Chief Customer Officer

I came across this Harvard Business Review blog written a year ago by Paul Hagen and it really got me thinking.  He discusses the rapidly emerging position of Chief Customer Officer as a key part of the C-Suite.  These executives are charged with designing, orchestrating and improving customer experience across all the functions of an organization.  How many pharmaceutical companies have such a position?  Are they fully embracing all aspects around customers or just collecting data through CRM vehicles?  Who is the person in our companies that is ultimately responsible for delivering the voice of our customers within our organizations?  The obvious answer is it should be everyone but just like when we say everyone should be responsible for sales, it just doesn’t happen.

One of the barriers for pharmaceutical companies is that our unique business model results in us having a wide variety of customers.  Patients, physicians, pharmacists, the government, employers, PBMs, wholesales and managed market insurers should all be considered customers.  Being able to weave together strategies that benefit all of these customers is definitely an art.  In what other industry do you have the ultimate user of the product not deciding what they will take and having what they will take paid for by a third party who allows somebody else to decide which options will be available to those making the decisions as to what to use.  Confusing, huh?  Welcome to the pharmaceutical world.

I wonder how many people really understand how decisions are made at every level of the pharmaceutical utilization chain.  So much of this is based on financial issues so I will simplify the question.  How many people understand just the financial flow that results when a product leaves the company’s warehouse and finally is ingested by the patient?  If a company charges say $4 a day for a product, who gets what and who pays what?  How much will the company eventually get after paying all rebates and discounts?  How much will the insurer actually have to pay?  How about the patient?  How do the pharmacists, wholesalers, PBMs, managed market insurers, coupon card vendors and everyone else share the revenue?  It is more complex than understanding the federal budget.

Part of the problem is that different groups within a company are often responsible for different customer types.  Managed Market groups take care of contracting, PBMs and other commercial insurers.  Government teams take care of Medicaid, VA and other government payers.  Trade will usually manage wholesalers and some pharmacy work.  There may be a hospital team or a LTC group for those specific customer types.  Reps handle physicians.  Consumer marketing groups handle educational materials for patients.  Traditional marketing dabbles in all the groups, but it is not always clear what they are ultimately responsible for at any one time.  I hate to use the word “silos” as it often brings up negative connotations, but for many companies silos are established as a matter of convenience, proficiency and efficiency.

This brings me back to the original point.  Who is ultimately responsible for and who is the voice of the customer in pharmaceutical organizations.  As the C-Suite continues to expand it seems very appropriate that the customer is represented at the decision making table.  I would argue that those who thoroughly understand the thinking and the motivation for the vast array of customers will prove to be extremely valuable to the organization and the industry.  If you want to get ahead, become customer experts.

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