Pharmaceuticals & Biotech

What’s the secret to becoming patient-centric? Look outside of pharma

By Hensley Evans, Sharon Suchotliff, and Jennifer Ntiri

Aug. 11, 2020 | Article | 20-minute read

What’s the secret to becoming patient-centric? Look outside of pharma

Now more than ever, amid the new challenges and changing patient needs brought about by COVID-19, pharma organizations seek new opportunities to improve the patient experience. Many companies have quickly responded, sharing research and collaborating with others, pivoting call center approaches to answer patient questions, providing additional or more flexible financial support, and adjusting services to better support patients needing remote care. While this proved that pharma can act quickly within regulatory guidelines, it has also highlighted the fact that many in pharma are still struggling to develop the strategies and capabilities to be truly patient-centric.


To date, ZS has benchmarked the patient centricity capabilities of over two dozen companies in our Patient Centricity Index. Our validated framework to assess patient centricity is grounded in four dimensions: leadership and culture, structure and practices, data, analytics and technology, and cross-industry collaboration.

Because no pharma organizations have reached “transformational” patient centricity capabilities yet, we are frequently asked what good looks like—what transformational patient centricity might entail.  Recently, we applied our framework and capabilities to illustrate what transformational customer centricity maturity looks like for three industry leaders outside of pharma: Disney Theme Parks & Resorts, Amazon and Best Buy. We believe that pharma can gain key insights from the customer-centric successes of these exceptional companies. 

Areas of excellence from outside of pharma

Disney Theme Parks & Resorts, Amazon and Best Buy all performed better than pharma organizations within each of the dimensions of patient centricity maturity (or “customer focus” in the case of these companies). The following four characteristics define the customer-centric approach of these companies and enable a true focus on the customer:


1. Enterprise-wide alignment on the customer-centric mission and its importance: In all three of the companies benchmarked, we were able to see an articulation of a clear value proposition for a company’s customer-centric culture. Companies did this by defining what it means to be customer-focused, gaining alignment across functions and levels and collectively building toward the long-term vision. The vision is backed by sustainable external and internal resourcing and enterprise-wide participation.


At Disney, customer centricity is instilled as a core value that begins with the hiring process. Disney hires for a customer-centric focus by requiring that job candidates demonstrate authentic passion for customers and provide multiple examples of successfully delivered, customer-centered impact. The company encourages employees to improve on the customer experience by constantly putting themselves in the customer’s shoes and framing all project work around the customer story it is meant to enhance. Primary and secondary customer feedback is continuously leveraged to define that customer story and further elucidate opportunities. Additionally, Disney University provides individualized onboarding and training experiences over several months to further instill a customer-focused employee mindset.


What this could look like for pharma:

  • Patient centricity is treated as a clear, feasible and worthwhile core principle by all employees
    • Company A interviewed employees and leadership to find out how much the definition of patient centricity varied across roles. It then executed a plan to create a unified internal POV of patient centricity and build marketing communications to align employees across roles and functions.
  • Hiring practices apply behavioral interviewing to better assess a candidate’s commitment to patient and demonstration of patient impact
    • Company B uses its interview process as a tool to ensure it is bringing in talent with a demonstrated focus and passion for improving patient experiences. As part of interviews, candidates are asked how they would use their role in the company to champion a patients-first approach to business that improves patient quality of life.
  • Onboarding of new employees is centered around the patient experience and how their role supports it
    • Company C has created a training curriculum for employees in roles that directly connect them to patient advocacy groups. Content is focused on teaching best practices in empathetic listening, advocacy group engagement, and advocacy group relationship management.
  • Individual employee performance measures include specific metrics around patient value
    • Company D has a human healthcare objective included in every employee performance review, and this accounts for up to 5% of review criteria.

2. A trusted and flexible process for working toward the connected mission by business unit: Amazon, Disney Resorts & Theme Parks and Best Buy put in place the resources, structures and business practices to help make customer focus actionable. At all three of these companies, we observe business units translating customer-centric organizational goals into functionally relevant department focuses. This ensures that each business unit is working within their areas of expertise to deliver value along the customer journey.


Best Buy’s biggest strength is the ability of its workforce to regularly connect and actively problem solve with customers in its physical stores. All employees, even the CEO, are encouraged to support robust in-person concierge experiences that create transformational brand value for customers. As CEO, Hubert Joly worked at a Best Buy store for a week to understand the in-store experience firsthand. As part of his efforts as CEO, he engaged frontline employees most familiar with customer pain points in dialogue on how to improve the customer experience.


At Best Buy, bottom-up customer insights inform an organization-wide customer focus. Through the creation of an internal strategic growth office where all ideas are welcome, Best Buy’s workforce is encouraged to collaborate and share feedback to help direct leadership’s strategic focus. The idea for the Best Buy signature “in-home advisor” offering was a notable output of this office’s open and authentic ideation and dialogue.


Joly leans on his personal bicycle theory to motivate employee participation in customer-centric value creation. This theory is based on the idea that the best way for a bicycle rider to build up any movement-generated momentum on a bicycle is to get on and start pedaling. The momentum will grow naturally, but only after the bicycle rider converts intention into action. After enough momentum is built, the rider can then channel it in the preferred direction. This theory encourages all employees to keep an open perspective and engage in creating the necessary momentum for company change wherever and however they can by taking immediate action to improve customer experiences and value delivery. The result of employee collaboration with the strategic growth office and the commitment to this working style has been an enhanced brand experience that ensures customers feel as if they have their very own personal chief technology officers at their service.


What this could look like for pharma:

  • Employees at all levels recognize their potential to impact the patient experience and connect with patients, patient-facing employees, and patient-focused centers of excellence to ensure that every initiative delivers value to patients as well as the business
    • At company E, employees are responsible for bringing a balanced perspective to projects that is inclusive of patients’ emotional, functional, and community needs. Patient insights and patient support & services functional groups are available to assist employees with developing this perspective and are embedded within teams across the organization to fortify workstream support and accessibility.
  • Employees at all levels, whether patient-facing or not, take clear and measurable steps to understand and improve the patient experience within the purview of their role
    • Company F invites patients to share their experiences managing their condition and shares powerful quotes and videos from these exchanges with employees as part of the kick-off of every internal meeting. For employees, this helps bring to life the downstream impact of projects and department priorities on patient lives.
  • More employees are given opportunities to engage directly with patients to understand their perspective
    • Many companies already offer volunteer opportunities in patient communities. This provides a level of access, authenticity, and exposure with patients that helps broaden and deepen patient-centered perspectives for employees and further inspire company strategy. Company X developed a program where the entire department focused on a given condition attends a day camp for patients with that condition and there’s an expectation that comes from the CEO, that news ideas on how to support people with this condition are developed from the interactions of that day.
  • Patient-facing employees are engaged regularly by various divisions of the organization to share experiences, insights and expertise that help workshop the patient experience and develop patient-focused strategy
    • At company G, employees in functional areas focused on patient advocacy group engagement make a point to visit patient organizations. Teams engage with patients via town halls, leading to a rich exchange of experiences and insights.

3. A commitment to “collaborating and conquering” to elevate customer experiences: Throughout our research in patient and customer centricity, we’ve seen that collaboration and partnership, both within an organization and externally, are critical to actualizing focus on the end user. Evidence points to the importance of creating a culture of collaboration and an emphasis on shared goals. In fostering and supporting collaboration, organizations can exponentially enhance value for the customer.


Amazon’s organizational culture fosters shared goals, jointly built KPIs and collaboration among business units on projects. Any employee can contact specific business teams to propose new ideas and participate in the collaborative effort to develop them. This results in increased business relevance, accountability and commitment to excellence in customer-centered project design.


A famous output of this effort is Amazon Prime, an idea that an engineer submitted through Amazon’s digital employee suggestion pathway because he thought customers might be willing to pay more for a subscription that guaranteed faster shipping. CEO Jeff Bezos took on this opportunity to improve the customer experience and collaborated with a group of executives to explore it further. They gathered the necessary customer data to inform the proposal, and a project team was pulled together to build the initial concept.


At Amazon employees are tasked with working together to constantly refine the value proposition of new tools and programs, including Amazon Prime. As a result, to this day teams within Amazon continue to collaborate with one another to find ways to enhance the Prime offering and serve customers with an expanding array of crossover applications.


Amazon engages in ecosystem partnerships that help it deliver more value to customers wherever they are in their journey. One example of this is Amazon’s vendor partnership with Best Buy, which helps it distribute Amazon products as part of brick-and-mortar in-store experiences.


However, partnering with those outside of Amazon’s core business can also be a strategic pathway to acquisition. When Amazon identifies a way to enhance customer experiences through a larger ecosystem, it brings that competency in house, typically through acquiring the partner. Amazon then embeds that competency into customer journeys in ways that create a more seamless customer experience. Notably, it acquired IMDB in 1998 to enhance the marketing and circulation of its Amazon Video service. It did this by tapping into IMDB’s user base with concentrated interests in media and entertainment, offering high-quality entertainment options and on-demand trivia delivered in real time as video content is being viewed, in what is calls its “X-Ray” feature.


What this could look like for pharma:

  • Cross-functional brainstorming sessions, workshops and meetings held regularly to enable opportunity exploration and concept development with other divisions
    • Company H has built a culture focused on innovation and agility in order to keep up competitively on value offerings to patients.  The company grounds its annual strategic planning process in the patient journey and has set up processes to facilitate cross-functional brainstorming to better connect with and provide value to patients.
  • Centralized processes and protocol to facilitate partnerships, including a framework to jointly build and measure shared KPIs
    • Company I created a PRO strategy toolkit to incorporate patient voice early through systematic literature reviews, social listening, patient focus groups, field research, online patient communities, and advisory boards. This required engaging with patients, regulatory, and payer bodies early and often for feedback.
  • Mechanisms to enable broad insight-sharing across initiatives within the company. This is especially critical across the R&D and commercial sides of a pharma organization.
    • Company J began hosting a high visibility Patient Centricity employee summit to share insights and best practices across the organization and encourage cross-functional collaboration. This stemmed from it recognizing that in order to expand organization-wide patient centricity efforts, it needed to create a strong network of engaged employees and turn them into internal advocates.

4. A bias toward customer data and insights as the foundation for innovation: At the heart of the CX success of Amazon, Disney Resorts & Theme Parks and Best Buy is a relentless commitment to appropriately capturing and using customer insights and data to inform business decisions. At all three companies, we found evidence of a deliberate strategy to develop and enhance an infrastructure that helps to answer business unit questions about how to improve customer experiences and business outcomes. This includes a strategic focus on not just using technology to learn about what customers need and want but also using technology to deliver exceptional experiences.


For Disney Theme Parks & Resorts, My Magic +, a suite of RFID technology embedded in a simple wearable band for guests, enables real-time service customization and journey enhancements. Guests can view wait times for park attractions, see an interactive map of what’s happening near their current location, or even access or charge purchases to their resort hotel rooms via the service. On the back end, access to guest data in real time provides significant operational benefits by offering easier visibility into and control over individual guest journey highs, lows and details. With this magnified view of unique guest experiences ranging from restaurant dining and hotel access to fast passes and wait times for park rides, business units could track the impact of their work at the guest level. The combination of direct access to guest data and analytics and a center of excellence to help business units act on insights has proved powerful and helps employees explore, evaluate and pursue customer-centered opportunities.


What this could look like for pharma:

  • Integrated “patient 360” data sets that capture information about all patient interactions and help ensure seamless engagement across multiple stages of the patient journey and asset life cycle
    • Today, some companies track marketing metrics and some health behavior metrics, such as adherence as a corollary for patient experience. To truly understand and benefit from understanding the patient experience, companies should work to connect real-world data (RWD) with marketing engagement data, and patient experience measures, reported by patients.
  • Predictive analytics that identify the next best action or content for a specific patient based on previous experiences and secondary data integration
    • Some companies are starting to close the loop between content and service engagement and RWD. Establishing this connection can help brands identify and predict the most useful content or service for patients at a given point in time to drive outcomes. With the power of advanced analytics, the right patient data can be used to propel an AI-powered multi-channel engagement strategy.
  • Closed-loop measurement of patient experience to ensure awareness and accountability for patient impact across the organization
    • Linking RWD at the patient level with marketing and engagement data allows for quantification of causal links between activity and impact. While not directly describing patient experience, these causal links can provide specific measures that can help pharma account for value of the patient.

A force for change

As we see with Disney, Best Buy, Amazon—and many other customer-obsessed organizations globally— customer centricity (or patient centricity in healthcare) isn’t about altruism. It’s about driving outstanding business results as a direct consequence of delivering an exceptional end customer experience.


Patient-centric improvements are attainable relatively quickly when an understanding of current capabilities, industry best practices and business context are all brought together. Not every tactic is appropriate for every company; the business context, current company culture and existing infrastructure of capabilities will help determine where a company should invest first to have the most impact. Some gaps may be relatively easy to address while others could require significant long-term investment.


Together, these elements can illuminate the most important areas of focus that will drive benefit for the company and for patients.

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