As consumers, we all know what it feels like when someone goes above and beyond for us, when they remember our names, when they show that they care personally about our experience. That’s a good feeling that makes us want to come back and talk to others about how happy it made us. The question thus begs: Why on earth does our industry not try harder to provide such experiences?

Surveys on the industry’s reputation sometimes show ambiguous results, but perceptions are definitely distorted. As insiders, we all know that the vast majority of people who work in the biopharmaceutical industry are committed to making things better: Improving patient’s lives by developing and marketing drugs that can help combat diseases. We also know that skills, talent, education and experience abound among the people driving the industry. So why doesn’t this translate into how the industry is viewed?

Hire for Attitude, Train for Skills

I think we can all agree that customer satisfaction and loyalty, as well as corporate reputation depend on the value customers get from their interaction with a company. If you charge more for a given product, you try to justify it with additional value; a café for instance would focus on superior quality, a convenient location, friendly staff, clean facilities, good ambiance, working WiFi, etc. For service organizations, the most important driver of customer value is staff who care—academics call this the Service-Profit Chain. People who are personally committed to delivering a (positively) unforgettable experience will be driven to be friendly, to clean the facilities, to fix broken equipment—in short, to do what’s expected and to find additional ways to improve the customer’s experience, for instance by remembering customers’ names. Those whose commitment is to simply do as they’re told by their managers will at most meet expectations.

Let’s face it: Outstanding instances of customer experience—where we emerge from the transaction with a skip in our step and a smile on our faces—are pretty rare. But they exist and can be encouraged with good leadership. The magic happens when you can “bottle” such experiences and surpass customer expectations all the time. This will only happen when, from the beginning, staff are chosen first and foremost for their attitude and only secondarily for the skills they learned some place else. It’s fairly easy to teach how to get things done, but it’s extremely difficult to teach being personally invested in your customers’ experience.

A Manufacturer’s Transformation

Pharma, biotech, and medical devices are, of course, first and foremost manufacturers, not service organizations. However, the trends over the past 10 or so years speak for themselves. More and more, life sciences companies transform themselves into organizations that augment the value of their manufactured products with services: Tools to manage disease, help lines, educational campaigns, Ambassador programs, and various efforts to gather and implement customer feedback. And that’s not a fringe phenomenon, anymore—it’s accepted best practice and is consistently shown to deliver better returns than a narrow product focus.

There’s an obvious correlation between revenue and customer experience, not just in consumer products but also in biopharma and medical products. That’s why some form of value-added service is offered with almost every patent-protected prescription drug. But these services are not all created equal. The most successful initiatives start with assembling a team of internal and external backers and partners who share a vision of maximizing customer benefit—people who have been put on the job because of the right attitude.

Tech as a Means to an End

Another important success factor is to focus on authentic, real-time human connections. In this age of technology, we have wonderful tools at our disposal to connect with each other remotely. For most of us, it’s hard to imagine how we’d do anything without a mobile phone and email. However, technology is there to improve logistics, not to replace interpersonal interactions. Stakeholders like patients and HCPs won’t be moved to buy into the company narrative just because they’ve received an email or looked at an ad or a website. Many factors play into whether or not a message is credible and persuasive, and personal interaction and physical presence is certainly one of them.

I recently attended a senior management educational program, where I had my eyes opened to a startling fact: Many of us treat our phones as our “lover”—we interact with the device right upon waking up in the morning, before even touching or talking to the supposedly most important human being who’s right there with us. It might be time for us to re-evaluate our priorities and think of tech again as a means to an end. Experience has shown time and again: Once you stop sending messages back and forth and start talking, things move along.

Leaders Lead People, Not Tasks

Similarly, those of us who have leadership responsibilities should focus on people rather than things. Keeping a to-do list and delegating tasks is certainly important; you must have quantifiable goals you want to achieve. But experience shows that leadership styles that solely focus on tasks at the expense of people fall down on providing the guidance needed for staff to thrive and succeed in their roles. When everything just happens on a transactional level, leaders miss important cues: Does this person have their own agenda? Does this person have the tools, skills and support needed to be successful? Is this person struggling with something I can help with? Are they happy in their role or are there signals they’re “checked out?” Do their personal goals align with the organization’s goals? Many managers miss these critical people factors, having formal authority by virtue of a title while not truly leading.

If life sciences companies want to shake off their industry’s reputational heritage, if they want to provide an unsurpassed customer experience, they need to put the right people in the right places. They need to ensure that their teams prioritize real, authentic connections over purely transactional interactions. Let’s “bottle” the outstanding experiences. Why would we aim for anything less?

  • Brenda Snow

    Brenda Snow is Founder & CEO of Snow Companies. Brenda is widely regarded as the leading pioneer in patient engagement. Her full-service agency, Snow Companies, is now part of Omnicom Health Group and provides patient-focused initiatives that include Patient Ambassador programs, creative services, call center support and a growing number of patient leadership councils.

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