A product-system ecosystem is when a company builds a suite of services that work together with its products in order to maximise the lifetime value of a customer. Earlier focusing on just building a good product and providing it to customers at scale yielded high returns. But now, there is a paradigm shift in the way new companies and new customers operate. Change has always been happening in the pharma and healthcare sector, but recently it has greatly accelerated. Nowadays, just providing products isn’t enough. Consumer expectations are growing, driven by developments in other industries. Now, customers expect some sort of service to go with their products, usually delivered through digital interfaces.
The reason for this is that digital has become an imperative tool for every company and forms an essential building block of businesses. Data-driven technologies are spurring digitization across all industries and causing disruption even in the more traditional industries like pharma. Every company must adopt digital initiatives in some way or form to exist in the 2020s. Those conventional players that don’t, cannot effectively compete and may be left behind.
Building a product-offering for digital natives
But just going digital for digital’s sake is, in most cases, not enough. Simply creating a digital interface to sell old products is not sufficient. It has to go beyond that. To build a true product-service ecosystem, digital interfaces have to be seamlessly integrated with service delivery models. New startups are offering products and services designed to address traditional industry challenges that are disrupting the value chain or are integrating with other parts of the value chain to improve customer experiences.
All this change, despite its sometimes dizzying pace, is creating opportunities to solve long-standing problems in the pharma sector. New companies have been shown to deliver digital experiences that meet the expectations of today’s consumers, even young “digital natives”. Companies are able to take advantage of new technologies to fully automate core processes and strengthen their relationships with their customers.
User-Centric approach to healthcare
Traditionally, the pharma industry hasn’t had a strong relationship with the end-users. The relationship has been rather one-sided, with the pharma companies disseminating information by “talking at” the customers instead of “talking to” them. So far, this has worked in the conventional model. But now, companies will need to adopt a human-centred approach where they put their users’ needs at the centre of design.
When designing for pharma, companies should ask themselves questions like what pain points do the users deal with when getting a prescription, picking up the prescription or taking the medication? What is their relationship with the business? What causes them to not follow instructions, miss a dose or not come back at all? Who do they trust for more information? What is the best way to provide this information to them?
Thinking about the pain points of the customers and trying to solve them through the design of the service is what will differentiate a business that provides the same products, i.e. medication, as everyone else in the market. Keeping the user’s wants and needs in mind is one of the basic tenets of good design and will push the pharma company’s products and services beyond just the pill.
Adopting Design Thinking
An important pivot in going digital and being user-centric will involve the adoption of design thinking. Design thinking encourages development and innovation and will help to solve problems creatively and make something better. The basic tools of design thinking are:
- Empathize – research your user’s needs.
- Define – state your user’s needs and pain points.
- Ideate – generate ideas to solve the pain points.
- Prototype – experiment and create solutions.
- Test – test your solutions out and get feedback.
By leveraging these tools and empathizing with end users, brainstorming solutions and getting feedback on iterations, the pharma companies can better serve their users. A large majority of pharma companies have avoided thinking about design for too long, disregarding it as unnecessary art. But design is a tool for innovation that must be integrated as a part of each process in the company.
In the process, there are also regulatory hurdles to consider for pharmaceutical companies. In fact for Indian pharmaceutical companies to thrive and establish their dominance, the regulations will need to keep evolving with developments in technology.
Design thinking will ensure that end users have a meaningful experience with the company by providing them with a responsive and intuitive design flow that accounts for user behaviour. But putting user experience at the forefront of their services will require a cultural shift.
Embracing a culture for growth
Companies will need to change the way they think and the way they do things. For this, they will have to adopt a growth mindset. A growth mindset will enable management to make decisions faster, allow for experimentation and making mistakes, accept failure early and be agile. It promotes data-driven decision making and encourages people to keep learning. Only by embracing a culture of constant learning will it be possible to differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace.
Although the pharmaceutical industry has traditionally always focused on providing customers with the best product, it is time for them to integrate services in their offerings as well and build a product-service ecosystem for the customers. This is because the consumers of today expect a service delivered through a digital interface from a wide variety of industries that they interact with – from ride sharing to ordering food. This digital disruption is coming for the pharma industry sooner or later, and the companies that adopt digital-first will have the chance to become industry leaders. Another advantage for them is that this will maximise the lifetime value of the customer to the company and keep them coming back for a longer period of time.
But just making a digital interface to sell the same old products is not enough. Companies will have to go beyond and offer a more intuitive and thoughtful digital experience to the customer that keeps their needs in mind. This can be delivered through intelligent user experience design. To go a step beyond intelligent UX, companies will have to adopt design thinking and its tenets into all the processes. This means leaving more room open for innovation and for making mistakes. Companies that go down this part and adopt empathy and experimentation in every process will truly differentiate themselves in a crowded industry and set themselves up for success.