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Let’s stop calling ourselves “customer”

You cannot walk two roads at the same time. Any change requires to actively start taking steps into the new direction … and to actively stop walking into the old. The transformation to CX is no exception. The CX Inspiration Hub “Stop it!”-miniseries picks up some pieces we might want to potentially consider stop doing. And do not hesitate to drop a note at the end of an article in case you disagree, please. I am curious about getting your opinion.

In the pharmaceutical industry we feel inspired by innovation business masters like Amazon, Apple, Uber, Google, Netflix, etc. We would desperately like to be like them. And we put a lot of efforts into emulating them. By having the same customer-centric approaches, resulting in amazing innovation power if not business revolution capabilities.

But customer centricity is so hard to achieve for pharma. And I realized a major difference between pharma and our ideals, which could at least be a stumbling block.

For people in Silicon Valley it is always very clear who the customer is … and that the customer naturally is outside the company.

Traditional companies, pharma included, sometimes also call other parts of the organization “customer”. For example, for the global layer teams, affiliates are seen as their ‘customer’. For some business functions, product teams are seen as their ‘customers’. For IT, business is seen as their ‘customer’.

But this has at least two consequences …

  • First, every time we are discussing the customer and customer centricity, there is confusion in the room who we are talking about. I have seen colleagues talking to each other about customer needs, and both had completely different audiences in mind.
  • Second, no company is a self-feeding perpetuum mobile, serving itself. Business happens externally, and the customer sits externally. This is where the money is coming from that pays our salaries.

I fully understand and agree to the mindset behind the internal-customer view. Yes, we always should know where the impact of our deliveries happens. And we should take the needs of our internal “receiving ends” also very serious. But the ambition should be to – together, as partners – serve the needs of the real, the external customer.

Now, is this the reason why pharma so far fails to become like Amazon? Certainly not. But language and framing matter. Because words shape thoughts. And thoughts shape actions.

So, dear pharma colleagues, let’s be more conscious about our language and stop calling ourselves “customers”. Let us be more like Silicon Valley by focussing on the real customer, who is always external.


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