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Customer Service Is the New Marketing Is the New Customer Service

Intouch Team

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Pharma — as you know — is full of silos. Marketing, public relations, sales, and customer service all inherently have the same end goals, yet operate in extremely disparate internal functions. Some companies are better than others, but all seem to have their special struggles. Unfortunately, that can translate to duplicate and conflicting efforts, wasted resources, and decreased customer satisfaction.

But what if we look at things differently by combining some of those silos? What if we thought about it this way … In today’s marketing environment, part of the role of marketing IS customer service.

And I don’t mean that someday brand managers will start manning the call center (although wouldn’t that be an interesting exercise for one day?) I mean that customers today want and expect a more customer-centric approach from any communication they receive from a company. And the emergence of social media has increasingly compounded this phenomenon.

Similar to the central themes in Seth Godin’s popular Meatball Sundaeand Bob Gilbreath’s The Next Evolution of Marketing (hat tip to Jonathan Richman at Dose of Digital for the free copy),rather than relying heavily on mass media to sell pharma products (i.e., DTC TV), today’s pharma marketing should treat every opportunity to connect as an opportunity to provide value.

Now certainly some pharma companies hyper-focused on profits will scoff at this and scream "Where’s the ROI?" But a customer-centric approach doesn’t have to be expensive, and small steps can pay off in big ways.

Customer Service via Your Website

Let’s re-think customer service as it applies to your website. And again — I don’t mean posting the 1-800 number on the site so people can call with a question. When the Web first emerged, websites were little more than brochure-ware sites — a digital version of something that had been created for print. But as technology and our understanding of the Webs’ capabilities have evolved, so have the opportunities to connect with customers.

What could customer service look like when it comes to your website?

  • Offering valuable, unique content that goes well beyond "this is disease X and product Y"
  • Providing an excellent user experience — easy to navigate, easy to use ("don’t make me think")
  • Useful tools and applications that help patients manage their disease
  • Coupons, rebates, and patient assistance program information to help them afford their treatment
  • A site that gets better with time ... which requires a commitment to constant improvement and a continuous user-centered approach
  • Giving your customer as much or more of what they want versus what you want to give them

Implementing a more customer-centric approach to your most accessible, public-facing property — your website — can be cheap, fruitful, and fairly pain-free. Where to begin?

  • Start with Search. Capture keywords that users enter into your search field on the site. It’s a great way to understand not only what people are looking for, but what words they are using. Then, at the next site update, provide what they are looking for - and consider using some of their words while you’re at it.
  • Get a UX Expert. Employ or partner with a user experience specialist who can recommend the right research to identify the quick wins to improve your site.I’ve seen some very simple changes create dramatic results.
  • Look carefully and honestly at howusers access your site. Which browsers do they use? Do they use mobile? Are you providing the best experience possible for them no matter how they come to you?
  • Review analytics regularly. Are they finding what they’re looking for? (If not, can you provide it? If so, why aren’t you?) What’s working, what’s not working? And then take the next step that many do not: ADJUST accordingly.
  • Set expectations at launch. Any agency that tells you the site is perfect at launch is full of baloney. Only through watching, listening, learning, and evolving over time will the site improve.
  • Take a close look at the activity on your forms or registration pages. Is there a high dropoff at certain points? Can you reduce the number of questions or improve the flow to decrease dropoff?
  • How about the design? Was the look-and-feel designed by a guy with a print background,or by an experienced Web creative team, well-versed in user-centric design?
  • Remember, you are most likely not your target audience. Put personal preferences aside and let best practices and research results guide decisions.
  • Don’t wait those 6-12 months to make changes. Work an ongoing optimization schedule into your 2011 plans, and work with your agency to define what that means and what the deliverables will be.
  • Measure your results. Look to improve KPIs by lowering bounce rates, increasing page views, increase time-on-site, increasing engagement metrics, increasing registrations, etc. Look at it from this angle: Are your users completing the tasks that you want them to? How do those match up with what they are looking for? Is there a way to meet in the middle to both guide their behavior in the way that you need, but also provide them with value and a positive experience? The Soap Holder Effect, what happens when you put customers first?

Putting the customer first does not mean selling the lowest-cost product or reducing profit margins. Rather, companies that put customers first create excellent products—and are rewarded for it.

Given, the pharma industry has its own special hurdles when it comes to product development and refinement. But as marketers, can’t we create "products" (such as mobile apps), "services" (education, live support, access), and especially positive experiences (websites) that fill this void?

[Special thanks to Steve Wright, VP Technology, and the rest of our ThinkTank team forgetting thisconversation going!]

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