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A Million Customer Questions: Navigating Customer Feedback in Life Sciences

Two colleagues collaborate in a biotech lab

Industry expert Richard Schwartz shares how customer experience leaders can extract the truly important questions that may be hidden in customer feedback in life sciences.

In the mid–2010s, the notion of the IWWIWWIWI (I Want What I Want When I Want It) Generation emerged, less defined by age than by expectations. A good deal of my time each day is invested in studying patterns and shifts in customer feedback (aka, what people want and when and how they want it). The feedback comes in the forms of signals that are passive, direct, solicited, voluntary, text, voice, actions, and interactions that are channel-agnostic and always-on. 

Breaking feedback signals down into an equation helps me contextualize the delta, or the surplus, between what was expected (wanted) and what actually happened: WWE – WAH = CX

In my work, I have come to view the comments and behaviors in feedback as underlying questions people are asking of the brands and companies with whom they interact. These are big and important questions. They transcend assumptions brands may make about what customers need and want to know. The customer feedback that shows up in the form of operational metrics answers what happened in an interaction, but not what that experience caused, the sentiments created, and any deltas in expectations.

Analyzing Customer Feedback

The deeply personal and valuable side of customer input, gathered when they are providing validation and seeking resolution, can come into clearer view by flipping feedback into questions. 

Using Forrester’s 3 E’s: Emotion, Effectiveness, and Ease, I ask what questions may have motivated statements and actions. Breaking down even seemingly simple bits of detractor, neutral, and promoter feedback often reveals triggering questions that are not always asked but are clearly implied.Image depicts the real questions behind the feedback given, such as the commenter writing,“It took a really long time to get a resolution to my problem. It is not 100% resolved, but it’s much better than it was.” The surrounding questions are, “Why wasn’t resolution easier?” and “How will you show me you value me?”

The questions behind the comments are sources of action that empower you to be better than you are today, which is arguably your first mission, followed by being better than your industry competitors. They also provide critical clues to root causes and opportunities for innovation. 

The Higher Ground of Health-Focused Feedback

Health-centric brands, from care delivery to manufacturers, had to learn to listen more deeply and respond to feedback and sentiment during the pandemic. This feedback was not always good, but that’s the thing about feedback — it can be hard to hear because of the questions behind the statements. Sometimes the harder it is to hear, however, the more it indicates urgency and importance. The tough stuff challenges the things you thought you were doing well.

The higher ground comes from looking beyond the obvious of experience as a battleground for a competitive edge. I urge caution against the temptation to exploit data to just beat the competitor — an over-focus on competitive advantage (or battleground) has the tendency to make it about you. Tomorrow you want to be better for your customer than you were yesterday. Your primary competitors are doing nothing, or are doing the same thing. Listen to your customers — love them even. ROI follows ROE (Return on Experience)

The notion of common ground is a bigger concept — particularly in health. All of the entities surrounding health are intertwined. We are reliant on one another to provide the resources, medications, technologies, and human interactions essential to make and keep people well. 

Feedback Fuels Patient Experience

The underlying questions we all see, if feedback echo sentiments, is why payers, providers, pharma, and others are not more connected.

I think this growing attention to feedback in systems, payers, pharma, and medical device manufacturers is helping us all understand shortcomings across channels, especially in digital, where moments that diminish trust are visible and rapidly shareable. Trust, after all, is an essential influencer of activation and is built or undone in the experiences we have.

My doctor is brilliant at taking and addressing my feedback, but if my pharmacy or insurer does not pull through an easy, effective, and empathetic path, her efforts are weakened. Questions exist in our health-centered feedback and passive actions: “Why is it hard to make an appointment?” and “Why is benefits verification so difficult?” The chain of experiences in health is truly only as strong as the weakest one.

Research from The Beryl Institute – Ipsos PX Pulse Consumer Perspectives on Patient Experience shows that 52% of those surveyed believe that “good patient experience contributes to my healing/good healthcare outcomes.” In more simple terms, good experience is good medicine.

The questions in our feedback are also the fuel for innovations — the proving ground. Innovations do not spring from technology, they spring from the IWWIWWIWI deltas. When a customer speaks or generates a signal that it falls into a pattern of problems or opportunities, it is like a divining rod telling us precisely where to dig.

Three Pillars for Expanding Comments to Questions to Conversations

1. A Million Customer Answers

Be they promoters, detractors, or neutral, the people who give you feedback are asking you questions. Flipping statements to interrogatives helps you answer the “ask” behind the sentiment. The permutations are exponential. A million micro-actions hold important questions often centered on Forrester’s 3Es of expectations that you must understand:

    What was expected?

    What actually happened?

    How did this make our customer feel about us?

    What can we do next to connect better and deeper?

Questions force us to answer the interrogatives with actions that require us to harmonize across segments and channels to spot themes. In the absence of a systematic way to look at feedback at scale, you are likely well-intentioned but focused on the wrong things. 

2. Focus on the Velocity of Content

Velocity is the speed at which something moves in one direction and indicates intent and purpose. Those comments we get in feedback are often motivated by the content that did or did not move at the desired speed or in the right direction. In those comments are underlying questions about the whys and the why nots of an experience.

The conversation that follows can be one of resolution or celebration, and can also offer extended value in mitigation. We know that brands will make mistakes. Where it gets interesting is what we do with that knowledge. The human capacity for forgiveness is expansive and generous. When transgressions do occur, the golden moment is in recovery. Going big on recovery means understanding what resources are needed by whom, when, and how.

How people consume, connect, feel, and value your content isn’t just a clue as to what is working and missing. It is a strategic content blueprint and creative brief offered as a gift from your customers. You simply have to be prepared to receive it and respond. 

3. Get Grounded

While “customer-centricity” is a phrase common across healthcare and life sciences, the discipline of customer experience is in the early stages compared to retail, hospitality, automotive, and even finance. Life science companies are experiencing accelerations, permutations, and good and bad growing pains. As they begin to get feedback from customers and systematize understanding and resolution, there is organizational mindset and musculature maturity that is beginning to take place in some fascinating ways.

I am seeing a few models of integration and exploration in healthcare. The ones that are doing well and seeing value are tech-enabled, focused on a clear headline from the future, and are supported with engagement from leadership. Above all, they see feedback and relentless responsiveness and resolution as a common ground where customers win.

Turning Questions into Connectivity

A customer recently shared a quote with me that is attributed to far too many people to guess who coined it: “It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think your way into a new way of acting.” 

When we flip statements to questions, they challenge our beliefs and subvert inclinations toward confirmation bias. It is rarely the best answer or analysis that launches us onto a more meaningful trajectory; it is usually the best question that causes us to rethink what we’ve been doing. 

Rethinking is important, but without action, it is still just information we have. Action builds that organizational musculature and is essential to driving unthinking with intent, which turns a Million Customer Questions into customer connectivity.

Need help making customer experience a priority for your organization? Download our guide, How to Launch a Customer Experience Program, to learn how to get started.