Providing Customer Service in the Pharmaceutical Industry could be considered to be quite different to many other industries due to the heavily regulated nature of information that can and cannot be supplied. Evidence based research underpins all medical statements and arguments. You cannot just glibly answer an enquiry with an unqualified answer. This article will highlight several factors to be considered in the design of a Customer Service function in the Pharmaceutical Industry.
1. Who is your customer?
In a previous blog, I explained the potential complexity in identifying what constitutes a “customer” in this industry. This issue is exacerbated in Customer Service as any or all of these various “customers” could make an enquiry. It could be a Patient (Consumer), Nurse, General Practicioner, Pharmacist, Researcher, Pathologist, Medical Advisor or even the Regulatory Body or Association. The level of detail and knowledge required to answr these enquiries can therefore vary enormously. Thought needs to be given to the approach required to satisfy the varied customer base.
2. The importance of knowledge. There is no doubt that as research is so vital to the detail provided to customers, the research should be stored in a knowledge base and cross referenced to all types of knowledge that may be called upon. As an example, a patient may call reporting symptoms of nausea and seeking medical advice. Depending upon the legislation in your country, it may have to be a qualified doctor who answers that call. The caller may need to referred back to their own doctor or it may be that “general advice” can be provided. In this “general advice”, it could be mentioned that there are no known side effects of nausea. The research backing up this claim will need to be linked to the article provided to the patient. In these days where litigation is as big an issue to the medical professional as some of the antibiotic resistant bugs, a Pharmaceutical company must ensure a very diligent process is observed in providing information and ensuring the information is fact, not opinion.
3. Linking Sales to Service. A huge opportunity exists for those organisations that can understand that the inbound caller could also become an advocate for the organisation and a sales lead or influencer. It is not simply a question of providing an appropriate response. It is understanding that the enquirer might be an influencer or may be a “Subject Matter Expert” who can become an advocate or your organisation and/or product. A complaint should be regarded as an opportunity to engage and convert. This can be alien territory for the professionals often assigned to the job of providing Customer Service for a Pharmaceutical Organisation. This may be a generalisation but medical doctors are not usually associated with being the most customer-centric of professions. Therefore, there is a huge amount of change management and culture change required to oil the wheel that turns customer service into an extension of the Sales and Marketing departments. Nevertheless, it can be done by identifying the right skills, attitude and remuneration to attract commercially savvy Customer Service medical professionals.
4. Different Customers- Different Service Offerings? In segmenting your customer base, it is soon realised that the different customer types have different needs from your organisation. Therefore, it is possible to provide a differentiated service to address each segment. However, I also believe it is important to be consistent across all segments. Levels of service should not vary across segment even though the offering might. As an example, an IVR could be used for Customer Service directing consumers to Nurses, Pharmacists to a Clinical Pharmacist and Doctors to a suitably qualified Doctor. The time taken to answer the call should be consistent even though the Average Handling Time might vary. The time taken to post out information to the enquirer could be consistent but what is actually mailed out might be different by segment.
These are just a few of many considerations for Pharma companies to think about in developing effective Customer Service that can become an asset rather than an overhead.