Pharma is transitioning to an ‘on-demand’ model of services, a la Netflix
Post Covid, customer engagement will be a blend of face-to-face and virtual contact
The tectonic shift that has taken place, seemingly overnight, has left everyone with one question “What lies ahead, what’ll be the new normal?” Leaders, in their virtual boardrooms, are grappling to understand what lies ahead while finding optimal ways of functioning.
The pharmaceutical industry, being absolutely essential, was put to test very early, especially in sustaining critical aspects of the supply chain. This included ensuring last-mile delivery of medicines to patients by partnering with suppliers, logistics providers and distributors.
Customer-facing functions were quick to adjust to the reality that stakeholders need to be engaged virtually and adapted to digital platforms. The increase in digital interactions depicts rapid adoption and recognition of this mode of engagement. With these experiences, organisations are increasingly turning their attention from managing the situation brought in by the lockdown to a realisation that ways will have to be found to continue operations, in a situation where Covid continues to exist side by side.
WFH (work from home) will be the default way for functions that can manage without a physical presence in office. Face to face (f2F) meetings, employee and external engagements will have to be prioritised based on their necessity. Customer-engagement models will become a balanced blend of f2f and virtual interactions depending on the purpose, and the most efficient way of delivery.
The lockdown has established that virtual engagements can effectively deliver scientific content, help save time and have the ability to deliver “on-demand services”. We are moving to a “Netflix” model of customer engagement across the patient–doctor–pharma companies–distribution chain. Telemedicine, virtual scientific engagement, e-commerce, will all change the experience of the pharma ecosystem. This will be the new ‘efficient’ normal.
As companies navigate the ongoing crisis, there are some issues that leaders should think about, to reshape their business and plan for recovery. There is an increased focus on building robust supply-chains, agile transparent operations and shaping the workforce of the future. This extraordinary situation would have to be seen from a ‘Quad-pronged’ approach: supply chain, innovation, employees and external stakeholders.
Rethink on supply chain
The Covid-19 experience has also highlighted the importance of supply chains. Companies will be compelled to rethink their supply chain, in the form of purchasing and distribution norms that focus on de-risking and associating with reliable partners. The world has realised the importance of innovation, with everyone hoping for a vaccine to come out of the labs of innovator companies. For India too, it is crucial to evolve from a manufacturing hub to an innovation-based industry.
Companies are already rethinking office layouts, space ratios, code of behaviour, etc. There will be a long-term adjustment in how companies think about their location strategies, owing to this “mass migration” to WFH instead of office. Organisations are becoming aware that a large percentage of employees can function efficiently in a WFH environment, given the right infrastructure support. Organisations will evolve to a new norm of employee engagement where the health, safety and well-being of employees become the priority rather than just compensation and benefits.
The industry needs to play a central role in the digital revolution of healthcare, but capturing this opportunity requires identifying the right initiatives. A recent study by IPSOS reveals that India, along with China, the US and Germany, features in the list of top 10 countries in the use of telemedicine by doctors for remote consultations. This brings us to the certain possibility of an altered doctor-patient engagement model. We will potentially witness less crowding of OPDs, and physical distancing will become prevalent, possibly impacting the prescription model, and more integrated platforms will emerge for patient–doctor–pharmacy chain. Field force will need to be upskilled to be able to engage with doctors in a new mix of virtual + f2f format.
Covid-19 has changed priorities of the pharma industry and companies are conscious of the fact. From here on it will be an entirely different ball game, that cannot be fitted back into a traditional model.
The writer is Managing Director of Boehringer-Ingelheim (India). Views are personal