In terms of providing a rewarding customer experience, pharma is failing badly. When surveyed, most physicians report the industry is not providing significant value and hasn’t for quite some time. A recent study conducted by Capgemini and QuantiaMD revealed that pharmaceutical companies currently have a limited impact on physicians’ decision-making, with 53% of doctors rating it as the least impactful factor. Rightly or wrongly, the vast majority of physicians feel that pharma isn’t offering them a valuable or impactful customer experience.

The root of the issue is that pharma is stuck in a commercial model developed decades ago that limits its overall effectiveness, and is significantly out of sync with contemporary customer sentiment. Indeed, despite a strategy centered squarely on the rep, a large number of physicians currently allow limited or no access to pharmaceutical representatives.

Physicians increasingly want information they can trust and they want it on their own terms, not those dictated by pharma – a sentiment driving an increasing number of physicians to look for alternative sources of information. When surveyed, many physicians indicate a preference for accessing independent medical websites and online communities to receive product information, perceiving these sources as “unbiased.” Playing second fiddle to these sources suggests many pharma reps face a credibility gap with their customers. An obvious solution is to pair targeted physicians with reps in whom each physician has a relationship of trust and value.

The silver lining for pharma is that despite decreased engagement, many physicians still want interactions with the pharma sales force and are simply unhappy with an inflexible engagement model. More precisely, physicians want to hear from pharma and have distinct preferences regarding the role of reps as a primary conduit for facilitating the relationship. To support this fact, almost half of the physicians state a preference for a balanced mix of information, both from medical websites and pharma reps, with reps playing the important role of a rapid disseminator of information on key topics as they arise.

Physicians would ultimately like to control when and how they consume information or engage in a relationship with pharma, just like they do in every other aspect of their lives. Citing time and ease of use, two-thirds of physicians currently rate digital media as their preferred source for accessing clinical or prescribing information. This interest in alternative channels is largely driven by physicians’ preference to access information conveniently and at a time of their choosing. The reality is, many physicians are simply too busy to engage with pharma reps the way they have in the past. Currently, only 14% of physicians see pharmaceutical representatives on a regular basis, though more than twice that number (34%) expresses a strong interest in receiving information from pharma reps on a more flexible schedule.

Doctors want reps who can engage with them in different ways using different methods of communications, for example phone, Internet and email. Indeed, almost all (85%) physicians express a strong interest in using a future web-based service to virtually access sales representatives as they become more comfortable using new technologies. They also want reps they know and trust. When asked, most physicians express interest in identifying and choosing who their reps are based on preexisting relationships and established trust.

What’s clear is that despite professing unhappiness with the existing engagement model, the majority of physicians indicate they still value the role of the pharma rep and believe reps will continue to have an important role to play in the future of the relationship. Defining how this relationship will need to be structured in the future is the key. At the very least, this role will need to evolve to be more in tune with contemporary realities, preferences and behaviors of pharma’s customers.

In many ways, pharma must come to terms that the relationship it enjoys with its customers doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Physicians are not just customers of pharma, but firms in other industries as well, and like other consumers, they bring a high level of service expectations based upon how they interact with the brands they hold in high esteem. Leading firms such as Apple, Amazon and Netflix are leading the way and transforming consumer expectations. Like it or not, in terms of providing a positive and rewarding customer experience, pharma is now competing with these firms and must attempt to live up to the lofty standards they set.

When asked about what the future may hold, over half of physicians predict the primary role of the pharmaceutical representative will eventually emerge as a coordinator or concierge of information resources. In this model, the rep will take on the role of providing a wide array of information to customers in a flexible, non-biased manner that responds to their needs. In a nutshell, physicians are looking for disruption to the current model.