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Pharma Strategist’s Blog: Are We the Masters or Servants of Omnichannel Engagement?

Authored by Cathy Nolan, Practice Consultant, Uptake for the PME Pharma Strategists’ Blog

In this article, Cathy discusses the difference between omnichannel and multichannel, summarising it as a strategic shift from being internally focused to externally focused. Cathy highlights that companies succeeding with omnichannel focus on leadership, culture, and capabilities.

Without the right people, skills and culture, teams will not deliver the true omnichannel experience for their customers. The secret to success lies in a truly collaborative and cross-functional way of working that is totally focused on the customer.

They summarise the article by saying that to be experts in omnichannel and stronger customer engagement, we will need careful strategic planning and strong leadership. While omnichannel has been fast-forwarded due to the pandemic and technological change, it now needs to be driven by strategy and people.

Read below or click to access the published version

Why omnichannel, fast-forwarded by the pandemic and technological change, now needs to be driven by strategy and people

I think very few people will have failed to notice that our industry is currently in somewhat of a turmoil, as each company and team look at how they can leverage the benefits of engaging with various customer groups in an omnichannel way. Omnichannel was already on the horizon as we all made forays into multichannel, but the pandemic stamped on the fast-forward button to force all pharma companies into looking at how to make this fundamental change in their customer engagement.

I recently had a great discussion on omnichannel with one of my consultant colleagues, Alexandra Fulford (who lives and breathes all things customer engagement and omnichannel) and as we were debating the issue of the day, I realised that it would be very helpful to share the themes of our discussion and Alexandra’s insight on where and how we need to focus for strategic omnichannel success.

We started by discussing the difference between omnichannel and multichannel, which Alexandra shared she gets asked all the time. Very simply, it is a strategic shift from being internally focused to externally focused. Multichannel is about getting as many touchpoints as possible across multiple channels and focusing on the customer journey. Omnichannel, on the other hand, is focused on the customer and the quality of the experience. It is about a seamless and personalised experience across online and offline channels – the customer should have the same experience regardless of the channel through which he or she chooses to engage.

So far so good I felt. But then Alexandra moved to an examination of those teams and companies that are succeeding with omnichannel. When we look more closely at these companies, what really sticks out is their focus on leadership, culture and capabilities. While the tech infrastructure (such as AI and marketing automation) is absolutely needed, without the right people, skills and culture, teams will not deliver the true omnichannel experience for their customers.

This is because the secret to success lies in a truly collaborative and cross-functional way of working that is totally focused on the customer. This focus on the customer ensures brands deliver value and meet expectations, which in turn means customers are more likely to provide their consent for data capture and continued engagement.  Without this consent, and their data, delivering a true omnichannel experience is impossible. Alexandra and I have both observed teams who have prioritised consent capture, precisely because of its importance in omnichannel engagement, but without simultaneously prioritising value delivery, sadly leading to precious-won consent being revoked. Put simply, teams are too focused on their own metrics rather than the customer experience, and once consent is lost it is very hard to regain.

Successful companies are also ensuring teams have the capabilities to engage across channels, especially digital channels. Digital transformation capabilities take time to build organisationally in order to make the transition to omnichannel. To be successful in the virtual world, we need to understand how to deliver modular content digitally, how to gather and use customer data, and how to work in a very agile way.  Omnichannel takes all of this to the next level.

We both feel silos are the probably the biggest barrier to omnichannel, whether they are organisational or data (silos). The omnichannel experience must be seamless, across functions and across brands. This also means data needs to be centralised across the organisation, with access across teams.

Closely following this is an over-focus on tools and training teams to use the tools, rather than focusing on the shift in mindset and behaviours. Again, while the tools are a prerequisite for omnichannel, if they are not used collaboratively, or the emphasis is on brand messaging rather than customer experience, they will not deliver. The tools can deliver the data, but it takes a shift in behaviour to deliver data-based decisions.

So, if we were to summarise our top tips they would look something like this:

  1. Be truly customer-centric. We’ve heard the term bandied around our industry for years, but it takes a huge mindset, leadership and organisational shift to be truly customer-centric.
  2. Focus on leadership and people. Leadership needs to drive for a culture that supports omnichannel, such as a collaborative work environment and data-driven decision-making. Leadership also needs to make sure that the organisation has the right mix of people and capabilities. Leaders need to motivate, incentivise and support the organisation through the changes needed.
  3. Don’t get sidetracked with the tools and technology; focus on the transformation and change needed and then employ the tools as required to support this.

Alexandra and I both feel that true omnichannel is some way off still for certain pharma companies, the ones who find themselves serving the omnichannel machine rather than driving it. To be masters of omnichannel and stronger customer engagement, we will need careful strategic planning and strong leadership. While omnichannel has been fast-forwarded due to the pandemic and technological change, it now needs to be driven by strategy and people.

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