Closing the digital expectation gap in pharma

Jan Deman is Takeda’s head of digital customer experience for Europe and Canada. But he’d prefer not to refer to what he does as “innovation”. It’s a word, he says, that doesn’t reflect where pharma stands in relation to larger trends.

“It’s not innovation in the usual sense of the word,” Deman says. “Mostly it is about catching up with what is happening outside of our industry and going back to basics to ensure a seamless customer experience.”

“In a world where digital technology has made it easy to book travel, order food, make restaurant reservations, do banking, submit taxes and almost any other ‘everyday’ transaction you can think of pharma companies have some catching up to do – specifically in the customer experience and services space,” Deman says.

And this lack of progress on basic digital interactions can also hinder more ambitious innovation plays.

“If you could pick one of two things to have good customer experience, managing your health or ordering a taxi, I like to think most people would probably choose managing their health,” he says. “But that’s not how it works right now”

“In Pharma, many have been very focused on the sometimes more sophisticated opportunities like digital companions to therapies and innovations on the far end of the digital spectrum – which are all very necessary. However, sometimes we forget the basic digital services and more importantly how to digitally operationalise the customer experience across the whole value chain. Failing in this area risks losing or frustrating people on things that are now common digital practices in the world we all live in,” he says. “To date, where the industry is still not winning is in closing the gap on the customer experience on these very small steps.”

What’s holding pharma back?

Why has pharma fallen behind in closing what Deman calls the digital expectation gap?

One might object that pharma is a tightly regulated, defensibly a risk-averse industry. But Deman considers those barriers – specifically in the customer experience space – to be more easily overcome than people think.

“We’re not the only regulated industry in the world,” he says. “And while our products are very different compared to these industries – the way customers could and expect to engage with us is not that different. The opportunity for us is how to respect appliable laws and regulations and still engage in a modern way with our stakeholders, like so many other regulated industries have succeeded to do in the past years.”

In fact, pharma’s defining quality – of the products it makes and the positive impact these potentially life-transforming medicines have on people’s lives – should make it more, not less important to get customer experience right.

“If you could pick one of two things to have good customer experience, managing your health or ordering a taxi, I like to think most people would probably choose managing their health,” he says. “But that’s not how it works right now”

For another thing, pharma companies can miss the forest for the trees when they focus on comparing themselves to each other, rather than looking outward to the wider world.

“We keep benchmarking each other,” he said. “But the more insightful benchmark would be comparing our digital customer experience with some common industries or even government services – specifically in this ‘digital’ services space.”

Better benchmarks and seamless integration

Instead of comparing themselves to each other or even to others in healthcare, pharma companies should look to the tech companies that have helped create this digital status quo in the first place, Deman says.

“Take Amazon or take Apple as some of these leading examples that everybody uses. It’s not because they have a great website or because they have a great app. It’s because you have a great, enterprise level digital relationship with them that is cohesive independent of the touchpoint that you have. You don’t have multiple logins. You don’t have to give consent multiple times. It’s all about truly putting your customer core and centre and thinking in an integrated way on how you approach customers – not just in one brand or in one country but across the whole enterprise value chain.”

In the quest to start closing this gap, Takeda has been focusing on fundamental elements to create a seamless digital enterprise level customer relationship.

“We’ve created something which is called the Takeda ID, which is your digital identity with Takeda, not just for the Health Care Professional, but anybody who wants to interact digitally with Takeda,” Deman explains. “So, independently of your profile any member of the public can sign-up for a Takeda-ID. Because we believe that independent of your entry point in the Takeda Digital ecosystem, you’d still use the same ID to access other functions in our digital ecosystem when a personal experience is required.”

Takeda ID has seen significant uptake since its launch across the enterprise and across all functions in Takeda. It isn’t a solution in and of itself, Jan says. But it’s a foundation the company can build a seamless customer experience on top of.

“If you do this right together with several other basic foundational digital services (like consistent consent- and preference management), our hope is that your engagement with Takeda will be smarter, it will be a much more personalised, and it will be a much more productive engagement.”

Taking down the false barriers

Inside and outside his own company, Deman thinks change is not only possible, but imminently achievable and necessary in today’s digital world.

“Closing the digital expectation gap, allowing us to create differentiating services, that’s what I would like to achieve,” Deman says. “I would like to achieve that very quickly. And I feel that we’re very close to that. It’s a matter of months, maybe multiple months, but definitely not decades.”

If pharma is so behind in implementing these kinds of seamless online experiences, why should industry be catching up now? One piece of the answer is, of course, COVID-19.

“I think with COVID, some of the perceived barriers have all been eradicated. … All of these assumed barriers have just been taken down because they were either false, had not been revisited for the digital world we have been living in for decades., or they were not completely focused on the real question in hand, which is – ‘Are we finding solutions to improve our interactions with physicians and the general public which in turn, enhance treatment and standard of care for patients? Also, the assumption that our physicians or our customers, patients and even our internal field teams would not be willing to use these services, it’s all gone. I believe if the value proposition is strong and clear, then people will adapt and change.”

The omnichannel future

Next steps for Takeda – and for industry more broadly – will involve creating seamless omnichannel experiences for physicians, who will be able to interact through online experiences, video calls, or more traditional interactions with field-based staff and seamlessly switch from one channel to another across the whole enterprise digital ecosystem. And this not just in one brand or in one country – but at an enterprise level.

“I think the environment has just become a lot more complex,” Deman says. “Whereas in previous ways it was all about a single or few channels that you had to excel in. The more you had of that channel, the bigger your prediction of success was going to be. But that’s not true anymore. At the same time, we have much more accurate knowledge of the tactics that work well and what needs tuning – thanks to the insights we can generate from the rich data we can collect and the advances in analytical capabilities.”

Now, Deman says, successfully competing in the digital world will require adaptability and a solid foundation of seamlessly integrated digital capabilities. It will involve looking at our organisational structures, processes, backend technology architecture and most importantly the people capabilities we need in this new normal, as well as recognising new channels as they emerge and being smart about when and how to use them. For instance, online conferences or even virtual reality “metaverse” conferences provide new opportunities to connect with providers. But taking advantage of those opportunities is more complicated than just porting an experience from one platform to another.

“It’s all about the value proposition” he said. “If we can come up with a good value proposition that is differentiating, that is easy to use and is really helping our physicians do something for their patients, whether it’s the Metaverse, a real congress, an in-person scientific exchange or a phone call helping to solve a patient problem, the opportunity is in making it a frictionless and a valuable experience for all our stakeholders. It’s no longer a single siloed platform that is going to do it for us.”

About the interviewee

Jan Deman

As Takeda’s head of digital customer experience for Europe and Canada, Jan Deman is responsible for managing the region’s IT digital CX strategy. Since 2007, he has focused on digital transformation in the pharma industry, with previous experience working in local, regional, and global leadership roles for R&D-IT, commercial-IT, commercial operations, patient services, and digital marketing at BMS, Teva, Shire, and Takeda.

About the author

Jonah Comstock

Jonah Comstock, Editor-in-Chief

Jonah Comstock is a veteran health tech and digital health reporter. In addition to covering the industry for nearly a decade through articles and podcasts, he is also an oft-scene face at digital health events and on digital health Twitter.

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