Customers of health-related products—such as over-the-counter medicines, dietary supplements, nutraceuticals, medical devices, wearables, and animal health products—typically have higher expectations of manufacturers than do users of other types of consumer products.
Healthcare customer care differs from traditional customer service (for industries such as insurance, banking, and utilities) but they share certain fundamental elements:
- Both are designed to enhance the customer experience by providing support when needed, with the goal of deepening loyalty.
- Both depend on having the right specialists in place, who are trained and coached the right way, and are provided with the right technology.
- For both, services can be enhanced by utilizing a blend of self-service (for routine inquiries and requests) and live support.
- The importance of a healthy company culture—in which the specialists feel they are supported and part of something worthwhile—cannot be overstated for either customer care or customer service.
For healthcare products, contact with customers requires a higher degree of training and skill as well as an understanding of regulatory compliance requirements. A few other points of differentiation between healthcare customer care and traditional customer service:
- More insight into the “voice of the customer.” The ability to recognize, capture and report customers’ perceptions of the manufacturer and its products is an important marketing and planning tool. The data can impact process or policy changes and alter marketing initiatives.
- Proactive outreach. Routinely reaching out to customers with whom a relationship has been established is an important part of a healthcare customer care program, as it improves the customer experience and increases retention. Outreach must be conducted in a compliant way: only after permission is obtained through writing or via a recording, with the ability to opt-out of being contacted at any time, and the right to have all personal information removed from the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database upon request.
- Recognition, documentation, and submission of adverse events and product complaints. It is critical that the team has the ability to recognize reportable health-related adverse events, understand the regulatory requirements, and follow the associated standard operating procedures. Additionally, product complaints (along with potential product replacements) must be handled according to standard operating procedures.
- Product recall support. A healthcare customer care program must have a tested plan in place to handle the influx of contacts that results from a product recall or market withdrawal. Being prepared can turn potential bad publicity into a positive brand image.
There are important considerations when implementing and leading a healthcare customer care program:
- Hiring to the right profile. The program should have a specialist profile, including educational and prior experience requirements, based on the scope and complexity of the support provided.
- Training and certification. Initial training should be comprehensive, with each element presented by a subject matter expert. Role plays—which emphasize call handling skills as well as technical knowledge—should be conducted throughout the training. Certification, through the handling and documentation of “typical” contacts in a test environment, should take place before any live contact is handled.
- Omni-channel communication. Because of the likelihood of ongoing communication between customers and specialists, all possible “channel” preferences should be met: inbound and outbound phone calls, email, traditional mail, webchat, text messaging, online fax, and video calls. Interactive voice response technology with a self-service option should be in place to answer simple questions and handle routine requests.
- Documentation of contacts. All customer care contacts should be documented in flexible and robust CRM database. Because the “voice of the customer” is so important (and can supplement or even replace market research activities), the CRM should be configured to produce clear and actionable data which allows for the easy identification of insights and trends. From an operational perspective, the CRM should have a scheduling component for outbound calls and allow for integration with touchpoints that exist outside of the CRM.
- Ability to Escalate. In healthcare customer care, it is essential that the specialists are trained to recognize when escalation outside of the team is needed. For example, if product tampering is suspected, it’s key for the right information to be collected, documented, and immediately transmitted to the right functional group within the manufacturer.
- Flexibility. There are likely to be both expected and unexpected changes in contact volumes, and a plan to handle spikes should be in place. The details will differ, but can include staffing the team with a number of part-time specialists who can increase their hours as needed, and increasing the use of self-service technology (as long as it doesn’t diminish the customer experience).
A healthcare customer care team can successfully reside within the manufacturer’s organization or be outsourced to a 3rd party healthcare contact center. The implementation and ongoing management require careful planning and impeccable execution, which can be a significant expense in terms of time and costs. However, the additional insight into the voice of the customer and the potential to deepen loyalty makes it a worthwhile endeavor.
About the Authors
Denise Dixon is Global COO at Diligent Health Solutions. Denise has nearly 20 years of senior-level leadership experience at Diligent Health Solutions and its predecessor company, WRB Communications. She has partnered with dozens of clients in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries to meet their strategic communication needs through innovative and impactful solutions. As Global Chief Operating Officer, Denise leads our operational and client services functional areas. She gains a deep understanding of client goals and objectives and leverages our expertise and resources to design, implement, and continually enhance programs that exceed client expectations.
Terrence Tormey has nearly 50 years of Sales and Marketing experience in global pharmaceutical and OTC product markets. He is the founder and CEO of the Tormey Consulting Group and the immediate past CEO of Xenon-VR Inc., an emerging medical device company. Terrence is a Fellow of the American College of Health Care Trustees (FACHT) and is on the Board of Advisors for Neuropathix and Intrommune Therapeutics. He is also a Member of the Board of Advisors at MedSign International Corporation, which delivers enhanced home healthcare services via the patient’s television.