Clarity about customer service will play an important role in the success of pharmaceutical, biotechnological and medical companies in the near future. What was relevant to the life science industry's customers yesterday might not be relevant tomorrow.
Companies in the life science industry are evolving globally towards more digitalisation and therefore seeing a change in customer behaviour. This creates demands, but also opens up new opportunities. Customers and patients today expect healthcare solutions to be digital and service-oriented in a completely new way and they demand customised personal solutions that can support them in their everyday lives and generate value from the use of their data.
The arrival of many new players means the ecosystem around the life science companies has expanded. That is both increasing competition and, through partnerships, enabling them to get closer than ever before to their end customers. The COVID-19 pandemic has put even more focus on the need to be able to adapt to changing patterns in the way they interact with customers and patients to ensure these contacts are robust, and enable rapid conversion and knowledge sharing.
This is why there is a window of opportunity to put even more focus on the overall customer experience. That is the sum of all the direct interactions a customer has with a company, its services and products – as well as indirect contacts with e.g. doctors, health services, family members and others.
It therefore makes sense to create a common thread that runs through customer service, sales, marketing and patient programmes, as well as in all customer-facing digital channels such as the website, social media or other platforms where the company has contact with its customers. Several companies are currently experiencing major growth in the number of inquiries on social media, and that means customer service becomes an important part of the customer experience and ultimately the brand that the company creates.
We are seeing massive investment across industries in e.g. digital services, sales activities, CRM systems and marketing, but customer service often gets a bit overlooked. Customer service usually consists of a call centre that handles incoming inquiries and, in the life science industry, its most important function is compliance-related. But there is great potential to rethink customer service to make it an integral part of the overall customer experience and market differentiation.
Who will your customers be in the future?
The people who use customer service functions in the life science industry have changed. Historically, they were primarily doctors, pharmacists and other professionals, but now there has been a shift to patients. These patients want more information about products and how to use them and they also have specific questions about their disease.
The type of customers who turn to life science companies vary greatly across markets, as a result of e.g. regulatory conditions, availability of advice through the healthcare system, competition and the product portfolio in the applicable country. Those considerations need to be taken into account when designing the customer experience across countries and cultures and when considering the role that companies should play in dealing with patients. Every business should base its approach on the data it already holds and its knowledge of its future markets.
Another relevant consideration is the product portfolio, where some types of products naturally generate more customer service questions from patients than others. For example, products that also have a digital element that requires the customer to play an active part in their treatment, generate completely different expectations about the service they want when they use the product. Typically, this means the numbers of patient inquiries will grow in these areas.
Therefore, any life science company should consider what it wants to offer to its customers and what role its customer service operations should play, based on the answers to the following questions. Objectively, no one approach is better than another, but the needs of the customers of the future may mean that there are more relevant way of doing things - and having clarity about that will play an important role in the way you operate.
How you meet customers’ needs will look different depending on your company's responses. A trend towards wanting to interact more closely with patients across channels will e.g. also drive a need to invest in customer-centric solutions, where the consumer is really at the centre, in customer service.
This may mean a shift from primarily investing in internally-oriented technologies to opening up new platforms for more customers, ensuring structured follow-up on customer satisfaction or on another supporting a more customer-oriented experience and business model. It will both drive better results in terms of customer satisfaction and be reflected in higher productivity.
These are the reasons why there is such great potential for life science companies that rethink customer service to make it a key element in the overall customer experience.