Britain’s conservative NHS cooperates with dating app Tinder, whilst big pharmaceutical companies cooperate with Google or Apple. And in spite of this, healthcare companies still struggle to make “multichannel” the new paradigm. Why is that? What becomes of the elaborate consultancy projects and costly investments in software and data? Flagship projects alone, it seems, are not enough to bring about change. And customers have long since overtaken companies. Here, even just simple principles can help to bring communication planning significantly closer to the doctor or patient. And thus, quite incidentally, to turn channel planning into service planning.

1st principle: Learn to really understand your target group

Market research, segmenting and models are an inexhaustible source of knowledge, but they harbor the risk of generalization. One quickly develops a mental image of the homogeneous target group made up of doctors who are all the same and always behave in the same way. An alternative is planning in scenarios. These are moments in which decisions are actually made in real life in the medical practice or with the patient. The better we understand these scenarios, the better we are able to plan initiatives that can be applied at the relevant moment. And that, of course, is the second important rule: Money is best invested precisely where the target group is and where it seeks interactions. 

2nd principle: Plan services, not channels

Multichannel, it is often said, gets better the greater the number of channels involved. Using “Channel Preferences” as a basis, a plan is then set up known as a “Channel Map” or “Multichannel Ecosystem”, which immediately reveals what needs to be done.

Here it is not the channels that are important – offering a channel without defining a purpose is like laying a cable and not knowing whether it’s power, data or music that is to flow through it.

It is the service that comes first, the problem you are solving or the value you are supplying. The question: “Do we need a website?” is therefore misleading. A much more logical question is: “What service does a doctor need in a specific situation?” (see principle 1!). And only once the service has been established should you define which is the best channel for offering this service to a target group. That might be a website, an online forum or a telephone number. Or even – yes, really! – simply a pocket-sized information card. Thus the channel supports the offering and does not dictate the messages.

3rd principle: The customer journey seldom leads from A to B

Wouldn’t it be nice if a customer interacted in the sequence foreseen and moved up the adoption ladder step by step? Unfortunately it’s never that easy.

Generally we are forced to accept that our idea of the customer is simply too linear. In real life customer journeys do not lead directly from a definitive starting point to an end point and all too frequently head in directions we have not foreseen. After all, we are not alone. Customers talk to other providers, colleagues or competitors. Hence it is important to keep various directions open at every point of interaction, and to learn and optimize. A good multichannel plan works more like a buffet than a set menu. The choice of which dish is the right one in the relevant moment is up to the customer. A dish for every scenario. Moreover, this is more efficient and accurate than defining in advance which customer needs which message at which moment.

4th principle:  Customer experience knows no limits

Customer experience is far more that adhering to the brand book. Subconsciously, the customer expects to encounter the same personality with each interaction: The same tone, the same quality, the same level of attentiveness. Here the customer doesn’t distinguish between field sales and website. Internal boundaries within the organization of a company are of no interest to a customer.

Multichannel therefore forces teams to overcome boundaries. Between sales and marketing, between medicine and brand team and between “classic” and “digital”. It is only when the various paths of the interaction are seamlessly interwoven that the customer’s experience really becomes limitless.

5th principle: Try things out – and learn from them

Anyone who wants to improve needs to try things out and make mistakes – there’s no other way. But to learn, you need to measure.

Multichannel cannot function without KPIs. Often it is not necessary to have a complicated data model for this. Everything begins with an objective and an idea of what the website, app or the entire initiative contributes to the achievement of the goal. That can be encapsulated in a measured value and – equally important – an expectation. After all, only he who establishes for himself what “good” means can ultimately see whether something was actually good or not. Benchmarks can help with a realistic assessment of expectation. But what “good” means is ultimately the sole determinant of the goal.

Multichannel communication is neither a technical project nor a task for the digital team – multichannel communication describes a way of communicating that focuses on the customer and offering services in the channels that the customer prefers. That might mean thoroughly different channels in combination for one service. The five principles of this article can help to set the right focus.

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