“Rocking remote”. “Venturing into virtual”. “Delighting with digital”.
There is a proliferation of industry commentary out there today about the future of HCP engagement beyond COVID-19. If we consider the sum of the HCP's experience as a blend of reach (how you access them) and value (what you engage them on once you've captured their precious time and attention) the focus can often over-index on the former. Talk of omnichannel with its notes of velocity, efficiency and automation can often dominate the discourse on the 'how' – but we need to think more broadly than that.
Never has the opportunity to be differentiated and distinctive been so great. The COVID-19 pandemic created a new, wide-open “experience playing field” and the old engagement landscape won't be the same again. To truly appreciate and embrace the possibilities of this chance for change, we ought to take a step back and consider what 'quality' HCP experiences really mean in practice.
So, what are the dimensions of quality that make for a truly valuable encounter with pharma that HCPs will appreciate, sincerely engage with and want more of in the future? There's of course no one-size-fits-all answer as each person’s likes and dislikes are unique, but we can acknowledge some common ingredients:
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“I feel this is a truly helpful and interesting use of my time”
“I can digest this in a way that's convenient for me and my patients”
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“I can source the support I need on my own terms”
“I can learn and share with like-minded peers”
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“I feel this is authentically customer-centric”
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Relevant: We know that HCPs appreciate exchanges that are tailored to their own unique interests and needs, and the substance of the interaction must be thoughtfully planned for as well as the medium. Presenting a detailing aide remotely - however elegantly done - is by no means a guarantee of relevance. Recognizing the deeply personalized insights the field reps who know HCPs best can offer, there is an opportunity to be seized for field talent to play a more established role mapping the HCP journey itself - such as advising on customer experience design and co-creating with their marketing colleagues. When it comes to bringing those experiences to life in the field, empowering reps with more autonomy and trust to tailor meaningful engagements can be a smart route to differentiation. Reps who have the flexibility to hand-pick and enroll physicians in targeted digital campaigns or use outcomes data to target value-oriented conversations for HCPs - could be considered those most well-placed to elevate the experience above the competition.
Consumable: We know that finding the right information to share with their patients can be a time-consuming exercise for HCPs and often isn't as straightforward as they'd like. Patient-friendly content can be too difficult to access, too generic or too peppered with medical jargon to be truly helpful, and pharma-generated materials are often difficult to adapt to serve this need quickly. We've seen some companies respond swiftly to the need for intelligible patient information distilled in an easy-to-consume format during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the value of curation doesn't only serve the patient experience. For HCPs themselves, the opportunity to access fresh and tailored content paired with their professional interests can be truly helpful and valued. Doing this effectively requires two dimensions of understanding: knowing the unique preferences and passions of each individual HCP (e.g. their affiliations, publications, conference attendance, etc.) and establishing how such 'micro moments' communicating distilled information could blend conveniently into the rhythms of the HCP's routine (e.g. via a podcast to listen to on their commute).
Accessible: Even when compellingly executed, HCP experiences that are solely reactive to digital or rep-initiated outreach may be missing a trick. With HCPs' time - or more precisely the lack of it - more of a constraint than ever, it is no surprise that on-demand solutions offering them the ability to proactively connect with reps, source rapid answers to their questions and access resources at the point of need are on the rise. Offering opportunities for a frictionless and convenient mode of engagement on the HCP's own terms, they open up possibilities that pharma is in the early days of embracing but, if done right, could make for a more empowered experience that HCPs actively wish to re-engage with often. The opportunity to interact on-demand via a single hub could, for example, bring value to HCPs able to connect directly with customer-facing colleagues and collaborate in shared workspaces.
Connective: We know that most HCPs are naturally driven to connect with like-minded peers, exchange knowledge and establish lasting connections for future collaborations. This is not only true of physicians but also of other HCP types such as nurse specialists, who often lack the capacity to spend the time they wish on continuing professional development and feel degrees of isolation as their roles stretch more thinly than ever. Brokering networking and peer-to-peer sharing opportunities is an opportunity for pharma to bring a different layer of quality, and it's notable that one rep-to-multiple HCP remote meetings are a growing trend during the COVID-19 pandemic. Add to this HCP appetites for engagement via social channels and there's an opportunity to go even further - for example, by algorithmically matching and connecting HCPs with peers who share their personal and professional interests - but venturing beyond the compliance comfort-zone can often feel like a step too far.
Purposeful: Improving patient lives is the lifeblood of this industry, but pharma often doesn't do as compelling a job propagating its purpose as it could. As COVID-19 re-sets what being in a society and community means and tests our humanity and values, it has also elevated the very idea of ‘purpose’ and offers organizations a timely moment to (re)activate this new shared purpose in an authentic way. Connecting your customer-facing colleagues to their own unique patient-centric purpose can help them appreciate their authentic motivations for why they do what they do and forge a more emotional and empathetic connection in their HCP engagements. Doing this won’t just manifest more human conversations with HCPs; it can drive employee engagement and creativity and bolster individual performance as well.
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These five dimensions of quality are not exhaustive and won't be of equal importance to every HCP
However, they're crucial underpinnings to meaningful experiences and bring opportunities to be bold and strike out distinctively in an experience landscape that is rapidly evolving. Each of these facets should be thoughtfully considered and planned for as opportunities to differentiate. But what does that mean in practice and how do you tangibly do it? Here are some starting points:
- Acknowledge that no single team owns quality: it is the product of a strategic and enduring partnership across functions. Bring together a coalition of leaders across sales, marketing, medical, analytics and technology to agree the levers of accountability that fuel your customer engagement model – such as the degree of autonomy your reps have over digital and data – and ensure these are continuously bedded-in to ways of collaborating and learning journeys.
- Reward quality as well as frequency and volume. Evolve the way you reward and recognize your reps (and others who contribute to the experience) by adapting your incentive compensation and other models to factor quality into the equation. Consider setting new performance measures for reps to play a more collaborative role helping co-create HCP engagement strategies harnessing their unique knowledge about the customer.
- Break out of your comfort zone. Going bold on quality can often feel a step too far for an industry bound by rigorous rules as to what can and can’t be shared. But organizations truly committed to quality will seek to harness the sparks of opportunity to maximize new modes of engagement HCPs crave – such as social media-enabled peer connections – by leaning-in to creative yet compliant approaches.
While none of us yet know exactly where the course of the COVID-19 pandemic will take us on the future of customer engagements, it's fair to say that these drivers of quality will continue to resonate and take on an even more elevated role going forward.
For more on this topic, I invite you to view a recent session I led at the NEXT Normal Pharma Summit: Reinventing Relevance: Reimagining Pharma's Role Creating Quality HCP Experiences