When old friends reconnect, long-forgotten mannerisms such as the curve of a smile or the pitch of a laugh are instantly recognizable, causing the years and decades apart to evaporate like mist. A reunion reminds friends why they forged a bond in the first place; a shared sense of humor, common interests, easy banter.
Re-establishing an old connection without skipping a beat is the task at hand for many brands that lost in-person customers during the pandemic, but are now returning to face-to-face engagements. One issue with trying to recapture the old magic, if you will, is that customers did not disappear entirely during the hiatus. Rather, they embraced digital-first and in some instances digital-only engagements when in-person encounters were not an option.
Embrace a Hybrid Approach
Now that in-person meetings are coming back, the challenge is to provide the same digital conveniences and amenities that customers have become accustomed to, while also providing the irreplaceable, comforting familiarity akin to a long-lasting friendship. The traditional face-to-face relationships between a brand and a customer, whether a B2B setting such as a pharmaceutical rep and a healthcare professional (HCP), or B2C such as a hotel front desk clerk and a customer, have changed for good.
PharmaExec.com compiled a variety of survey results that analyzed the evolving relationship between HCPs and pharma reps. One from ZS Associates, a global professional services firm, found a greater push for “high-quality interactions” with a hybrid focus. In another from InCrowd, 51% of HCPs surveyed expressed a preference for hybrid. HCPs said that in-person meetings build trust, connection, and a more personalized, engaging relationship, but they are also inflexible and require a longer time commitment.
Pratap, Khedkar, CEO of ZS Associates, said that reps, pressured to deliver higher-quality interactions, will “need to do everything well: physical, virtual, and digital. We’re calling it phygital.”
Recapturing that deep-seated familiarity and personal understanding is less about striking the right balance between a digital experience and a human experience as it is merely recognizing that the overarching objective should be to create a seamless customer experience, by whichever collection of physical and digital channels that happen to constitute a customer’s unique journey. The in-person part is easy. The greater challenge for brands is to produce the digital equivalent of a smile.
Customer-Centricity and Omnichannel
In many of the recent conversations I’ve had with prospects – pharmaceutical companies among them – establishing that throughline of consistency is a priority. Forced by the pandemic into a digital-first model, these companies now embrace the opportunity to blend the best of digital with the best of in-person encounters to deliver a holistic experience across channels.
The question that keeps coming up is how to deliver an omnichannel experience. There is a recognition that a focus on the delivery channel is not the same as personalization, per se, but there is less of an understanding how to break free from the traditional way of thinking. As it concerns the pharma rep-HCP relationship, omnichannel is best understood as centering the experience around the HCP, rather than focusing on the channels themselves.
Any decision about how to further the HCP’s journey – whether it’s education about a medication, field research, population health, etc. – must be made in accordance with whichever decision will optimize the journey at the precise moment it is rendered. That should be the only determining factor. Otherwise, setting arbitrary rules or limits around the quantity or the scheduling of content distribution – each in-person visit must be followed by this video, these two emails, one call, etc. – will introduce friction into the customer experience.
A rep may think they’re offering a personalized experience, but a one-size-fits-all approach with a pre-determined combination of channels is multi-channel – not omnichannel. The best training video ever created will only replicate the familiarity and connection of an in-person visit – the digital equivalent of a smile – if it is sent in the precise cadence of a HCP’s unique journey.
Develop a Contextual Understanding
As a baseline, providing an omnichannel experience requires collecting every conceivable piece of data from all disparate sources and channels. An important component, to be sure, but what’s more important is to possess an in-depth understanding of the interoperability between channels. A real-time, contextual understanding is vital to remain in the cadence of a unique customer journey and deliver a next-best action optimized for the moment, irrespective of channel.
Important data would include information such as how the HCP consumes videos – what device was used, how long it played, what links were clicked, images hovered, etc. Beyond that, did the HCP open an email containing similar content, and sign up for a webinar? How did an in-person visit with a pharma rep influence these behaviors?
In a B2B environment, other data points providing a contextual understanding would include the sharing of data across lines of business. A fertility rep and oncology rep from the same company might have regular face-to-face meeting with the same HCP, for example, making coordination between the two important for providing the HCP with a consistent experience. Compliance issues must also be taken into consideration, such as frequency of contact, safeguarding personal data, etc.
A real-time, contextual understanding that stems from possessing a unified customer profile, or golden record, that includes all data points and is reconciled to an individual or business entity is the key to providing an omnichannel CX. Anything less, and a pharma rep, hotel clerk, or another associate at the center of a traditional human-driven engagement is making a best guess at how to further a customer journey along to the desired outcome.
By knowing all there is to know about a customer in real-time, employees who are the face of traditional human-driven interactions will always have a contextual understanding of a customer’s unique journey, and will always be primed to deliver a next-best action.
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