Even though Pfizer’s customers prefer face-to-face, most of their engagement is digital, writes Clifford Fram, director of partnerships and innovation at adg.

Claire Edgerton’s morning fix is to check the data. She likes to know what content and channels Pfizer’s customers are engaging with – what they’re reading, what they’re watching and what they’re searching for. These insights on an individual level makes Pfizer’s customer data meaningful and usable.

Claire is the Patient Healthcare Experience Lead at Pfizer Australia and a driving force behind the digital transformation of the Australian pharmaceutical industry. With 26 years of leadership experience across sales, marketing, innovation and other Pfizer business units, her current mission is to keep her colleagues aligned in an omnichannel orbit around the customer.

She works closely with colleague Susie Diacopoulos, Pfizer Australia’s Omnichannel Insights Specialist. Susie started her digital journey at Qantas, where she spent 17 years as a CRM pioneer. With a further seven years at Blackmores. She’s experienced enough to remember the days when customers thought you were smart if you sent them an email tailored to their airline loyalty status.

Claire and Susie generously gave their time to speak to Inside Healthcare about their approach to pharmaceutical marketing in an omnichannel world.

Omnichannel explained

“Omnichannel is about putting the customer at the centre of the conversation and tailoring and personalising the conversation across all of the different channels that an individual customer might choose,” said Susie. “They must be able to get the information they want when they want it through their preferred channels.

“Even though we are implementing this omnichannel journey, the customer-facing colleague (CFC) remains the centre of the relationship with our customers. Nothing is going to beat a face-to-face conversation. It’s an opportunity for CFCs to speak to customers directly and better understand their needs.”

“Omnichannel, is the sum of all channels working collectively”, Claire said. “We’re aiming for a push-pull strategy, so that our customers are also able to pull the information from the right channel when they need it. Previously the only approach was to push information at customers.”

The aim is to create an orchestrated journey so all the channels a customer experiences make sense together. “The idea is that it looks and feels cohesive and personalised as opposed to receiving a series of unrelated communications,” said Susie.

Understanding customer needs

A critical part of making this happen is to deeply understand the various customer groups.

Susie explained: “The first piece is gathering the information we have, grouping the doctors based on their needs and then doing some test-and-learn experiments to allow us to re-categorise if necessary based on their behaviour.

The second piece of the puzzle is creating different journeys for the different groups.

“As a company, we have certain paths that we think different doctors might want to go on or need to go on in terms of their education journey. We set up our communication plans to follow a particular journey, and again test and learn to see what’s working and what’s not working.”

Claire believes the pharma industry as a whole has an opportunity to get to know doctors better. “We did some ethnographic market research, and most customers expected us to know them better and share information that’s relevant to them as individuals.”

The modern sales rep

Claire, a former Sales Lead, said Pfizer had come a long way since the days when there was a large rep force that would see doctors to detail a specific brand.

“Now we are anchored in really understanding the customer’s needs. Before we would lead with a specific brand, and it could get repetitive. Now we have a portfolio of medicines that a doctor might want to have a conversation about and we’re able to really tailor the conversation.”

The Pfizer team are also mindful that an ever-increasing proportion of the doctors they engage with are digital natives. They grew up with the internet and expect the pharma industry to behave like other industries. That means they expect relevant information on demand 24/7.

“If a customer is actively pulling information, then that’s fantastic, because it means they are really engaged,” said Claire.

The Customer Engagement Representatives who take inbound calls from doctors are another crucial part of Pfizer’s omnichannel mix.

Inbound calls bring Claire much joy and are one of her favourite channels. “But every channel is important and has a role to play. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” she said.

Susie agreed. “Human interactions are often rated the most preferred channel by our customers. But most of the engagements we have with customers are through our digital channels. That’s a mix of internally-owned channels, third-party paid channels and earned channels as well. All of those working together is where the power lies.”

Getting back to normal after COVID

Pfizer learnt a lot from the rapid digital transformation necessitated by COVID, said Susie.

“Everyone is so much more digitally savvy now. We’ve had to become a lot more sophisticated in how we use our channels and understand which customers want to engage more broadly across digital channels and which don’t.”

However, it’s been surprising how quickly many doctors have reverted to face-to-face meetings as a preferred channel.

“There was an assumption, I think, that digital would be the preferred way moving forward, but our post-COVID research shows doctors still prefer face-to-face as their primary channel.”

Even so, digital is far and away the channel they actually interact with the most, Susie said.

A standout and ongoing win since COVID has been the popularity of the virtual webinar.

 “Since COVID there’s much more willingness to engage in virtual webinars and more willingness to have those scheduled between 6pm and 8pm because the doctor listens while making dinner or driving the kids to soccer.

“The on-demand webinar is also popular. Doctors may not be able to make the live event, but they will be happy to watch later, maybe on 1.5x speed so it goes a little quicker. There are also people who listen on their commute without watching.”

Claire and Susie’s take-away messages

Claire: “A key message is that customers change all the time. How they behave this year may be very different to last year. That makes testing and learning crucial.

“Another key message is to remember that our customers have an amazing experience outside of the healthcare system. Why should it be any different inside the healthcare system. It’s essential to measure customer satisfaction. It’s something  we look at every day and keep asking about.”

Susie: “The key piece is that it’s all about making sure each individual, whether they are a patient or a doctor, gets the information they need, when they need it, and that they feel like we know them and understand their needs.”