Mid of January 2021. All European countries have now initiated their COVID vaccination program. Different countries, different approaches, different timings. Belgium is also getting ahead: strategic options are discussed, vaccination processes detailed, locations prepared, personnel recruited. The population is being informed via multiple channels and everybody follows how the regions are getting ready to start the large campaigns from mid of February onwards. For regional governments, this COVID 19 vaccination program is an excellent and unique opportunity to create a strong, positive and lasting experience for all citizens. Likewise, this program is an excellent example to explain some key CXM concepts. All of us are soon involved in the vaccination, and will be able to relate to the role of customer. So let's make this a win-win. In a series of five posts, I will introduce some basic concepts for life science actors to be successful with CXM.
Concept 1: Confirm the "experience" for your brands
We start simple. To fill in needs, customers go through an experience. That experience is always present. You have the choice to manage it or not. Trying to understand that experience from the customer's point of view is a win-win. Your first step to be successful is to explain that experiences always exist.
Many definitions for customer experience management (CXM) are available on the internet and in the academic world. In each of them, you read how customer-centricity is one of the key building blocks: putting the customer in the center of your business and critically evaluating your decisions from a customer's perspective. Listening to the voice of your customers, interacting with them to understand their needs, involving them in your product and service design, using their feedback to continuously improve the process via innovations.
Every interaction brings an experience with it. Customer experiences occur before, during and after the formal interactions with your company and brands. Customers evaluate their options: is the product meeting my requirements and needs? is the product easy to use? does it give me a positive and enjoyable experience? To be successful, a product or service needs to be complemented by a good experience in line with my expectations.
For the life science industry, diverse groups of customers exist, each might require a different approach, depending on their needs and roles. Examples include affiliates, HCPs, clinical investigators, specialists, surgeons, dentists, distributors, pharmacists, amongst many other. In this sector, eventually, the ultimate customer is the patient. For this reason, a significant part of the CX work by life sciences actors is related to patient centricity. Putting patients first, creating an optimised patient experience (PX), using the patient's viewpoint as the driving force behind business directions. In patient oriented environments, leaders ask: what we do in our business, is that really in the best interest of our patients? How can we make products and services better in the sole interest of patients?
Over the last few years, patient lead and patient engagement functions have started to rise within the pharma and healthcare industry. Some companies have appointed Chief Patient Officers, however, mostly, the execution of patient orientation is triggered from levels below, complemented via non-profit organisations, and experimented with, as a result of the huge increase of patient-oriented digital health innovations. The function and role is not yet where it could land. While new innovations to complement and transform patient journeys have resulted in many new challenges ahead, for many leaders patients are too far away from the business numbers. "Patients first" is not real yet. In contrast, leading companies are re-evaluating and re-shaping patient journeys in order to create improved and unique experiences that meet up with new expectations. These companies understand that their customers always encounter an experience before, during and after every interaction, with a direct link to satisfaction and loyalty.
Now, let's turn to COVID19 and illustrate this concept. What is our patient view on the vaccination program? What are our needs? What do we expect from the vaccination program? Here's my top 5 of expectations:
Give me the correct product information. While some might not raise the question, many citizens want to understand in detail the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines. Facts, no stories, no selling, reality as it stands. Certainly given the recent 23 deaths in Norway shortly after vaccination. We do not refer to the explanation of politicians or virologists on TV stations. Patients want to have easy access to the product leaflet so we can read the facts as they are. What are the documented product results and what are the side effects as formally reported by the manufacturer? The link to these details for the products from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are available at EMA's link here. Patients reading these documents will understand that the products are tested on a limited population and in specific age windows. All details on potential side effects are clearly described. Results are only reliable if you take both vaccinations within the specified time windows. Our government does have the option to communicate these details or not. If there is no clear communication, patients will start to search themselves. The fact that the correct product information is not available and not communicated upfront creates an experience. An experience that started already months before we start to use and interact. We want limited but to the point information, as opposed to some of the current daily ongoing, changing broadcasted messages from almost everyone.
Explain me the product options. Multiple vaccines become available. As a patient you want to evaluate your options, right? Maybe the government does not want us to choose, however, choosing one or the other product might have an impact. Not only in terms of effectiveness and safety, but also with respect to the vaccination process now and in the future. As patients, we want to understand the 6 vaccines that are arriving, discuss and select which one to pick. Maybe we cannot explicitly select a product, but by advancing or delaying your vaccination, you do have a choice. Maybe the location will be linked to a particular vaccine. By reading the leaflets, and knowing which potential other vaccines will be offered to me, I have made my choice already.
Provide me with transparent planning. As a patient, I want to understand the process to be followed for my vaccination (how, when, what). Currently, the government of Flanders is setting up 95 vaccination centres across the 60 first cure zones. Each citizen will be assigned to a specific centre. However, maybe some of us prefer to get vaccinated during an already planned medical doctor's appointment, in the hospital, in a location close to work offices, or just as a family all together. These options and the choices I can make, will all contribute to the experience that is being build now and in the future.
Ensure a smooth vaccination process. Less burden is better. We want to see an easy process, integrated in our family, easy reachable locations, specific timings, short waiting times, happy workers with a smile, a safe environment, a painless experience. The vaccination process starts before the physical activities take place in the vaccination centres. It already started several months back when the success of the vaccine development reached our confidence level of getting a solution. It accelerated when communications on the strategy were released. In Belgium, communication on the program is occurring via multiple channels. The Flanders region is using websites, news stations, and press conferences. All citizens will receive an invitation letter and email to further explain the process and allocate them to a centre. These elements all contribute in building up the vaccination experience.
Avoid unexpected surprises afterwards. Before we engage, we need to be clear on next steps. To avoid surprises and negative remarks afterwards, setting expectations upfront is important. How will future vaccinations run? What might happen after these vaccinations? What will be the result while we are building up our vaccination campaign? What are the targets to release us from the lock downs? What is the impact of my individual contribution? Everyone makes mistakes, things do change, insights are growing as we go ahead. Customers and patients accept issues as long as communication is transparent and open. In Belgium, we communicate in 2 languages (not in English), while we have multi-cultural environments. That decision is creating an experience for certain parts of our population. Communication that is fragmented or limited to one general message to the public has another impact compared to multiple differentiating between patient groups. Some patients might not receive the information or misunderstand it. We need to avoid churn for the second injections in order to ensure effectiveness as well as for legal reasons.
The way in which all of these expectations will be met, will leave an experience with me.
Sure, there might be other needs and expectations. Many citizens might not have any expectations at all. Likewise, there are many other elements that contribute, for example pricing: although vaccines are offered free, price is still actively present and sends out a signal.
The point is, that we as patients, have some expectations, will go through an experience build up by our government. Whether we like it or not, we will match that experience against our expectations. The experience will be different for different groups of the population, with some having higher, and others having lower expectations. Understanding the patient's view helps to do this well.
Likewise, in our business, if we want to create a good and positive experience for our products, we need to understand what the expectations are. Working customer centric, looking from the customer's point of view, and involving them in the process, will positively contribute. Patient centricity is a tool that helps us as a guide to be competitive. For every project or initiative, we should critically challenge what the feedback and impact to our patients would be.
The COVID 19 vaccination program is an excellent and unique opportunity to create a strong, positive and lasting experience with all citizens. In fact, the role of the experience might by far exceed the role of the product: many of us will never see the product, and will wonder whether it works well in our particular case. In contrast, the experience will stay with us for a long time, we might reflect on it during the rest of our life. For example, by handling all products as being the same, and not allowing patients to select their vaccines, the government leaves the experience as the main critical component for its customers to judge. For example, by not organising a good, consistent and reliable communication, the experience starts more negative than positive even before the first vaccination is occurring. How is the government handling my opinion, are they asking my voice in all of this? Do they consider the patient?
Some critics on this article might be that this case is so unique, getting customer feedback, and developing an understanding of customer needs, is simply not possible, not efficient, not needed. At this moment, it indeed listening to the patients seems not to be part of the process. The vaccination committee is composed out of many members, but patient representatives are not really involved. The government decides and instructs us what to do, where to go, what product, what order, when and why. Given the urgency and the short time frame, and the fact that people would willing to accept a cumbersome process, might be reasons to skip this step. Also conducting surveys across the entire population to better understand expectations might be too complex. After all, everybody is excited to go back to "normal life". Fair enough.
So why should the government care about this experience management (CXM)?
All vaccination is on voluntary basis. A positive experience helps on reaching the 70% degree of vaccination. People will talk positively to their friends and families and motivate them to go for vaccination as well. Positive customer experience ensures customers are satisfied and stay loyal. This vaccination requires patients to come back for a second injection, and very likely for more vaccinations over the next few years. To achieve this, what will work best? When you ask the opinion of patients to understand their expectations and use this to design a good process? Or when you impose a process to them hoping they will accept and appreciate it? Match their expectations - make it a historic, attempt to excel.
Although requesting feedback before the program might not be realistic and too complex, capturing feedback immediately after the first vaccination, is an easy and impact full technique. A technique that the government could use to get connected, to use input to understand expectations, to ease potential critics, and to improve whatever is needed for the second run. Each individual vaccination from each patient is an unique opportunity to capture feedback as a motivator for all vaccinations to follow. Questions can stay simple and limited: are you happy? did the process meet your expectations? what was your effort easy enough? do you have any recommendations for improvement? A little effort with great impact. Did you notice how Israel is handling some of the experiences? They have chosen to use car drive-in-lanes to ensure a fast and safe process with great convenience for families.
Why should other stakeholders such as manufacturers care about this CXM?
First of all, the end customer, the patients, will discuss, and share their experiences with the products. They will compare experiences. Secondly, the health care practitioners that are providing the services to the patients will also compare experiences. Is the product easy to handle, to prepare, is it packaged convenient, does it allow efficient work? Every healthcare worker will start to build an experience with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna products. Together with AstraZeneca, both companies have succeeded in the race to bring products to the market fast, but there is a group of second and late followers. These new players will need to compete with the leaders in terms of the experience. What if they only require one injection, if they have better results, if they are easier to handle. They could come with better designs, easier handling, more innovation, embedded digital health solutions, better integration of the data, electronic registration. Maybe the second group of vaccines did use the time to listen more carefully to patients and stakeholders.
Let's conclude with a short recap on this first concept of CX. To fill in a need, customers will always go through an experience. Trying to understand that experience from the customer's point of view is a win. Whether you like this or not, the experience will be present for all products and services from all stakeholders. The experience starts long before the physical transaction, and will last long after the last transaction. Whether you are a manufacturer of vaccines, supply syringes, needles, or provide healthcare care services as pharmacists or nurse; the customer experience will always be present. The way you choose to manage that experience is for you to fill in. The immediate impact when you meet or exceed expectations, results in direct business benefits in the form of higher satisfaction and loyalty.
We used the COVID19 vaccination process as an example to illustrate the concept of "experience" and to explain how customer centricity helps as a tool to identify, create and implement those experiences that lead to improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.