Customer Loyalty and Service Insights for the Pharmaceutical Industry

By Dana Deighton

“Only nine percent of U.S. consumers believe pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies put patients over profits.” This sentiment, found in the 2016 Harris Poll of Reputation Equity and Risk Across the Health Care Sector, has stayed fairly consistent in Harris polls until recently.1 In this year’s April and May series of surveys around the COVID-19 pandemic, Harris asked the question, “How has your view of [the Pharmaceutical Industry] changed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic?” In both the polls, 40% of respondents had a more positive view of the pharmaceutical industry than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.2,3

One of the ways the pharmaceutical industry can capitalize on this more positive perspective is by applying customer service industry insights. Dr. Chip Bell, a customer loyalty and service innovation guru and author of 23 books on the subject, recently reminded an audience of pharmaceutical executives that, “Your patients are your customers.”4

Although “customer” is not the term generally used by pharma for patients, Bell makes a powerful comparison between the needs of other industries for customers and pharma’s needs for patients when it comes to clinical trial recruitment and retention. First, both industries try to attract customers — or in the case of clinical trials, volunteers. Both industries need to retain customers: pharma needs to reduce dropout of patients in clinical trials. Third, both industries need customers to care about the brand; in other words, they need customers or patients that trust them enough to forgive mistakes and not litigate against them. Finally, both pharma and other industries need advocates that promote their product.4

Customers are swayed in their decision-making by the experiences they have with products and businesses, according to Bell. As a keynote speaker at the DPharma Conference in 2016, Bell explained how patient experiences with pharmaceutical companies influence their decisions to participate in clinical trials. He discussed five strategies used by innovative customer loyalty programs that could be applied to improve patient and clinical trial subject experience.

  • Know the patient:
    Demonstrate to your patients that you know them, especially learn how and where patients are communicating. Bell said that social media is a great place to be communicating with patients.
  • Include the patient:
    Patient involvement in clinical trial development is already becoming part of the culture of pharmaceutical R&D. Using research to obtain patient input in clinical trial protocol design is part of that inclusion.
  • Enlighten the patient:
    “In other words, make me smarter,” Bell said. In the customer service field, learning and educational tools for customers increase the likelihood of customer retention by 32 percent.
  • Unburden the patient:
    Making the experience of being in the clinical trial as anxiety-free as possible is a big task, but there are ways to do this: Keep communication open even at the risk of over-communicating. Providing daily check-in calls to the patient and caregiver is one strategy.

In an example of over-communicating and reducing anxiety, Bell told a story of when his son needed surgery as a child. His son was given a tour when he arrived at the hospital. Then he got to see a child-friendly video which explained the preliminary processes before surgery and how he would be taken care of. Finally, he was given a book, Curious George Goes to the Hospital. After his surgery, he found a stuffed toy “Curious George” in his bed. “Today, my grandchildren play with that Curious George and my son tells the story of how he got it.”

This example demonstrates the power of over-communicating and providing ‘ending memories’ (what the patient takes away from the experience). Instead of remembering the pain and trauma of this childhood surgery, Bell’s son remembers and shares a positive story about his hospital experience.

  • Enchant the patient:
    Providing something that is unexpected to improve the experience can make a difference. One suggestion Bell provided is sending the clinical trial participant and their caregiver a thank you note for signing up for the trial. “Thank you,” expressed throughout the clinical trial journey, is a simple difference that means a lot.

    Another suggestion would be to obtain insights from patients and caregivers as to what is going well and what could be improved in the process and in the trial itself.4

In Inspire’s 4th Annual Survey published in 2019, ninety-four percent of the over 9000 patients who took the survey were taking medications. When asked the question,

“Do you feel that you have any kind of ‘relationship’ with any of the pharmaceutical companies that make your/your loved one’s medications (e.g. you’ve utilized educational or financial assistance resources they provide, you’ve contacted them directly with questions about your/your loved one’s medication)?,”

only 15% said they had interacted with the pharmaceutical company. Only 12% knew the pharmaceutical company behind all of their medications; 15% said they knew which pharmaceutical company made most of their medications; 36% knew some of their medications; but 37% of patients didn’t know any of the pharmaceutical companies behind their treatments. This data reflects a problem that needs a solution.5

Bell told his pharmaceutical executive audience about a common question asked in customer service research, “Imagine you are a school teacher. If you could give a grade to [this business], what grade would it receive for service?” The customer can choose to give an A, B, C, D, or F. Sixty-four percent of customers that give a business an A will advocate for that business, if the business is given a B, that number drops to 45 percent. Eighty-one percent of people who give an A will repurchase (be a retained customer); only 44 percent will repurchase if they gave the business a B. Finally, 64 percent of customers will forgive a business of making a mistake if it is one that has received an A; only 28 percent of those giving a B would forgive a mistake.4

There is ROI value in receiving an A. Perhaps the solution IS taking lessons from the customer service industry. Bell will be presenting his ideas this year at the Patient as Partners Annual meeting, which is taking place virtually August 19-21.

See how pharmaceutical companies are obtaining patient insights to improve clinical trial protocols by downloading Inspire’s case study below.

Download this case study, “Improving Clinical Trial Protocol Design to Enhance Trial Participation”

Download this case study

Inspire offers a trusted community to patients and caregivers.  Our goal with this blog, this website and our content is to provide the life science industry access to the true, authentic patient voice.  In so doing, we support faithful operationalization of patient-centricity.  Take a look at our case studies, eBooks and news outlet coverage.

References:
1 https://theharrispoll.com/only-nine-percent-of-u-s-consumers-believe-pharmaceutical-and-biotechnology-companies-put-patients-over-profits-while-only-16-percent-believe-health-insurance-companies-do-according-to-a-harris-pol/
2https://www.fiercepharma.com/marketing/pharma-reputation-continues-strong-during-covid-19-harris-poll-reveals-new-details-about
3 https://theharrispoll.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/The-Harris-Poll_COVID19-Tracker_Wave-9.pdf
4 https://theconferenceforum.org/the-conference-forum/pharmatalkradio-why-pharma-rd-has-to-start-thinking-like-a-service-industry-and-how/
5https://newsletter1.wpengine.com/resource/fourth-annual-survey/