As COVID-19 continues to disrupt businesses and consumer behavior worldwide, many companies are struggling with the need to keep themselves up to speed with their customers’ evolving needs. Healthcare companies are no exception and are grappling with questions that range from orchestrating effective launches to understanding evolving stakeholder needs to designing ways to support their customers most effectively.


To navigate the new normal, pharma companies need an effective insights engine that spans different functions and stakeholders. Marketers need to have a better window into how the treatment paradigm is evolving based on changing regulatory and provider priorities, as well as patient needs and preferences. This understanding is vital for effective product launches, tracking brand performance, better scenario planning and, in general, staying ahead of the curve. They are also looking for insights that have a longer shelf life and help bring agility to decision-making. Therefore, pharma companies need an agile, flexible approach that would enable insights to be as real-time as possible and available in an ongoing manner.


Here are four ways to achieve agile and reliable customer insights during these uncertain times and into a post-COVID-19 future:


1. Put your customer in the driver’s seat. Particularly for healthcare customers who may be currently on the frontline of patient care, let them set the terms for how much (or little) and when they want to participate. Provide them with app-based research tools or invite them to online research communities so that they can opt in to share their thoughts, at a time of their choosing. This allows them to continue to participate in shaping the future of healthcare while minimizing any research burden. Within such approaches, a mix of research techniques can be applied. Short (two- to five-minute) “pulse”-type surveys allow customers to share their current perceptions easily. Reduce the burden by allowing customers to dictate or record their responses. And lastly, design your questions such that they are simple and easy to answer vs. complex and with a high cognitive load.


2. Plan for an ongoing engagement to stay on top of evolving trends. As the COVID-19 situation unfolds, an “always on” approach can give you an agile view into changes in perception and can be a leading indicator to behavior changes. This will also help you learn as you go and build on the richness of the insights through targeted follow-up probes. You can create a more frequent—sometimes even a weekly—engagement with customers so that we continue to learn from them as the “new normal” emerges.


3. More heads are better than one. Online panel discussions, or “e-forums,” can also help surface differing opinions. Hearing a diversity of views can help you better calibrate brand plans during uncertain times. Furthermore, these techniques allow you to bring customers together to help solve challenging problems. In these complex and rapidly evolving times, customers themselves face the same uncertainties we all face and may be struggling with ambiguous choices. They likely won’t have fully thought through what they will need in the new normal. Ongoing e-forum discussions help in bringing these uncertainties to the forefront and will enable customers to imagine different potential futures so that you can better scenario-plan and anticipate how to best meet emerging needs.


4. Simulate real-world interactions to understand influences in decision-making. The new normal will likely be more complex as people adapt to virtual interactions and emerging paradigms that affect decision-making. Traditional “ask and tell” approaches might not be effective in capturing these complexities in how our customers are making decisions. One way to get deep beneath the surface to understand our customers’ new world is by immersing our customers in real-world scenarios and simulating interactions. Understanding behavior through potential scenario testing and analyzing the rationale provided can help you better prepare for how the future might pan out.


To engage respondents better, primary market research platforms are evolving to be more mobile-based, allowing respondents to engage anytime and anywhere: for example, allowing bite-size interactions through unconventional means like voice-enabled diction and simulations. However, to maximize the potential of these next-generation platforms, companies need to ensure that their overall approach integrates these four methods of gathering agile and reliable customer insights. This would allow insights teams to engage a diverse set of stakeholders over longer periods of time with an array of research modules ranging from short “pulses” to virtual panels to simulations. The outcome would be an insights program that would vastly improve decision-making even during times of extreme volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.


Every crisis presents an opportunity. Having a front-row view into customers’ minds during the COVID-19 crisis allows customer insights teams the opportunity to play a critical role in steering company strategy via timely, actionable and rich insights.