A Customer Experience Review of One Firm's Five Major Oncology Websites

Executive Summary

Senior digital leaders at pharma firms rank customer experience (CX) as their organizations’ most important capability. However, CX maturity in the industry remains low—jeopardizing the investments firms have made in CX. Recognizing this disconnect, one pharma firm’s global head of digital wanted to undertake a practical assessment of how brand teams’ management of key customer initiatives relates to how customers feel about the assets those teams produce.

Situation: Despite the Best of Intentions, Pharma’s CX Design Remains Immature

Digital technologies are empowering customers to choose or even take control of their relationships with companies across industries, and pharma is no exception. But right now they are not able to live up to the straightforward expectations that healthcare professionals (HCPs) have for interacting with them. While it’s not the end of the world if individual interactions—or even the microinteractions within them—fail to meet customer needs, consistent underperformance or providing disappointing experiences along thecustomer’s journey will eventually have adverse consequences. At best, a firm will get negative word of mouth; at worst, customers change their prescribing behaviors and preferences.

The Desire to Create Great Customer Experiences Drives Digital Transformation

Customer experiences are the sum of all perceptions customers have of your firm as the result of the actions you take to fulfill their needs. These range from the reps companies send to meet with customers to the websites firms build for them. Despite its importance, almost all pharma firms still see the majority of their brand teams put brand priorities at the forefront of what they do. The necessary shift from brand to customer focus starts with a firm’s attitude: whether it believes that CX unlocks new revenue potential. What about pharma? Does the industry really see CX as a game-changer? Our research has found that:

  •  Corporate executives commit strongly to CX. Customer experience is a recurring topic on the senior leadership agenda. When we asked pharma leaders about their level of commitment to various business priorities, customer engagement (CE) transformation topped the list, followed closely by data analytics and operations and digital R&D transformation (see Figure 1).
  • Heads of digital, multichannel, and CE rate it as the most important capability. Pharma’s most senior digital leaders rate CX management as the most important digital capability for their firms to have—but they also tell us that it’s the least understood capability in their organization (see Figure 2)2. This gap engenders a range of business challenges, from a frustrated marketing organization unable to execute multichannel campaigns to ineffective marketing spending due to poorly designed customer interactions.
  • Brand managers see CX as critical to achieving their business objectives. Brand managers toldus that CX is pivotal to meeting their business objectives. Twenty-nine out of thirty-two marketing and brand managers indicated that the CX quality of their customer initiatives and the extent to which those initiatives meet customer needs is very important to their brand planning (see Figure 3)3.

A Tier 1 Pharma Firm’s Global Head of Digital Sees Structural CX Challenges

By building digital capabilities, senior digital leaders enable marketing teams to create multichannel product and service experiences for their firms’ customers. Unfortunately, as previous research shows, adoption of digital capabilities remains poor; this not only puts a firm’s hefty investments in technology platforms and services at risk, but also endangers the overall promise of multichannel customer engagement. The global head of digital at one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms faced this very challenge. He wanted to investigate the root causes of poor customer experiences, the relationship between poor customer experiences and great ones, and how mature his firm was in terms of the multichannel capability stack. His initial hypotheses were that:

  1. Lackluster customer experiences are rooted in poor strategic thinking and weak operational discipline.
  2. Poor customer experiences are less likely to be due to a single major design flaw, but rather many smaller ones.
  3. To enhance their CX maturity, organizations must make it a priority to ensure that their employees become literate in design thinking and doing.

Approach: Apply the CXR Method to Uncover CX Flaws and Their Origins

Firms can employ a variety of methods to determine the current state of their customer experiences and use that knowledge as a valuable input into making the right CX improvements. Each method has its pros and cons. In this case, our client needed to balance speed with depth of insight; in other words, he needed an assessment that was thorough but avoided the complexity of getting HCPs directly involved in capturing insights. To fulfill this need, we applied DT’s Customer Experience Review (CXR) method, which has two components: an expert review to uncover if a firm’s CX falls prey to common design challenges, and interviews with the firm’s CX owners to identify the root causes behind flawed (or successful) designs.

Expert Review: Pinpoint Design Flaws

DT’s Customer Experience Review involves three straightforward steps (see Figure 4):

  1. Describe a key customer interaction. An interaction has two key elements: a customer and a task. The customer is who we’re interacting with; the task is what they want or need from us. Our review first describes both the customer and the task as accurately as possible. To describe customers, we use personas—each of which is a narrative of a real customer who represents a larger group of similar people. We then represent tasks as potential ways to both meet a key customer need and create value for the business.
  2. Try to complete the tasks. Two external experts impersonate the customer and try to complete the tasks. Real customers who successfully complete tasks are more likely to give their experience positive ratings than those who are unable to do so.
  3. Apply set criteria to rate the experience. Our twenty-two review criteria are based on well-researched interaction design standards and relate to the same three main customer expectations as our CXQ® framework of customer experience measurement: the content needs to be relevant and simple to get, and the overall interaction should build trust. 5 Analysts compare scores and notes to determine the final score, which ranges from “very poor” (no points for any of the twenty-two criteria) to “excellent” (the full three points for all criteria).

Business Review: Assess Existing Customer Experience Management Practices

We take the results of the expert review and analyze how the customer experience is managed from two perspectives: thinking and doing. Strategy is the thinking behind the creation of the interaction; operations is the actual set of processes to design the interaction. We ask the teams responsible for CX thirteen questions and rate their answers on a scale of zero to three; each point on the scale is uniquely defined for each practice.

  • Strategy. These questions assess the extent to which a purposeful strategy is behind the customer experience. Is the website an integral part of an overall customer engagement strategy and plan? Is there a definition of what constitutes successful CX? Is the content plan driven by customer needs?
  • Operations. The questions evaluate how much operational literacy and discipline is used to create and improve the customer experience. Is there a recurring design process to make improvements? Is data used to inform design decisions? How quickly can new designs be tested and implemented?

Findings: CXR Results Confirm that the State of CX is Poor

Our client asked us to review his firm’s portfolio of five oncology websites targeting physicians in each of the EU5 countries. We used the persona of Alex (45), an oncologist working in a center in the capital of his country, looking after about fifty patients with mGC per year. He goes to websites targeting oncologists in his country with the goal of finding the best 2L treatment for his patients and weighing the pros and cons of the available treatments.

The Expert Review: Poorly Designed Websites Hurt the Experience of Key Customers

All five websites provide a poor customer experience, scoring an average of thirty points out of a possible sixty-six (see Figure 5). This makes it unlikely that customers like Alex leave a website satisfied. We found a few major issues with all websites—but it’s primarily the large number of smaller problems that account for the negative results. Specifically, we found problems with:

  • Relevance: websites are difficult to find and provide insufficient information. Only the German website offers all of the content Alex needs to complete his tasks. The others all lack essential data that physicians look for to better understand treatment pathways and patients. While most sites do have some content, their page design doesn’t put the most relevant information front and center. In an overall poor performance, the only bright spot is the search function, which was both available and able to retrieve the information physicians like Alex look for.
  • Simplicity: websites suffer from unclear navigation, poor formatting, and illegible text. While the websites do use clear language customers are likely to understand immediately, the same can’t be said about site navigation. Menus and labels are unclear, and interactive elements (links, buttons, clickable icons, and images) are not intuitive or otherwise difficult to recognize. Add the fact that untidy page formatting and spacing makes website text not easily scannable, and it becomes clear that customers will have to work extra hard to find what they are looking for.
  • Trustworthiness: several errors undermine websites’ reliability. While the firm’s oncology websites offer contextual help on key decision points, they do not engender credibility or trust among users. Four of the five sites experience major system errors when users complete their goals. And most fail to appropriately balance scientific and educational content with promotional material, making it harder for Alex to distinguish which information is solid, usable scientific knowledge.

Business Review: Poorly Organized Teams Deliver Poor Customer Experiences

The UK team struggled the most, collecting only eight of a possible thirty-nine points, whereas the Italian team earned nineteen. We found pockets of good practices: teams consider the website to be a mature tactic in the multichannel campaign behind the product and an essential channel to distribute content to the target audience. But overall, the strategic thinking and operational discipline behind the optimization of the websites is poor (see Figure 6).

  • Strategy: global and local marketing teams are not aligned. Unclear roles and weak partnerships between global and local marketers explain the many design flaws and lack of essential content. Failure to involve local teams in content and design decisions made it seem that the firm was just shipping them a version of the global website created without considering local market needs. It’s no surprise, then, that local marketing teams have little desire to accept the website as a strategic asset to engage local customers. Few teams even take the time to develop a long-term website strategy, adopt best practices such as customer needs identification or customer journey mapping, or define what constitutes a successful website visit.” This website was done because it needed to be done. There was no media plan behind it; neither was there a longer-term strategy, such as how do we activate it and what happens thereafter?”“No, it’s very product-based, coming from global. We don’t like it.”

    “We have not defined what success looks like, how we can measure it, and how it fits in the wider strategy—all of which is part of the problem.”

  • Operations: teams have poor discipline in managing CX success. Four of the five website teams lack a recurring, structured design process to ensure that the website is optimized to meet user needs and satisfy customers; they don’t even hold periodic meetings to discuss improvements. Other key operational tasks, such as the use of web analytics, search optimization, and traffic-driving activity, are almost absent across Europe. This lack of discipline is rooted in the fact that making changes to the website is frustrating.

    “The content management system presents some limitations due to its templates. For modifications, we need to collaborate with another IT office based in India. It’s quite difficult to get things done.”

    “It’s frustrating experience, mainly due to the migration from our local system to the new system. The new website is neither programmed nor designed properly, and the local design team is reluctant to work with it.”



Fix Design Flaws at the Same Time as Their Root Causes

Our data shows that poorly organized firms suffer from a lack of strategic focus and control, invariably resulting in poor customer experience. Firms have a plethora of opportunities to turn poor CX into experiences that customers want to repeat or tell their colleagues about. Our favorites are:
  • Setting up a voice-of-the-employee program. You can’t fix CX problems that you don’t know exist. Marketers should enlist the help of their colleagues in digital or multichannel customer engagement teams to create programs that measure the CX of their core customer activities. Web or clickstream analytics, CX reviews, and direct customer feedback from surveys can pinpoint problems, but teams often fail to develop insights into why the problem arises. To discover the root causes, leverage the expertise of your company’s sales and medical representatives. Involving them in your review process via a voice-of-the-employee program will reveal many of the root causes of problems without investing a single penny.
  • Equipping (global) brand managers with CXR skills. Another way to avoid serving up poor customer experiences is to capture design issues early on. One pharma firm is building a separate in-house capability based on the expert review methodology followed and executed by independent specialists. Another firm embeds the capability directly where it is required: with brand managers. By gaining literacy and experience, brand managers will start to think differently about CX and spot problems as soon as their agencies send the first prototypes and designs of their materials.
  • Upgrading your digital factory. About half of the design problems our analysis uncovered trace their origin to a lack of flexibility in the systems that deliver customer experiences. These can range from rigid style sheets to old-fashioned content management systems; replacing these legacy technologies will not only fix pertinent, recurring problems, but also reduce overall deployment time of brand materials by as much as 20%.


DT Consulting used its Customer Experience Review methodology to assess a pharmaceutical company’s oncology websites. This method uses an expert analyst to score each website on thirty-six well-researched success criteria. To ensure its validity, a persona is first created based on a real-life customer scenario. The expert then assesses each of the touchpoints in the customer journey against the thirty-six success criteria, which are weighted and scaled to formulate the final score. DT reviewed three different firms’ brand websites, including the country-specific websites for one firm’s top five European markets. The websites were selected as they were comparable in size and all represented oncology brands.

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Tim van Tongeren crc

Tim van Tongeren

Managing Partner

Tim has worked for more than fifteen years with commercial leaders to navigate their strategic and organizational transformations required to thrive on digital technology change. In his current role as Managing Partner, he leads DT’s Solutions and Consulting offerings…

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