Improving customer experience with AI and machine learning

Improving customer experience with AI and machine learning. Richard Gray of IQVIA says it’s all in the mind(set). 

This year marks an inflection point in pharma’s digital transformation journey. As companies reflect on where they have come during the last decade, they are looking for evidence that the journey is leading them in the right direction. Whilst much has changed over the last 10 years, customer healthcare professional (HCP) facing teams still remain a critical channel within most companies’ go-to-market strategy. What is key in enabling their success as a key component of the ongoing promotional channel mix?

“The HCP demand for a more personalised experience and expectation for digital to be
part of the solution exists”

Customer experience

The expectations of HCPs have evolved. Today, they demand a better experience from pharma and increased value from their interactions. Pharma also faces continued internal financial pressures due to increasing R&D costs and narrowing windows of return, declining access rates, reduction in face-to-face time, increased regulation and an overriding need to evolve to changing market landscapes. For commercial teams it is a complex and fast-moving landscape and the stakes are high, so getting it right the first time is imperative.

Companies are reacting by implementing more agile commercial models, whilst leveraging technology, data and insights to fuel the impact of interactions. These new commercial models require much greater promotional precision, increased stakeholder and patient outcomes focus and a full multichannel approach. Multi-disciplined customer-facing teams (representatives, key account managers, medical science liaisons, nurses and so on) need to be connected, integrated and aligned to ensure that customer-centric activities can be successfully delivered.

As a result, the shape of field-facing teams has significantly evolved and to be successful, new skills are required to continue adding value ‘as the face of pharma’. The importance of understanding customer needs and deploying the right content, through the right channels and at the right time to improve customer experience, is now higher than ever.

Digital is now a well-established component of the enabled field forces toolkit and leveraging its power effectively can make the critical difference. Investment in this capability has continued to grow but as we enter into a new decade, is it enabling customer-facing teams to work smarter, and what new ways of working are being adopted by field force teams?


Digital adoption

Enabled representatives have data and technology at their fingertips, enabling them to orchestrate customer interactions across multiple channels. While many companies are still wrestling with the more complex dynamics of enabling optimum channel mix at scale, teams on the ground are successfully using digital within standard day-to-day working practices, especially email and online resources, as shown below in Figure 1.

In fact, latest figures show that compared to the EU 5, the UK has the greatest proportion of representative-instigated emails being sent to HCPs to guide them towards valuable self-serve materials, with a greater impact on intent to prescribe. 26.9% of the UK HCPs receiving these emails have confirmed that they will increase (or begin) prescription, as opposed to 21.8% for the rest of the EU 5.1

We also see great value being achieved through the intelligent orchestration of channel interactions involving representatives, versus a purely volume-driven approach. Case studies demonstrate that a multichannel approach has tangible impacts on sales across the board, whilst optimising resource allocation across all activities by frequency, sequence and content is more likely to lead to a sustained impact.

A lot of companies are now focused on understanding how to get this channel mix right through data science, advanced analytics and technology, using large and fast-moving data sets. The algorithms that generate these insights then need to be applied across the commercial organisation at an enterprise level, so that recommendations can be surfaced to field users at the right time to help them make the best possible decisions on what the next best action is for their customers.

This leads us onto what the most critical factor of all is: people, with the right skills to then apply the outputs. We can see the best examples of representatives benefitting from commercial transformation within companies where change management and investment is an integral part of the process. The HCP demand for a more personalised experience and expectation for digital to be part of the solution exists. The technology and data to fuel the experience exists. It requires the ‘human touch’ to bridge the gap, along with development plans for teams to be upskilled and brought on the journey by delivering proof points.


What’s next?

The drive to meet enhanced customer expectations and deliver outcomes-based value through interactions has generated a true paradigm shift in how pharma is working to support commercial teams through the provision of relevant and rapid insights.

HCPs demand personalised experiences which are consistently delivered across all the touchpoints of integrated multi-disciplinary customer-facing teams, requiring not just new commercial customer-facing models but also new operational capabilities to support them.

Improving the sophistication of customer engagement is a great example of how artificial intelligence and machine learning will serve to evolve and enhance the current functions of pharmaceutical companies in the 2020s. Evolving algorithms and investing in data as a strategic asset to fuel them, will enable companies to address more precise business challenges. The results will enable customer-facing teams to intelligently navigate the complex web of stakeholders relevant to today’s highly specialised launches and to play a critical role in the orchestration of optimised customer experiences by applying next best recommendations in the most effective way.

The focus is shifting from developing foundational infrastructure and capabilities to harness the promise of data science, to enabling insights that can be delivered at an enterprise level. Deploying customer insights at scale across the business and achieving end-user adoption will therefore prove to be one of the most significant differentiators of competitive success.


Richard Gray is Director, Technology Solutions UK & Ireland at IQVIA. Go to


1 IQVIA ChannelDynamics®, JAN-DEC 2019


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