Customer experience rules the digital age

Written by Tim Williams and published by PMLive


Customer journey mapping has been an important part of pharmaceutical marketing and insight for as long as most of us can remember. But are these traditionally linear models enough in an ever evolving healthcare market landscape that is being so radically transformed in the digital age? I believe we need to go beyond merely capturing and describing the typical journey, to start thinking more about the overall customer experience as a whole.

A customer journey describes the activities and processes, undertaken by a customer, whilst acquiring a company’s products or services. However in a world of increasing digital opportunities, customers are engaging with brands more than ever before. As such, companies are needing to think about every aspect of how they might potentially engage with customers, be that through marketing, sales, education, operations and beyond. As well as how customers are engaging with an ever expanding list of potential competitors, often well outside of the traditional pharma players. This calls for a much more nuanced understanding of the complete experience, including both direct and indirect interactions as well as how customers think, believe and feel about the whole process.

Adding value

Within the pharmaceutical industry today, companies are re-orientating to a more service led market, rather than the traditional product one. Take the area of anti-TNFs and their biosimilar competitors. Competition here is becoming fierce and is being led more and more by customers’ overall experiences and the company, including service led patient support programmes, administrative support and reimbursement programs. This sort of added value is where companies now seek to differentiate.

This is something as marketers and business insight professionals we are aware of though.  The 2017 Digital Marketing Trends Report by Econsultancy and Adobe is littered with references to the customer experience. When companies were asked to indicate the single most exciting opportunity for their brands this year, you guessed it, customer experience came out top.

Mapping the touchpoints

So, if we are to put customer experience front and centre, what do we need to do differently? First of all, a customer experience map should not be a static or linear model. In the digital age, it needs to reflect the true nature of how customers engage with the multitude of brands and services, and other influencers, across multiple platforms – both on and offline.

Think for a moment about the number of points at which a patient, for example, may come into contact with your brand; a Google search, a social media conversation, online articles, news stories, discussions with family and friends, not to mention the healthcare system and the plethora of professionals seen: doctors, nurses, pharmacists etc. A customer experience map therefore needs to reflect this, it needs to be multi-dimensional and importantly it needs to be able to live within the organisation and evolve.

The growth of digital channels and potential touch-points has no doubt exacerbated the need for a more comprehensive, holistic understanding. But I believe digital can also provide the solution to making sense of this increasingly complicated reality.

The exciting role of digital within the market research industry means we can now access customer insights via a variety of newer technologies and research methodologies. Ones that get us closer to the moments that actually matter most – and the real world experiences of the customer. No longer do we need to rely solely on recall alone; through communities, social media listening and mobile enabled approaches we can now collect our insights ‘in the moment’ and through channels that reflect the very nature of how customers interact in the real-world.

Getting closer to reality

Much like multi-channel marketing strategies, where we are looking to reach the right person with the right message in the right place at the right time. In building a comprehensive customer experience map based on real world experiences, market research also needs to utilise the right tools to reach the right customers at the right place at the right time. Digital research tools now give us this unparalleled access to our customers. But given the expansiveness of the customer experience in the digital age, increasingly we need to consider the right mix of tools and approaches that will get us closest to the true reality of the customer.

And as technology continues to move forward at an astounding pace, from virtual and augmented realities, to the internet of things and wearable technology, not forgetting artificial intelligence, the new bot economy and voice interfaces – we are only going to be further expanding customer’s access to brands. It will only become more important that we continue to look beyond simply describing the customer journey, to understand the true customer experience at each and every touchpoint and in totality for a brand.

To get there, and to deliver true value to marketing, customer insight research will need to adopt more of a bricolage approach, reflecting the true nature of customer engagement and to draw our insights from a variety of sources.

This article was first published on

Tim Williams is Head of Digital.

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