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¿Customer –Centricity and pharmaceutical firms?

We are in the midst of the “customer-centric” revolution. Companies left and right are all talking about this change and the need to develop their strategy focused on and targeted at the customer. It is clear that we are dealing with an important change which is having an impact on the pharmaceutical sector as well. In many cases this shift has been embodied in the famous slogan “going beyond the pill” (thinking about how to contribute value beyond the pill). Thinking beyond the pill fundamentally entails coming up with other types of solutions (not just products) that enable companies to address the different needs of stakeholders. A true customer centered strategy means that the entire company is thinking about the unmet needs of customers, about the products and services, which most of the time customers themselves aren’t even aware they need.

The pharmaceutical sector is undergoing an important change that entails improving customer centered and customer oriented strategies, which in many cases have led to the development of “beyond the pill” projects,  whose challenge is to generate relevant solutions for their stakeholders.

This challenge demands that companies undergo transformations and that they be able to lead the change that the customer centered approach entails, going beyond the traditional medical product. However, throughout my years of professional experience in developing projects for various companies in this sector I have witnessed just how difficult this challenge actually is. Although many pharmaceutical firms have introduced Customer Centricity programmes, most of them continue to be centered on products and not on their customers in an effective way. This state of affairs is much more evident if we just stop and think about the way they are organised. We are dealing with a difficult change because there is a clear mental barrier in an industry that is used to a traditional business model dominated by a silo-based organisational culture.

In order to achieve a true transition from the traditional model to a customer oriented one, in the first place it is absolutely essential that the company get to know its customers in depth, and secondly, that it open itself up to exploring new and unexpected sources and ways of creating value for its customers. This primarily requires identifying the customer target, the needs of these customers and how new solutions may address these needs, in addition to the channels that could facilitate interaction with these customers. This is the strategy adopted by companies that want to be customer-centric, such as the so often cited Amazon.

In an effective Customer Centricity strategy, we need to understand our customers’ complete experience as well as the different points of contact and what are known as customer pain points, the weak points. In short, how to resolve our customers’ problems.

Understanding our customers and connecting

If we want to understand and connect it is crucial for the company to be able to identify the diversity of customers to which it contributes value and what their experiences are as regards their health, their fitness and wellbeing. This entails going beyond the simple concept of “curing the illness”.  This diversity very likely includes people who are healthy but who care a lot about staying fit; as well as people who, although they are healthy, are not proactively involved in staying fit, and, obviously, another group of people who suffer from an illness (the customers that pharmaceutical firms have traditionally targeted) and these may be people who don’t take care of themselves or, also people with an illness who are concerned about taking care of themselves and are proactive. This explains why in some categories such as gastroenterology, we are seeing strong growth in “preventive or personal care” solutions that do not fall within the traditional players of the industry, and which are covered for example by players from the food sector.

Each of these segments develops certain unique experiences, has specific problems that need to be solved and that demand different solutions, given that their needs and motivations are diverse. Grasping this is vital if we want to identify new and unexpected potential ways of creating value. It is a matter of identifying the different targets of customers, users, patients or prescribers and comprehensively understanding their different needs so as to be able to explore new value propositions which address these specific needs, along with the channels that facilitate interaction with these customers.

Beyond the pill. Experiences?

Thinking beyond the pill means thinking holistically about solutions (value propositions such as knowledge, therapies, diagnoses, support, handbooks,…) to address the needs that each healthcare, cure and wellbeing experience requires. It is important to think about these experiences in a much more holistic fashion whilst taking into account the motivation that lies behind the need. In other words, if we think about the experience of being healthy only in terms of the need to take a medicine it will be very difficult for us to contribute value beyond the pill.

For example, if we look at another traditional sector such as banking, we will see that innovations in relevant value propositions have not emerged from this industry but from other companies with the capacity to think about people’s complete experience beyond the traditional silos of industries and sectors. Payment solutions such as Apple Pay or Google Pay arose from identifying an opportunity in people’s experience with money, for making access to money for making payment much easier. So, the solutions weren’t generated in the traditional banking sector, they are not the outcome of their silo and transaction culture.

Along these lines, if we think about all the apps that are coming out to help with treating illnesses (via remote monitoring, help in modifying behaviors and habits related to food, physical fitness, etc.), we realize that these are solutions that go beyond “curing”, which at times are more closely related to wellbeing propositions. What’s more, the majority of these propositions have emerged from companies outside the traditional pharmaceutical sector. These are new competitors and technology startups, from digital therapeutics, service companies, etc. Therefore, opportunity for pharmaceutical firms mandates a change of paradigm because it’s no longer a question of selling more medicines but of thinking in a different way: How can we serve our patients better? How can we provide solutions to all the key people involved in the experiences of ill people? How could we improve the experiences of patients and people who are ill but also of people who seek solutions for their health, care and wellbeing? Some companies in the sector are already working with this approach.

The opportunity and the challenge that pharmaceutical firms face in order to become truly customer-centric organisations such as Amazon involves changing the way they understand their business. It is a matter of thinking in a new way using a new approach to developing the business based on the experiences of patients and the people who are looking for solutions for treatments, for staying healthy and promoting their wellbeing, whilst taking the whole ecosystem into account.

It is not only a matter of curing illnesses; the business opportunity lies in the patients’ experiences.

Pharmaceutical firms must come up with innovative value propositions that address the needs that arise throughout people’s lives. These may involve education, medicines, exercise, diet, treatments, information, handbooks, emotional support, etc. Let’s stop and think for a moment about the change in people’s behavior as regards their health. Today, thanks to the Internet, a large majority of people actively search information on their health problems, so, obviously, these are people who are also likely to get involved in preventive care.

By way of conclusion, we need to highlight that this much more holistic approach involves obtaining relevant insights which are the outcome of observation of the experiences of our prospective customers in everyday contexts. Hence, it is important to remember that, in practice, this new approach mainly requires four key actions:

  1. Undertaking explorative research before thinking about the product, in order to identify the value creation opportunity, and innovating, perhaps through combining products, resources and digital tools with possible services. Unfortunately however, the majority of companies still continue to do their research only once they have defined their product idea.
  2. Visualising our customers’ experiences based on key insights from the research by using tools such as “customer journeys” to identify the pain points, as well as the sources of satisfaction and satisfaction opportunities.
  3. Making the customer–centric approach a central operational process inside the company,which involves the entire organisation and its teams. You can find out more about this point on Xavier Lesauvage’s post “how to make my organisation more customer centric and innovative” (
  4. Investing in creating leading brandsthat provide relevant solutions. Providing holistic solutions entails creating flagship brands for consumers who purchase effective solutions and not just active ingredients, which only address prescription.

By following these four actions we will undoubtedly have taken a big step towards successfully innovating beyond the pill solutions. However, taking into account the difficulties that may exist in many organisations when it comes to incorporating and promoting this new approach and way of working, the best option might be to do so through an external platform. A good example for facilitating it are collaboration, participation and co-creation models such as Living Labs because they enable us to stay close to users and at the same time mobilize the innovation capabilities of users and key stakeholders via collaboration projects among these different stakeholders, testing out concrete proposals and quickly perceiving their value.

The pharmaceutical industry is going through an important change of model and in order for it to continue to create value it must develop effective customer centricity strategies. This approach begins with changing the way its teams work as well as exploring and holistically understanding the needs of its ecosystem.

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