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Omnichannel Puts the Customer at the Center of Engagement

3 Aug 2022

Medical Affairs teams are racing to provide a personalized “Netflix-like” engagement for ever-expanding audiences, predicting needs and preferences and then delivering unbiased scientific information in the most useful formats and channels. The answer, of course, is omnichannel. But what does omnichannel actually mean and how do we get there? Here MAPS speaks with Sameer Lal, SVP, Enterprise Medical Business Unit,


about how to move from today’s largely siloed customer engagement framework to a truly cross-functional, omnichannel approach.

MAPS : Medical Affairs is pretty comfortable with the idea of engaging audiences through multiple channels – not just the organization’s information portal and not just through MSL interactions. But what’s the difference between this multi-channel approach many organizations use now and a truly omnichannel approach?

Sameer : Multi-channel is all about content. You have content on a website, a standard response, a slide deck, and FAQs. Basically, the multi-channel approach is to produce content and then ask who you can send it to. Omnichannel is completely the opposite. It starts with the customer and keeps the customer in the center, asking which channels they interact with, where are they in the customer journey, and what can we provide to them. With Omnichannel engagement, we don’t ask which content we can send to which customer but ask how can we meet customer needs in a personalized format.

MAPS : So in this model, communication starts with listening – how can we know these things about our customers?

Sameer : The way Medical Affairs traditionally engaged with customers was through personal interactions like live MSL meetings, in-person discussions at conferences, or a phone call with a medical information specialist. But COVID accelerated the transformation of the engagement model to a series of digital touchpoints. We now have a large set of digital interaction data that can enable omnichannel engagement. Really, this whole thing started outside pharma with the advent of customer experience tracking and measuring. It’s how you consume content on Netflix and Amazon. These systems know you’ve been there before and their recommendation engines can predict what you’ll most likely want next. More importantly, they ensure a seamless and consistent customer experience across channels and devices. These tech companies are already doing omnichannel engagement – as pharma matures digitally, our challenge is to catch up.

MAPS : So what business challenges does omnichannel help to solve?

Sameer : It allows you to really expand the universe you can reach both in the medical and commercial world. Because you are using digital means, using the same infrastructure you are able to reach a wider audience. More importantly, it allows you to provide personalized experiences in a continuous manner, not something which is sporadic or one-off. So that adds an entire theme or cadence to the entire engagement, more importantly, whatever you do – both offline and online – gets coordinated.

MAPS : So with expanding customer base, how can omnichannel help in engaging with each of the new and evolving stakeholder groups?

Sameer : Exactly, in general as you expand your customer base you need to put more and more effort in terms of understanding the customer and therefore finding ways to inform and educate those customers. Now what omnichannel is able to do is it can create personalized content based on analytical insights and provide personalized experiences both in the physical and digital world. Therefore, as you expand your audience on the medical affairs side it actually becomes far more cost-efficient for them to engage with those audiences, especially when you are doing it in the digital world

MAPS : And are some organizations further along this journey toward omnichannel than others?

Sameer : Even within the organization, we see differences between departments. On the Commercial side, they’re further along the omnichannel journey, due primarily to access to resources. Medical is just starting this journey. Most of our clients are in a state of, “Hey we should do something with omnichannel, but what?” Though like in any transformation journey, there are few leaders and then the rest follow eventually. And true to this, we are already seeing a few of our clients leading the wave and investing in medical omnichannel activation capabilities. The investment could be multi-fold, in the form of technology, systems, and re-designed personnel roles. That said not everyone has figured out all of it yet. We are still about 2 or 3 years out before we can all say we have got the hang of it.

MAPS : So if tech companies like Netflix and Amazon pioneered omnichannel and functions like Commercial are ahead in their adoption, is the answer for Medical Affairs to copy the omnichannel tools and strategies from Commercial?

Sameer : I think the answer is not to copy Commercial but to collaborate with Commercial. The industry as a whole is experiencing a seismic change. Traditionally, Medical Affairs and Commercial were strictly firewalled but in the last few years, this firewall has become more porous. This independence was created for the right reasons – making a clear demarcation between information that could be shared on- and off-label. The quality and nature of medical interactions are different than commercial interactions and channels. Those boundaries don’t go away. But we can certainly accelerate our transformation on the shoulders of past organizational experience on the commercial side. What we’re saying is if we’re creating content going to a customer, does that have to be created multiple times over across different content infrastructures even though it’s the same truth source powering similar content to similar audiences? The answer is closer collaboration

MAPS : Right, and even within Medical Affairs teams, it can be hard for the right hand to know what the left hand is doing.

Sameer : Exactly, but omnichannel allows you to coordinate a team cadence across engagements. Traditionally, a physician might go to a Medical website, ask a question through MedInfo and get a response or interact with a portal for congress content. Then the same physician a few days later would meet with an MSL, but the MSL wouldn’t know about the MedInfo or other interactions. In omni, we design an experience that resonates with our typical customer, persona, and respect their likely preferences for channels and content – maybe she likes to understand the latest information, is good with digital, and we capture both in-person and digital interactions across the organization. Then when an MSL goes into the CRM, they can see this profile and know all the touchpoints a KOL has had across the function and across the organization. It’s about coordination and capture of analytics that then optimizes the overall experience provided to customers.

MAPS : So, what do Medical Affairs teams need in order to implement a positive customer engagement experience?

Sameer :Three things. First is customer segmentation and personalized content creation – how do you create and deliver content personalized to customers? The second is how do you create modular content that can be adapted into different formats (and how do you work with modular content through the MLR review process). Finally, it’s the integration of content with the channel – you’ve created personalized content, now how do you pull it together? Also, internally, omnichannel implementation requires change management – Medical Affairs teams need to be experts at communicating internally that digital is here to stay, customer expectations are being formed by industries outside pharma, and if we can’t catch up with omnichannel implementation, we will start to alienate customers who are used to these Netflix and Amazon approaches.

MAPS : It sounds like omnichannel is challenging but essential…

Sameer : The ability for Medical Affairs to ultimately empower our customers to care for their patients depends on our ability to provide the right engagement to the right person at the right time in the right way. That’s omnichannel. Organizations that successfully implement omnichannel will steer the future of the function.

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