthcare providers, allocate resources according to customer value (their value to us), so a high value customer subset – lets call them A customers, get more calls. This has been around for decades and is still alive and well today.

In primary care in particular, this call rate is usually by brand or in some cases therapeutic area, but when you see the same HCP customer called on by different reps across different channels, you see how much resource is actually allocated to this customer. It’s not a common view; the data is usually not looked at this way.

But go and look at your B Customers. Yes you see them less, perhaps, but the total amount of effort spent on this group will be significantly more that the effort spent with your highest value customers, because when you add it all up, there are more of them, more calls in total, more effort. And it continues to work down your list of priority targets, so that, in the end, the total effort directed at lower value customers is more than your highest value. Why would you do this?

Now lets go back to the individual data and look at what you actually know about your most important customers. I bet you know a lot about their prescribing, particularly if you are in the US and have access to prescribing data, outside the US you may use external services like IMS or others or you may just work on rep feedback to rate HCP’s, either way you will know, or think you know, more about their prescribing than you actually know about them as a customer.

What does your CRM system say about this customer, what facts does it contain? Try asking your reps what they know about their highest value customers and the chances are they don’t know much. Again, probably lots of RX data or impressions and probably a lot of personal stuff, but not much more about them as a customer.

Do you act differently with different customers based on what you know about them, or are you still focused on delivering messages that are important to you?

This situation is the result of the fact that pharma has not wanted, or felt it needed, to know about customers and has fears about the legality of gathering and storing this type of information. But now, it is critical to better understand customers.

This all sounds simple and obvious but the changes required to be more customer or patient centric are significant and it should not be thought of as something you only need to do with HCP’s.

Indeed, how do you become more customer focused with newer customer types like payers? I’d begin asking the same question –‘what do you know about this customer beyond Rx?’

Being more relevant to your customers is key; building trust, being trustworthy and delivering value are going to be significant differentiators in the future and I don’t know how you do this without knowing about what matters to your customers.

Things you can and should do starting today.

  • Establish as sense of urgency.
  • Build a team of passionate patient advocates
  • Become more customer curious. Ask customers about their business, their challenges, what’s important to them and more.
  • Collect customer data. Try at every interaction to come away knowing something about your customer that you didn’t know before.
  • Store factual information, share it across the business, analyse it and then act on it.
  • Develop a comprehensive customer view – monitor and measure the collection of relevant, factual data.
  • Use your CRM system as a source of insight not just call reporting.
  • Build customer advisory boards not for brands but to better understand customers, get customers involved.
  • Segment not based solely on value to the company and Rx
  • Be open and honest about the data you gather. Would you be willing to share what you know about customers with that customer? You should be!
  • Focus on your most important customers and deliver differentiated services and offers to them in response to their needs.
  • Identify the top 6% of customers that generate around 40% of your sales and build an individual customer plan for each of them.
  • Demonstrate that this is not only for the field force – anyone touching a customer should enter data
  • Reward the right behaviours. Senior leaders should review customer data on a regular basis – not just sales managers
  • Review and change attitudes to customer data, engage the legal department in the change.

Of course, the next big challenge, once you’ve begun to better understand your customers is ‘what are you going to do with that knowledge?’ But lets take one step at a time.