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Empathy at Every Touchpoint: The Remedy for Customer Experience in Life Sciences

Biotech colleagues collaborating with each other

In this interview, life sciences expert Richard Schwartz explains why empathy needs to be at the center of customer experience for every medication and medical device used in treatment.

Experiences throughout the life sciences journey target the health and wellness of individuals, but the reality is that treatment doesn’t always feel personalized from start to finish.

Medications and medical devices are designed for specific diagnoses, and yet they’re far too frequently implemented for general groups of people. As a result, individuals — who may be using a medication or device for months, years, or a lifetime — suffer from a disconnect in which their treatment falls short of expectations and needs.

Richard Schwartz, Senior Solutions Principal at Medallia, joined us to discuss the existing challenges faced by these organizations and how leaders are using empathy as the perfect remedy for customer experience in life sciences.

Where does experience management come into play to enhance patient care, fuel innovation, and drive effectiveness?

Staying well and getting better is often difficult due to the experiences provided. Look at the logistical, clinical, and behavioral aspects — experiences are not always easy and effective, and they typically lack empathy.

Expectations aren’t formed in the moments when people are doctors and patients. It’s actually when we’re living everyday lives, whether that’s shopping online or staying at a resort. In those moments, expectations are formed, and that’s why what I call ‘Experience as a Medicine’ should serve as an organization’s north star.

In order to receive a prescription or medical device, you’re required to first interact with a medical professional, and this is only the start of the journey. You have a piece of paper in your hand, and suddenly a bunch of people get involved. You have the payer, the provider, and several more intermediaries such as the pharmacist. Yet, while all of these entities are around you, they’re inadvertently preventing efficiency.

Let’s take the waste out of the system and connect people. Rather than connecting operational metrics to financial outcomes, the connective tissue for all life sciences and medical devices companies needs to be the experiential component.

“Life sciences and medical devices should function more like retail and hospitality. Look at patients as valued guests, not as patients with a disease attached.” – Senior Solutions Principal Richard Schwartz

What are the biggest challenges faced by organizations in life sciences today to introduce the experiential component?

Organizations should connect on a foundational level with the humans they treat, and action should be taken at the speed of need. It just isn’t today. As a physician, you’re caring for an ill person who deserves answers and treatment in real time. But organizations aren’t always able to provide information effectively because they’re missing sentiment data to understand how the patient feels during their journey.

Life sciences and medical devices should function more like retail and hospitality. Look at patients as valued guests, not as patients with a disease attached.

Knowing that organizations need to look beyond generic profiles, what should be done to view an individual as more than just a patient?

We cannot homogenize humans into segments, and we tend to do that. In the hundreds of journey mapping sessions I’ve attended, pharmaceutical companies bring in agencies with posters, presentations, and other demonstration-type equipment. It’s all wonderful to see, but they just talk about moving individuals through segments.

Shift away from direct-to-consumer and toward ‘direct-to-me’ — it will lead to more personalized, impactful engagement.

Think of it like this: if you’re enrolled to receive emails about a medication or device, most pharmaceutical companies set all patients on the same timeline. It’s not very useful if the information you’d like to have is available in the sixth email a few weeks away when you’re currently on the second email in the sequence. And what if your needs require an extra email?

In that situation, the pharmaceutical company decided what the patient should know and the order in which they should know it. That’s doing the patient a disservice. Communication should be built around the individual, not blanketed over every patient only due to them all taking the same medication or using the same device.

You’ve discussed in an earlier interview that the life sciences industry is “sitting in an era of outcomes” and noted the start of a shift from product marketing to experience marketing. Where does that shift stand today?

Old habits die hard, and the gravitational pull of what’s familiar remains strong. I do, however, think we’ve made strong headway as more companies and their leaders engage in a dialogue to understand experience management.

Medallia and the Digital Health Coalition, for example, published a white paper taking a closer look at the state of experience in the industry. We’ve also seen research from the likes of Harvard and Salesforce, all of which confirm experience as the top priority for pharmaceutical leaders in 2022.

In tracking how executives are talking about customer experience in life sciences, I also take a look at how and who they’re hiring. How are they framing customer experience to potential employees in job descriptions? I’ve actually called executives to rewrite their job descriptions because my concern is a misalignment between what a company says they want and what they actually need.

Leaders in life sciences and medical devices are starting to extract talent from other industries due to their expertise. Just recently, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world hired an individual from a luxury hospitality brand. Another pharmaceutical company brought in a new chief digital officer who was previously with a cruise line.

Keep exploring other industries to build your teams with customer experience experts — their unique approaches can solve life sciences’ and medical devices’ challenges. It may seem strange or uncomfortable at first, but what they know about their industries will be very useful to the humans on the other side of a medication or device.

What should other industries learn from the leaders in life sciences about experience management?

Nothing in the world is more urgent than health, and it’s even truer after what we’ve all experienced in the last two-plus years. Health is not a vertical, it’s a horizontal. It touches everything and nothing costs companies more than healthcare services. So, what did we find out from the global pandemic? Staying well and caring for one another matters.

Brands that deeply understand human empathy attract and retain customers. One retailer I’ve guided wanted direction on connecting its mission and vision to customer experience. I’ll just say that I am not this retailer’s typical customer, but what fascinated me is how they committed to investing in the health and wellness of their employees.

As I started thumbing through their public-facing identity on social media, I came back and said: you portray yourself as a brand for people who want to be heard in a noisy world, so let’s connect that purpose to something bigger. It turns out that ‘something bigger’ is expression.

I met with employees at a store located nearby where I live, and I didn’t tell them who I was or that I met with their CEO beforehand. It was incredible to listen to the employees as they explained how much they love their jobs and seeing excited customers. I asked what they do to tell management this, but they said their sentiment only reaches their managers.

When I met with the CEO again, I told him that the retailer needs to listen to its people. Consume feedback and sentiment from employees in all retail locations throughout the organization. Employees in every store are evangelists, and they’re connecting the brand to customers in one-on-one interactions. By caring deeply about their well-being, they can continue to deliver that tremendous experience to customers.

Leaders in this industry realize the importance of empathy, and I firmly believe that other industries — such as retail in the example I provided — can and will benefit from listening closely to how people feel to inform their actions.

Interested in discovering all the differences between leaders and laggards? Download our report, Uncovering the Secrets Behind a Successful Customer Experience Program.