Customer Centricity: business strategy or philosophy?

10 min read
Mar 25, 2024 7:06:07 AM

What is customer centricity?

By definition, customer centricity is the act of putting the customer, including their needs, wants, expectations, and preferences at the heart of everything you do as a business. To achieve true customer centricity, it requires a deep level of knowledge of your existing and prospective customers.

Having spent over two decades in pharma sales and marketing roles, I like to build add-ons to this definition. Customer centricity is also:

  • The most important goal on paper when drafting objectives yet often forgotten at the time of execution
  • Deemed critical to achieve in order to make a business successful, yet an area where there is always room for improvement
  • Always linked to a sense of urgency (we need to be more customer centric!), yet not always the priority when allocating resources
  • Currently ranking in the Top 5 pharma jargon buzz words 😉

Rings a bell?

The definition seems so simple, but it can be a complex and lengthy path to achieve true customer centricity. This is particularly true in pharma, where the customer is not always the end user and the business is driven by drug discovery and science. There is a risk that customer centricity will always remain an objective (a dream maybe?) unless profound changes take place earlier in the value chain, much before product commercialisation. GettyImages-1169539462


What are the benefits of customer centricity?

Whether you are just starting with the principle of customer centricity or you have come up leaps and bounds over the years, customer centricity is the key to a strong and sustainable business, marking a clear shift from brand wants to customer needs.

The primary purpose is to create positive customer experiences via the products and services you offer. In return, your company will deliver growth opportunities aligned with customer needs.

It sounds like common sense, almost too easy. The tricky part is in the implementation... which path to take? In my opinion, customer centricity can be approached either as a business strategy or as a philosophy.

The impact of customer centricity when approached as a business strategy

When customer centricity is approached as a business strategy, it usually appears as a series of specific tactics and initiatives designed to enhance the customer experience and drive business success. As a result, customers and the company can enjoy many of its benefits, such as

Improved customer experience through personalised marketing, better customer service, and potentially enhanced products and services.

Competitive advantage that makes your company stand out from the crowd, and for all the good reasons: outstanding customer experience.

Business KPIs achievement, leading to increased sales.



What often happens next is that the customer’s delight is short-lived. The initial customer satisfaction is difficult to replicate and becomes inconsistent. The issue in this common scenario is that customer needs are shoe-horned into actions that have already been pre-agreed.

I have gathered common scenarios that may resonate with you:

Tactics Execution

  • We are delivering a non-promotional meeting for nurses because we know they have asked for it. The majority of our activities are promotional though, because we need the nurses to know why they should choose and use our product, although we know they value those activities much less.

  • In our local marketing team, we know through our data what is most valued by our target customers. However, the global strategy is very brand-centric, and we only have the ability to localise a pre-set approach.

Customer digital experience

  • We have a website, as we need to be more digital, but we heard from our customers that it is very difficult to navigate, particularly on tablets. We have heavily invested in this platform to meet their digital needs, and it was very expensive for the business. The customer will need to learn to navigate it until we can make upgrades in the next 18 months.

  • We have created a digital platform so we can gather customer data and tailor the experience, but the customers, however, do not want to login and give us their data.

Company perception and relationship

  • Our activities are tailor-made for our target customers; however, the interactions they have with other teams in the business are dampening our efforts, with failed deliveries, cancelled clinical trials, or delayed payments for speakers at congresses.  


The company’s tactics may be customer centric, but the company’s processes are not, and this will always limit the long term positive impact.

The impact of customer centricity when approached as a philosophy

Considering customer centricity as a philosophy, however, will have an impact not only on the activities and products you deliver but also on the very core of the company and how it is organised.

A mindset with the customer at the centre of all business activities, where understanding customers, valuing their needs and preferences, empathising with them, and valuing their satisfaction is the number one priority.

A customer-focused culture and values that are lived throughout the organisation, from employees to leadership teams and board members.

A commitment to customer satisfaction, even when it means making short-term sacrifices for long-term gains. 




What will it take to achieve true customer centricity?

1  Customer centricity requires skills

Listen to your customers deeply

Collect everything you know about your customers, using all the channels available, and particularly leverage the right technology and platforms to listen to your customers. Gather all the data and information available and turn it into actionable insights.

Empathise with your customers

Once you have listened, gathered, and analysed data, you should put yourself in the shoes of the customer, hear and understand their problem, what causes the problem, and why they behave the way they do. This part will require you to understand your customer experience journey and determine the moments that matter the most to start building solutions as opportunities to solve the problem.

When it comes to prescription medicine, HoneyBee Health (US only) has challenged the status quo with an online direct-to-consumer pharmacy model and cut the intermediary steps to deliver prescriptions directly to patients at the lowest price possible. HoneyBee Health knew that the cost of medicine and insurance was a challenge for many patients, so they created an eco-system that allows the patient to access medicine that doesn’t require insurance and allows them to access medicine at a much lower cost. They see it as a celebration of self-care!

2  Customer centricity is about people, and it starts with company culture

It’s important to agree that being customer centric is not the sole responsibility of the marketing and sales teams. It needs to be deeply engrained in all layers of an organisation, including at the senior leadership level. It needs to be embedded in the company's culture and values and be the force that drives the success of the business.

Adopt a growth mindset

Keep your mind open, be willing to improve or change, and primarily be comfortable trying new things, making mistakes, and failing in order to learn. Your focus needs to be on delighting the customer: is it what my customer needs? What problems does it solve for them? And not will I hit target to get my bonus!

Set objectives and take actions aligned with your customer's needs

This is where things can start falling apart. We know what there is to know about what the customers want, but we fall into the comfort zone of delivering activities or content that are aligned with the product attributes. Instead, join the dots and take action based on what you have learned about your customers. It might require you to be fast to keep or gain a competitive advantage.

Let’s look at the Petcare market. Giving your fluffy friend worm tablets or flea treatments is not exactly motivating and taking them to the vet to get them is even less so! But that’s what you’ve got to do and think about when you are a pet owner! Or so it used to be…

Nowadays, manufacturers, retailers, and vets all provide PetCare subscriptions that make it much easier for pet owners to comply with good treatment regimes. The behaviour change with adherence to treatment is happening because the owner feels that they are doing the right thing by their pet, resulting in a more convenient customer experience. As a result, they start to build long-term, trusted relationships with different brands.

The interesting watch out here will be to observe who will ultimately win the PetCare subscription market: brand manufacturers, retailers, or vets? Who do we trust, who gives the best value and service? It might not be the brand manufacturers, in which case partnering with retailers and professionals will be key to their success (e.g. Elanco is the supplier to the Pets at Home subscriptions).


3  Customer centricity should be the measure of business success

Define value from your customers’ point of view

A list of the most impressive product attributes is unlikely to be what your customers value the most. Instead, focus on why the customer is likely to use your product or service based on what you know about them, what it means to them as a result of using it, and the difference it makes to them.

Make your measures of success about the customers’success

It’s not groundbreaking news—what gets measured gets done! If you want to become customer centric, then your KPIs should be about your customers’ perceptions of success. Use measures such as the Net Promoter Score, customer satisfaction, and customer enablement, and make those metrics and results visible for all to see. If they are not all that great, don’t shy away, and speak to your customers to find out why.

A best-in-class example of customer centricity in the world of furnishing is Ikea. Ikea’s unparalleled success is deeply rooted in its customer centricity philosophy. By prioritising the diverse needs of its customers and understanding the significance of key moments in life, Ikea has not only revolutionised the industry but also become synonymous with enriching the human experience. Ikea acknowledges that people want stylish homes, especially when moving into that first flat, but also seek affordability and practicality.

4. Customer centricity may require more fundamental changes

Company structure and business model

Driving success through product innovation only is limited, and fewer blockbusters are coming to the pharma market with the rise of generics and fierce competition between similar molecules. Pharma companies need to add more customer value than product attributes alone.

In the last two decades, customer engagement has evolved so fast, from the very first website via multichannel to omnichannel, and the multitude of successful and failed channels available, it is important that internal team structures mirror the external customer engagement model.

Depending on the size of the pharma companies, we can expect team structures to move from brand to therapy area or from therapy area to customer types. The local marketers’ role is bound to change. Will established roles such as brand manager still be relevant in the near future? Will they be replaced by the data team or the customer team instead? Is therapy area and product knowledge still a critical skill required to be successful?

It's important to note that customer centricity starts much before Phase III clinical trials, and customers should be considered as a broad set of stakeholders throughout product development, much before commercialisation.

Leadership and incentives

To become a truly customer centric organisation, it needs to be lived by everyone in this organisation, including third parties. Leaders must be incentivised for the behaviour (or the behaviour change) they want to see. Teams should be built in such a way that they enable customer centricity, teamwork, and agile decision-making. In a company that considers customer centricity as a philosophy, functional silos and brand-centric priorities cannot survive.

Customer centricity is the buzzword that has prompted much reflection. Particularly in large pharma companies, trying to establish what customer centricity looks like for them. It is often associated with another buzzword: omnichannel. For many, the definition, application, and how to go about customer centricity are still work in progress. Customer centricity in pharma can be a huge change that will not only take time to implement but also take a different path. It will all depend on the size of the pharma organisation, the business model in place, and the portfolio and pipeline. 

In the future, customer centricity will determine the long-term success of a business. We can see it happening already, and to replicate the success consistently, customer centricity can only be treated as a philosophy. Large pharma companies will find customer centricity an almost impossible task to achieve due to their size, portfolio complexities, ways of working, and how they are organised. They will often find smaller pharma competitors, with a less varied portfolio and more agile ways of working to be less risk-averse with their decisions and actions and more able to meet fast-changing customer needs.

While big pharma may feel behind when it comes to customer centricity, there are angles they can use to mitigate the disadvantages and turbocharge their strengths by making use of the huge global resources available to them.

Recruit, train, and retain the right teams to drive executional excellence consistently.

Build small eco-systems for key projects that allow the company to work in an agile way, as such, behaving as a smaller organisation.

Test and learn new and different ways of engaging externally, collect and analyse data in multiple parts of the business, and share knowledge between them. Make sure teams do not continuously fall into the same traps and try the same things.

Build external partnerships with experts in engagement, digital, AI, capabilities, etc. Doing it all alone will only get you so far.

Ensure a change management process is in place, so all the people are onboard and moving as one.

Depending on where you are in this transformation journey, it could feel like a huge undertaking. The most important thing in building customer centricity, and ideally considering it as a philosophy, will be to prioritise.

It will be important to determine what good looks like in the first instance and prioritise the aspect of customer centricity that will drive the most impact for your business. 


About the author

Delphine has 20 years of experience in pharma with a specialism in successfully launching brands in vaccines and specialty care markets. With a growth-focused mindset she is focused on inspiring and leading both strategic and operational teams to get results.

Delphine OKeefe_2023

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