How to Succeed at Omnichannel in a Post-COVID World

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COVID-19 has forced pharma firms to adapt their commercial strategy at speed, shifting from in-person customer interactions to remote and digital engagement channels almost overnight. Although most companies had long since initiated their digital transformation, it takes time to build up the necessary capabilities—and while we see pockets of digital maturity, customer feedback suggests there is room for improvement. A truly omnichannel strategy focuses on providing engaging content via the most appropriate channel for each customer. To succeed in a post-COVID world, pharma needs to shift from multichannel to data-driven omnichannel engagement. This can be a challenge, as companies look to scale their capabilities quickly in order to effectively engage with customers and drive commercial success.

It comes as no surprise that many prominent service providers in the industry have seen an up to threefold rise in demand for digital content, with little indication of this regressing. This suggests that pharma firms are now well and truly getting serious about accelerating their digital transformation, shifting from a sales rep model to a digital-first omnichannel approach. Many are weighing how to build efficient and effective sales and marketing processes, leveraging new technologies to maximize customer engagement, and grow revenue.

To start, pharma organizations need to understand how their customers now want to engage. A survey of European healthcare professionals (HCPs) reveals a significant shift in how they want to interact with pharma organizations post-COVID (see Figure 1). Although 54% of the HCPs we surveyed would still like to see sales reps in person post-COVID, that’s a precipitous decline from the 87% who preferred in-person meetings pre-COVID. We also see a decrease in European HCPs’ desire to resume using some of the most popular pre-COVID channels, including in-person and remote meetings with medical science liaisons (MSLs), attending conferences, and receiving marketing emails.

Post-COVID, remote meetings with sales reps and webinars will be among the most popular channels and will be key to enabling companies to maintain and build customer relationships. Similarly, the preference for using websites, online groups, mobile apps, and other online channels will increase post-COVID.

Figure 1: HCPs’ interaction preferences, pre- and post-COVID
Source: 162 European HCPs from Indegene’s 2021 Customer Experience Playbook
Although many companies have invested in digital capabilities over the past few years, customer satisfaction remains highly variable (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: HCP channel satisfaction
Source: 162 European HCPs from Indegene’s 2021 Customer Experience Playbook
However, channel preference is only one aspect of the equation; HCP sentiment suggests that there’s room for improvement in all dimensions of engagement (see Figure 3). A key challenge for pharma organizations with an “always on” omnichannel approach is the need for large volumes of fresh, engaging, and customizable content that resonates with customers and can be integrated across all channels. To drive engagement content must be relevant, presenting the latest scientific data along with case studies and comparisons to competing products. Channels must be convenient for customers to access and use and meet their expectations for interaction frequency and length, the ease of scheduling appointments, and the simplicity of accessing online resources. If implemented effectively, companies can drive a positive customer experience and differentiate themselves from their competition by ensuring they meet HCP expectations of trust, relevance and simplicity in their promotional activities. Therefore, resulting in an increased number of customer engagements, an appetite to engage via digital channels and creating a positive view of their product and company.
Figure 3: HCP sentiment across all dimensions of engagement

Source: Indegene Research

Although most pharma companies have deployed digital capabilities, many are struggling to implement a truly omnichannel approach that orchestrates all channels to provide a unified experience that meets customer expectations.

To successfully execute an omnichannel strategy, companies need to put new capabilities, systems, and processes in place. These include campaign operations and tools for marketing automation, digital content production, and data analytics. Firms must implement technical capabilities such as multichannel marketing platforms to operationalize campaigns and to integrate with other systems in the pharma technology stack, such as CRM. This has often been a major hurdle for pharma companies to overcome as they look to build capabilities quickly and at scale in order to stay ahead of the game.

To measure, evaluate, and optimize channel effectiveness, pharma firms also need to invest in and effectively integrate data analytics; without this, they are taking shots in the dark and limiting their gains. As pharma embraces the post-COVID world, it will be important to deploy artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to convert insights into actions and collect and analyze the data needed to make better business decisions. The underlying principle of any omnichannel campaign in pharma is to ensure that the firm can deliver the right content to the right customer in the customer’s preferred channel.

New skills and roles are also needed to effectively implement an omnichannel strategy. Sales reps and MSLs need to be upskilled and trained to work remotely or in hybrid (remote and in-person) capacity and in conjunction with digital assets to improve engagement. Roles such as multichannel orchestrators are also emerging to coordinate interactions and ensure that the firm is deploying the appropriate channels and actions.

To make the situation even more complex, many companies are facing resource limitations. Whether this is due to reduced revenue as products go off-patent, lower market potential of new products, or constraints on pricing, companies need to make tough decisions on where in the product portfolio to invest their limited resources.

As pharma looks to embrace the new normal, there is an increased urgency for companies to accelerate their digital transformation, leveraging technology and innovative commercial models to improve commercial productivity. To remain competitive, it’s important to identify ways to quickly scale capabilities and build the necessary infrastructure and processes to create the right customer-focused engagement model. This new commercial model will be vital for success in a digital-first world, and those that leading the change will see the biggest impact.

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