A recent ZS Associates study found that the nearly 260 oncologists, oncology nurses, and administrators we surveyed rate their customer experiences as negative.

Pharmaceutical companies that develop and market cancer drugs brought remarkably advanced products to market in recent years, but one critical aspect of their business remains firmly rooted in the past: customer experience.

A recent ZS Associates study found that the nearly 260 oncologists, oncology nurses, and administrators we surveyed rate their customer experiences as negative, which places customer experience in oncology behind that of many other industries.  

It should go without saying that an improved customer experience is essential to engage providers in discussions about life-saving therapies for patients who face ever-more complex choices. Manufacturers also stand to capture significant value by getting the customer experience right: We estimate the incremental sales lift is between $50 million and $75 million for every $1 billion in current sales.

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Our survey found three overarching imperatives to improve the customer experience: Thoughtfully design and execute a customer experience program; coordinate the experience across teams and interactions; and live and breathe this purposeful approach throughout the organization.

While pursuing these long-term changes, oncology drug manufacturers may start small — with the proverbial “quick wins” — to demonstrate the impact of enhancing the customer experience and build momentum for larger-scale improvements.

Here are five ways to create rapid and meaningful advances in the oncology customer experience:

1. Celebrate success stories. Companies should collect stories from all customer-facing teams to illustrate how positive customer experiences enhance engagement with providers, then promote these success stories in cross-functional workshops to celebrate achievements and amplify their importance. These stories will exemplify which strategies lead to good experiences and, at least in theory, will motivate teams to improve their interaction with providers. The snowball effect may then foster an environment in which team members strive to consistently deliver excellent customer experience.

2. Find out what customers really want. It’s hard, if not impossible, to deliver an outstanding customer experience if you don’t know which communications channels your customers prefer. Still, many oncology companies have yet to determine key preferences, such as which customers prefer face-to-face interactions and which prefer online communications. Identifying customer preferences does not require elaborate market research. Rather, marketers can gather insight by asking field team members to record their understanding of providers’ preferences, based on their experiences with these physicians. Pharma companies can then use these insights to improve customer segmentation and targeting, as well as tailor personal and non-personal interactions to customers whose behavior indicates a preference for one channel over another.

3. Pick one customer pain point and address it quickly. Drugmakers often miss opportunities to deliver great customer experience, but they don’t need to address all pain points at once to have a meaningful impact. Teams might start small — say, by identifying one aspect of the customer experience that generates negative feedback — and then bring the organization together to solve the underlying problem. For example, practices may have complained that it’s difficult to initiate patients on a particular therapy. In response, the company might engage relevant teams to design a streamlined process that eases the burden on practices. Taking simple steps to address these pain points will demonstrate that niggling problems can be solved and help the organization understand the value of investing in customer experience.

4. Measure and track improvements, and reward reps. To improve the customer experience and capture the value of engaging providers, oncology companies must understand how well their strategies work. Defining metrics to measure customer experience and track improvement efforts will help determine the best strategies. Oncology companies should also include the customer experience in incentive compensation plans and reward reps through contests, multipliers, or management by objectives, for example. Metrics and rewards reinforce the importance the organization places on the customer experience.

5. Coordinate interactions. For many companies, the number of team members engaging with a particular customer can reach dozens. Providers can become frustrated by the lack of consistency and continuity in their interactions, yet oncology companies often do not take basic steps to coordinate. One way to address this is by convening a planning meeting with all team members (sales reps and others) who engage with a particular account. Participants can decide the appropriate role for each team member to contact his or her assigned provider and then coordinate these interactions for a seamless and consistent customer experience.

Jon Roffman is a managing principal at ZS and a leader of the firm’s oncology field strategy practice.