David Tran shares his insights on the untapped potential for pharma and the great opportunities ahead.

The pharmaceutical industry has an incredible opportunity with Customer Experience to deliver more value to Healthcare Professionals and improve the lives of patients. 

What is Customer Experience (CX)?

The market research company Forrester defines Customer Experience as “How customers perceive their interactions with your company.” 

At its core, it is as simple as that. Every company, brand, product, and service exists only because of its customers, and through merely engaging with customers, they create a customer experience. A couple of questions to reflect on though are, “Do we know what the customers’ experience is?”, and “How can we improve it?”

For every great customer experience you’ve had, I’m sure you can recall ten experiences that weren’t so positive. When did you last feel like a company didn’t understand your needs? Did you feel like you weren’t heard? Did you feel frustrated or annoyed? How do you feel about engaging with these companies again? How likely are you to recommend them to a friend?

What is the effect of poor Customer Experience? 

Earlier this year, I was booked in for a gastroscopy which was not a major procedure. Still as a patient I wanted to be well informed and reassured. I expected to receive accurate and relevant information about the procedure and feel well supported through the process. Pretty basic. 

In the consultation with my doctor at the clinic, she asked if I had any questions, gave me a leaflet to take home, and I was booked in for the procedure a few weeks later. In hindsight, there was quite a bit of information to take in, and I feel a little embarrassed that I didn’t catch everything, despite considering myself a pretty good listener with experience in healthcare.

During the week of the appointment, I suddenly thought, “I don’t know how long I need to fast before the procedure!” 

I phoned the clinic and was told to call the hospital instead. After calling the hospital, I was told I should speak to the clinic. Another phone call to the clinic connected me to a different receptionist who advised that I should fast from the night before. I hung up the phone not trusting this information as I knew myself that a fifteen hour fast was excessive.

At this stage, I was feeling frustrated.

I felt like a human tennis ball, but more worryingly, I was fast losing confidence in the doctor and her staff. I called the clinic a third time to clarify (and voice my frustrations). I was considering taking my business elsewhere.

To their credit, they escalated the situation to the Gastroenterologist immediately, who called me directly to resolve the issue. She listened to my story, empathised with my experience, gave me accurate answers to my questions, and provided reassurance that this should not have happened as it did. She was able to tailor a solution and rescue the customer experience.  

As it turns out, this was a great example of how easily a customer experience can break down.

What was missed?

  • Understanding or anticipation of the customer’s needs
  • Inadequate processes to provide a seamless experience, or meet basic expectations
  • Identification of gaps that could lead to customer frustration and lack of trust.


Most revealing is how different this experience could have been if it had been designed from a patient-centric perspective. What might I need if I was a patient in this situation? Designing the experience starts from here.

What would my perception of the medical practice be in this alternate reality? What is the increased likelihood I would go back, or even recommend them to a friend?

Takeaway tip: Positive customer experiences generate loyalty and create advocates. Negative customer experiences at best increase churn and at worst significantly damage a company’s reputation.


Why we need to put the customer at the centre of decision-making

A Bain and Company study found that 80% of organisations surveyed believed that they were providing a superior customer experience. Meanwhile, just 8% of their customers shared this opinion. The significant disconnect in perception is commonly referred to as the ‘customer experience gap’

Best-in-class companies across almost every industry are organising their businesses to put customers at the centre of their decision-making.

They’re changing their working models to drive clear CX strategies, restructuring to create CX teams, and investing in understanding their customers, predicting their expectations, and creating more valuable solutions in an effort to foster loyalty and reduce churn. 

A quality product or service is increasingly becoming a baseline expectation. Customers expect more from companies across their entire experience, from learning about it, considering it, choosing it, to using it in day-to-day life – what’s commonly known as the ‘customer journey’

In addition, customers can develop new expectations from their interactions with other companies regardless of industry. Once a Healthcare Professional (HCP) learns how easy it is to approach banking transactions through a smartphone-banking app, the expectation may shift to pharmaceutical companies to deliver a similarly streamlined experience.

A study conducted by DT Associates in 2018 showed that pharmaceutical companies that exceeded HCP expectations through CX unlocked immense value for the business:

  • Great customer experiences were twice as likely to lead to further engagement (vs poor experiences)
  • HCPs who rated their most recent interaction as ‘great’ were more willing to engage with that pharma company through digital channels.


Notably, the study highlighted a significant mismatch between what HCPs expected from pharmaceutical companies versus what pharmaceutical companies delivered. 

Why has CX in Pharma been a challenge to implement?

CX is often perceived as a nebulous topic that can be difficult to define, and it can feel challenging to overlay CX theory and methodologies into the pharma model.

Compared to other industries, pharmaceutical companies have traditional operational models, and innovation often occurs early in the product lifecycle during the drug discovery phase. We also work in a highly regulated environment where the implementation of large-scale transformation can be challenging. 

However, in recent years, pharmaceutical companies have driven a much-needed digital transformation to lay the foundations to improve our engagement with HCPs. Now more than ever, pharma has the opportunity to revolutionise our engagement approach to unlock more value for HCPs beyond the medicine.

Two essential ingredients – Strategy and design When looking at bringing CX into an organisation, there are two aspects to consider – Strategy and Design. 

Customer Experience Strategy outlines the vision and objectives for driving CX across the entire organisation. It encompasses all of the activities across the complete business model and all functions to optimise value and experience for customers. A clear CX Strategy will involve strong alignment across the business to identify who your customer is, what you want to achieve in creating better customer experiences, and how you plan to implement the strategy.

Customer Experience Design is the co-ordinated approach a company takes to empathise with customers and create solutions to optimise the customer experience. As part of CX design, a company may embark on a range of research activities; developing customer personas, mapping out customer journeys, identifying moments-of-truth, design-thinking activities to ideate, prototype, and test solutions, executing omnichannel campaigns, and measuring impact through the voice of the customer (VoC).

Five Key Steps to plan for CX success in pharma

1. Focus on a robust CX strategy

A robust CX strategy will be leadership-led and clearly outline the roadmap for achieving the CX objectives. When developing a CX strategy, consider the following questions:

  • Who are our customers?
  • What do great customer experiences look like for them? 
  • What experiences will our customers compare us to?
  • How will we better empathise with our customers?
  • What are the capabilities in the team for CX?
  • How do we prioritise CX activities?
  • What do we need to measure?


2. Empower all employees to create exceptional customer experiences

A significant transition in pharma has been a whole-of-business reshaping for employees to understand their role in CX. 

In pharma, the role for customer-facing functions to directly impact on CX is clear. Though less obvious, team members in enabling functions such as finance, supply chain, procurement, or legal also play essential roles in optimising the systems and processes to support the customer experience.  

I have found it personally rewarding to work with teams across the company to share the CX vision, and I would encourage you to involve team members across all functions to build an understanding of their role in creating great CX for HCPs and patients. 

3. Build methods to empathise with your customers deeply

Companies that have a clear focus on CX will have a genuine interest in what their customers are doing with their brand, what they need, want, and expect, and how they feel throughout their experience.

Companies will already have access to a significant amount of data and insights. The challenge for most companies is to organise and communicate these insights so they are meaningful and can lead to clear actions. 

There are many different ways to build empathy with customers, but ultimately insights need to be brought together to develop a common and accurate understanding of the customer. In CX design, some of the activities used for this are empathy maps, customer personas, and customer journey maps. All of these can be powerful tools to help engage internal teams and ensure the customer is always at the centre of decision-making.  

4. Do something with your customer insights – minimise innovation risk

There is no point sitting in meetings with large cross-functional teams discussing insights for hours and leaving without actions! CX design often brings together design-thinking methodologies to drive the practical interpretation of customer insights,  translating these insights into customer-centred solutions. I recommend using these proven tools and activities to identify meaningful insights and prioritise them for action effectively. 

The design-thinking framework minimises the risk of innovation as it drives focus on the customer, and supports teams to frame the opportunity clearly, ideate with purpose, prioritise effectively and encourages the testing of ideas with customers before taking them to market.

5. Just get started!

Embarking on a CX transformation can seem daunting, but as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You will have internal detractors, but you will also have internal advocates. It may seem like there is a mountain of work to get through to reach the CX vision, but you will already have many vital components in place to accelerate the cause. 

Once you have aligned on a clear CX strategy, my advice is to get started! Test, measure, and learn quickly, and soon you will see that your band of CX advocates is growing. 

Where to next?

The potential for CX to make a difference in the pharmaceutical industry is incredible. We all have the privilege of working in an industry that can offer value to HCPs and impact the lives of patients.

What can you do to create a CX strategy that rallies an organisation to support the needs of HCPs and patients?

How can you use CX design to better understand what HCPs and patients need and expect so we can deliver value above and beyond the product? 

I’m keen to hear your thoughts on how you’ve approached CX in your company, and the challenges you’ve faced along the way. Please click here to get in touch through LinkedIn! 

David Tran
Customer Experience Manager, Boehringer Ingelheim ANZ
Passionate about transforming the lives of patients, one experience at a time.
Five steps to embarking on a Customer Experience transformation in Australian Pharma
David Tran
Customer Experience Manager, Boehringer Ingelheim ANZ
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