Oncology Manufacturers’ Multimillion-dollar Question: “Can You Please Tell Us About Your Experience?”

Experience-focused companies have been asking the question for years. If you’ve shopped online, stayed at a hotel, or flown with an airline recently, you’ve likely been asked some flavor of the question, “How was your experience?” And for good reason. Research shows time and again that positive experiences lead to many benefits, including customer loyalty and increased sales.

But how does shopping on Amazon or staying at a Marriott hotel relate to selling Opdivo, Imbruvica, or Avastin? As it turns out, customer experience is essential to the success of oncology manufacturers, especially in an increasingly competitive marketplace with rapidly declining product differentiation.

In wave 2 of ZS’s Oncology CX Tracker study, we confirmed many of the previous findings from wave 1: Oncology companies that create a positive customer experience enjoy better access to their customers, increased likelihood that physicians will prescribe their products, and substantial revenue growth.

So, what changed? On first glance, not much. The majority of oncology companies still count more detractors than promoters among their oncologist, nurse, and administrator customers—a result that leads to a negative Net Promoter Score® (NPS). But as we dug deeper into wave 2 results, we noticed two meaningful differences:

  1. Six out of 24 oncology companies earned a positive NPS score. That’s two more than in wave 1. What changes did these two companies implement that led to a positive customer experience?
  2. Overall, we saw more companies move toward either end of the spectrum, which created a larger gap between leaders in customer experience—or companies that earned a positive NPS—and the rest of the pack. Why did customers’ experiences with many prominent oncology companies become increasingly negative?

Through our client interactions and analysis of our latest Oncology CX Tracker study, we found oncology manufacturers that invest in specific, customer experience-focused initiatives can significantly improve their net promoter scores. However, creating an environment that merits a shift from a negative to positive customer experience doesn’t happen overnight. Improving customer experience requires deliberate effort and commitment to design the right experience, tailor the experience to the customer or local healthcare market needs, and adopt a customer experience mindset throughout the organization.

When oncology companies commit to improve their customer experience—as the two companies in our study did—their decision raises customers’ expectations of manufacturers. This investment leaves companies that don’t prioritize meaningful improvements in customer experience further behind. Here are a few examples of initiatives that leading pharmaceutical companies implemented to drive customer engagement:

Ask the multimillion-dollar question: “Can you please tell us about your experience?”

Historically, oncology companies largely tracked customer perceptions through “static” primary market research studies, such as awareness, trial, and usage surveys. These surveys capture a snapshot of perceptions at a fixed point in time, typically with limited granularity below the national level.

However, these techniques miss two key ingredients critical to achieving a positive customer experience. First, because customer experiences are dynamic and happen continuously, if customers experience poor customer service, learning about it three months later is too late. Second, customer experiences are distinctly personal. For customers to report a great experience, companies must resolve any issues and close the loop.

Closed-loop customer feedback collects instantaneous and continuous individual customer feedback, which allows pharmaceutical companies to follow up with customers to better understand comments, identify concrete solutions, gain greater access to customers, and manage company perceptions. These two- to three-minute surveys provide qualitative and quantitative feedback to identify steps to improve the customer experience and drive increased performance. Closed-loop engagement leads to improved breadth and depth of relationships with customers, including more access, longer engagement time, and demonstrated commitment to customers.

Adopt a local, continuous learning mindset

One leading oncology manufacturer faced challenges executing its customer experience vision, but only in specific geographies and with certain “difficult” customers. Rather than maintain its standard approach, the company decided to rethink its customer engagement model for a few specific customer groups and markets that suffered from lower engagement levels. It deployed highly non-traditional promotional models in these local markets, and in some cases significantly reduced traditional sales rep efforts in favor of customized models tailored to each local market.

While it may be challenging to shift away from the traditional selling model, this company recognized that a local, innovative approach allowed it to test and learn on a small scale. By deploying cross-functional teams, including stakeholders from headquarters, sales, marketing, and medical, this company is building a roadmap for how the organization will need to evolve to deliver a more localized experience. The success of these local deployments is not optional for this company. These local deployments are designed to provide whatever support necessary to satisfy customers and improve the overall customer experience.

Co-create: Engage your customers in creating the experience

Another leading manufacturer was preparing to launch an oncology product in a highly competitive space knowing it had limited clinical differentiation. To help think beyond the product, the manufacturer conducted co-creation “Experience Design” workshops with oncologists. Unlike traditional focus groups, these workshops (moderated by an experience design expert) asked oncologists to describe their current experience treating patients, and then co-create their optimal experience. This technique uncovered emotional drivers of experience for the manufacturer to address—and it was the most fun “market research” the oncologists had experienced. The manufacturer used the results of the workshops to inform segmentation, messaging, and services it could offer to differentiate beyond the product.

These examples, as well as the results of our Oncology CX Tracker, demonstrate the meaningful strides oncology companies are making to improve the customer experience. Creating a positive customer experience is not a one-time exercise. It requires commitment, continuous effort, and most importantly, a willingness to innovate. In an increasingly crowded oncology market where products are already less of a differentiator, customer experience is beginning to create separation between the top oncology companies and the rest of the pack. The time to invest in CX is now.

  • Jon Roffman

    Jon Roffman is Managing Principal of ZS’s Boston office and leads the firm’s oncology field strategy practice. He has advised more than 20 oncology companies on sales and marketing strategy issues, ranging from small biotechnology companies launching their first products to large pharmaceutical companies building out their portfolio.

    • Pranav Srivastava

      Pranav Srivastava is an Associate Principal in ZS’s New York office and a member of the firm’s oncology practice. He currently focuses on market research and analytics for pharmaceutical clients. His 13 years of experience at ZS include projects ranging from market research and market coverage optimization to business intelligence reporting and analytics for clients in the technology, pharmaceutical, and medical device industries.

      • Sankalp Sethi

        Sankalp Sethi is a Manager in ZS’s Boston office and a member of the firm’s oncology practice. Over the past seven years, Sankalp has helped clients commercialize products in oncology and specialty therapeutics. He has helped clients develop commercialization strategies and segmentations, and design forward-looking local and global go-to-market models to successfully navigate the evolving dynamics in the oncology market.


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