The State Of Customer Experience In The Pharmaceutical Industry, 2021: HCP Interactions

Executive Summary

Excellent customer experiences are a key driver of business value, but pharma companies have yet to take advantage of this. They struggle to provide a consistent level of engagement across digital and non-digital channels and face an uphill battle for relevance. These issues will be further accentuated as healthcare professionals’ post-COVID-19 channel preferences continue to evolve. In response, traditional pharmaceutical sales and marketing practices must change, with a greater focus on flexibility of approach and quality of engagement.

The Current State of Customer Experience in Pharma

The 2021 edition of our annual Customer Experience Quotient® (CXQ®) study to assess the customer experience of interactions between pharma firms and healthcare professionals (HCPs) was conducted from December 2020 to February 2021, during the second wave of COVID-19 infections. The study encompassed 4,000 interactions among 2,000 HCPs across seven countries and seven specialty areas (see Figure 1). HCPs rated their most recent experiences with a pharma company and shared their opinions about their needs and preferences for these. Given the variety of COVID-19 measures taken by different governments, these experiences might have occurred before, during, or after local lockdowns. Our data shows that:

  • Customer experience in pharma is still average. Companies have yet to take advantage of opportunities to differentiate themselves by providing superior CX (see Figure 2). As in our 2018 study, no firm was judged either poor or excellent; in 2021, a slim majority of companies rated as good, the same as in our 2020 study (see Figure 3).
  • Novo Nordisk, Lilly, and Roche are pharma’s CX leaders. CXQ® scores measure the extent to which HCPs believe that companies meet their expectations in terms of how relevant the information or service is, how easy it is to find or get, and how much they can trust what firms provide. Novo Nordisk, Lilly, and Roche led the industry in 2021, although none received top marks. Nevertheless, the results indicate an uptick in Roche’s fortunes, as its rating improved from fair to good.
  • Roche is ahead with its use of non-digital channels. In addition to providing an overall CX benchmark, the 2021 CXQ® survey also ranks companies by their use of digital and non-digital channels. Roche has a slim lead for its use of non-digital channels, albeit with only a good rating (see Figure 4). Novo Nordisk’s performance in digital channels pulled it ahead of the pack, although its overall standing was held back by a less stellar use of non-digital channels (see Figure 5).
  • Diabetes HCPs report better experiences than those in other therapy areas. HCPs in diabetes and endocrinology were more impressed with the relevance, simplicity, and trustworthiness of pharma information and services than their peers in other therapy areas (see Figure 6). Experiences provided by firms operating in pulmonology and cardiology therapy areas were less likely to satisfy HCPs.

Figure 1: The Customer Experience Quotient® Survey, HCP Interactions

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Figure 2: Customer Experience Quotient® Framework for HCP Interactions

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Figure 3: The state of customer experience in the pharmaceutical industry, 2021: HCP interactions

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Figure 4: No pharmaceutical firm excelled in non-digital channels


Figure 5: A solidly good rating was the best performance in digital channels


Figure 6: Pulmonology and cardiology experiences are unlikely to satisfy healthcare professionals

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CX Is The Foundation of Customer Centricity

There’s a stark difference between delivering an excellent CX and a bad one. CX strongly influences how HCPs engage with pharma companies and view pharma’s information and services. Pharmaceutical organizations that want to move from channel-based marketing to a truly customer-centric approach will find that providing excellent CX can help them drive significant positive change across several important areas. Our data found that:

  • Excellent CX boosts engagement and reach. Customers who report that a pharma company provides excellent CX are more than twice as likely to engage further with that firm than with ones that provides poor CX (see Figure 7). In addition, customers experiencing positive interactions are 11% more likely to save information about a product or service; more than twice as likely to share information with friends or colleagues; and six times as likely to request a follow-up from a pharma company. The message here is clear: positive CX significantly increases the frequency of engagement and the reach of a product or service.
  • CX performance has a strong positive impact on business drivers. While bad interactions do not significantly affect customer opinions, excellent interactions have a positive impact on a wide range of HCP beliefs (see Figure 8). In our survey, 62% of respondents said that excellent CX improved their view of a pharma company’s therapies; 56% said that it improved their view of pharma’s digital tools and communication channels (see Figure 9). It appears that HCPs are forgiving when companies disappoint them, but are strongly encouraged when firms exceed expectations.
  • CX improves customer-centric metrics. There was an even greater impact on business drivers related to customer centricity: 61% of HCPs said that receiving excellent CX changed their view of the firm that provided it for the better; 67% said that it improved their belief that pharma understands the challenges they and their patients face. Positive brand positioning and strong perceptions of support in the minds of customers, particularly during times of crisis, can change current and future prescribing behavior.

Figure 7: Future engagement takes a hit when customer experiences are poor

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Figure 8: Excellent customer experiences produce positive change

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Figure 9: Healthcare professionals are encouraged when pharma exceeds expectations

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Pharma Is Struggling for Relevance

One of the main reasons why HCPs rate pharma overall as only “fair” is the disconnect between how pharma companies provide information to HCPs and how HCPs want to receive it. The diverse range of HCPs’ favorite channels will challenge the industry to move beyond its own traditional preferences and improve channels that currently perform poorly in order to better align with HCPs’ needs. We also saw that:

  • The use of independent websites is substandard. HCPs who read company-sponsored information on an independent website awarded it the lowest CXQ® score of any of the 21 channels used by pharma; its borderline fair rating was only just exceeded by direct mail provided by sales reps (see Figure 10). In contrast, company-sponsored live online or virtual meetings was the channel that most pleased customers; they judged this as good.
  • Reps are no more popular than a printed newsletter. All of the channels that our survey covered—from physical newsletters to social media posts to in-person, face-to-face meetings with a sales rep in the HCP’s office—were about equally popular; each was the preferred choice of 2% to 7% of respondents (see Figure 11). This has to persuade pharma companies to prioritize increasing the CXQ® score of the more than half of the channels­ that were rated poor or fair.
  • Apps and social media don’t yet register with HCPs. Despite pharma companies launching a multitude of social media accounts and mobile apps over the years, almost no HCP in our survey reported receiving industry information or communications in these channels. But given the choice, 5% would like to make more use of apps; 3% said the same about social media. Very few HCPs reported receiving information via direct mail from sales reps and medical reps, sponsored information on independent websites, and online videos from events (each at just 1% of our sample), even though these were the channel of choice of 4% to 6% of respondents.

Figure 10: Live online and virtual meetings outperform other channels

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Figure 11: Pharma must move beyond its own preferences

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HCPs Have New Channel Preferences Post-COVID

HCP engagement with pharma companies for disease and product information and services underwent a huge change during the pandemic. COVID-19 forced an immediate and widespread rethink of traditional pharmaceutical sales and marketing practices, with a swift pivot to a reliance on digital channels (see Figure 12). HCP interactions switched from face-to-face to virtual contact that favored live videoconferencing, emails from representatives, and recorded online events. We also found that:

  • Post-COVID, HCPs want a hybrid approach. During the second wave of COVID-19, there was a clear desire for more face-to-face contact with the industry once the pandemic wanes; more than half of our respondents are looking forward to more in-person events and in-office meetings with sales reps (see Figure 13). At the same time, HCPs also want pharma to either continue or further increase its use of virtual events: 68% said that this should be the case for live online events and 69% voted for recorded online events (see Figure 14).
  • Rep interactions must aim for quality, not quantity. Whether it’s face-to-face or virtual, a significant minority (37%) of HCPs want fewer interactions with sales and medical reps; 40% felt that the lower levels of personal interactions with sales reps that they received during COVID-19 were right for them and 39% said that interactions with medical reps during the pandemic were are the right level. This will challenge pharma companies to provide valuable interactions so that representatives make the most of their time in front of HCPs.
  • Physicians now favor remote calls with sales reps. Speaking with a sales representative via live videoconferencing experienced a complete turnaround during COVID-19 (see Figure 15). It went from HCPs’ least popular way of searching for or receiving information pre-pandemic to the most popular choice for more respondents (47%). Online events also scored well; HCPs expressed greater desire for recorded webcasts, webinars, or congresses than for live ones. Face-to-face meetings with sales reps in the HCP’s office experienced the greatest preference change after being abandoned by more than 54% of respondents.

Figure 12: COVID-19 forced an immediate rethink of traditional practices

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Figure 13: Healthcare professionals want more virtual pharma events

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Figure 14: Pharma should reassess its frequency of engagement

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Figure 15: A post-COVID boom in videoconferencing is likely

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DT Consulting carried out its annual CXQ® customer experience study of pharma’s interactions with healthcare professionals (HCPs) during COVID-19’s second wave of infections. Fielded from December 2020 to February 2021, the email-initiated online survey captured customer experience insights from 4,000 interactions among 2,000 HCPs. Respondents worked in general practice, rheumatology, oncology, pulmonology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, and cardiology and were from the US, Canada, Germany, France, the UK, Spain, and Italy. The HCPs rated their most recent experiences with a pharmaceutical company. Given the variety of approaches taken by different governments, such experiences might have occurred before, during, or after local lockdowns.

Related Research


Dominic Tyer crc

Dominic Tyer


Dominic has more than 20 years of pharmaceutical publishing experience at leading industry titles and is an influential author on the digital transformation of the healthcare sector. As Director of Research at DT Consulting, he is responsible for defining and executing the company’s expanding publication agenda and peer networking event schedule, both of which address the needs of pharmaceutical companies and their leaders.

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 to advise the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms on how to best achieve customer experience success through digital transformation.
Tim van Tongeren crc
Hannah Price crc

Hannah Price

Senior Director

Hannah has more than a decade of experience working with commercial and technology leaders focused on digital and customer experience transformation. She advises organizations on how to evolve their customer offering to take advantage of digital capabilities and develop the internal competencies required to effect this transformation. In her current role as Director of Customer Experience, she leads DT’s customer experience practice, guiding the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms towards creating deliberate, holistic experiences for customers that leverage digital channels and deliver business value.

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