The stakes are high for companies in the pharmaceutical industry. Many of the larger companies are facing a slew of $1b+ drops in revenue from expiring patents on their blockbuster drugs with little in the pipeline to replace it. In addition, companies are revamping their large sales forces due to billions of dollars in fines paid to the FDA since 2005 for deceptive marketing practices and sales reps encouraging “off label” usage.

Pharmaceutical companies have changed their ways since the darker days of the last decade. They are increasingly focused on building engaged and loyal customers. After years of “product-centricity” it is time to shift focus to customer experiences, providing what customers want how and when they want it. As one Pharma exec put it recently, “Our vision is to move from volume to value.”

Among our pharmaceutical clients we see devoted executives who are passionate about delivering value to their customers and patients. But the shift to the “outside-in” thinking required to achieve your customer experience vision isn’t easy. It requires an openness to constantly listening to customer feedback, and then taking actions to adapt accordingly. In an industry that is comfortable with rigorous research, this real-time agility will feel uncomfortable.

Below are three simple recommendations for helping you create and execute your customer experience vision based on our work in the pharmaceutical industry over the last several years.

1. Take the temperature of your executive team regarding a customer experience program

If the customer experience is not a strategic priority for your senior executives then do not waste your time or political capital trying to launch a broad initiative. It won’t work.

If there are doubters in the C-suite we recommend you continue socializing the value of customer experience among your colleagues and senior executives until you gain their support. Point out where your company’s financial goals are aligned with the interests of the customer. Placing your customer experience initiatives into this broader framework is essential in helping your executives understand where the customer experience fits in. One way to do this is by building a 24-36 month roadmap combining both proposed customer experience work and financial objectives and milestones.

2. Acknowledge that Voice of the Customer (VoC) is a new way of doing things

An essential part of your customer vision will be implementing a Voice of the Customer program to collect non-blinded, real-time customer feedback. The pharmaceutical industry’s traditional method of gathering customer feedback, Sales Force Effectiveness (SFE), provides aggregated data on primarily functional dimensions of the rep/customer relationships. SFE alone is insufficient because results are blinded and aggregated at the national or, if you’re lucky, regional levels, but no lower. In addition, it takes weeks or even months for reporting and insights.

A Voice of the Customer (VoC) program, on the other hand, is designed to provide immediate customer feedback at the individual level so managers can gain insights and take local action. Even though VoC is introducing a new way of doing things, it doesn’t mean you toss out SFE. Rather than taking an either-or approach, emphasize how VoC and SFE are complimentary. They can work together to create a more holistic view of your customers.

An important point to think about is how you can help your colleagues understand the ways VoC feedback is different from SFE. The most resistant people to using a VoC methodology are often those in market research. This is understandable because they think of VoC and SFE are the same thing. Your job will be to point where they’re different, and then show how they can be used together to create a better experience for your customers.

3. Find the brand team or business unit leaders who understand the value of customer experience transformation

The way you position your customer experience work, particularly in the early stages, is critical to your long-term success. As such start this work in “friendlier” territories of the company before trying to win over the more challenging (resistant) ones.

But remember even among the friendliest brand teams it’s important to take a measured approach. For this reason you may wish to use a “prove then build” strategy. Starting small is less risky and lets you secure early wins before expanding. Delivering value to one brand team gives you credibility across the organization as word travels, and it will. This makes your job of convincing the more resistant areas of the company much easier.

It’s essential to engage your Market Research team from Day 1. Together you can approach Legal and Healthcare Compliance to gain their buy-in. Be sure to avoid open-ended options in the survey and show that the survey will not ask questions related to the brand or brand message. Framing this as a competitive advantage will pull you through this process.