Two years ago, Sigma Healthcare, a wholesaler and distributor to the pharmacy sector, decided to take a look into the future to ensure customers were right at the heart of their business going ahead. The decision has since transformed the company and made it much more responsive to what these pharmacies need.

As part of this process, Sigma did a deep dive into what their customers really wanted when engaging with the business. It used this process as a lens to review policies, procedures, technology and how to better connect with them.

“What we found was that technology was a big area that needed improvement,” says Sigma Healthcare’s e-commerce manager Luke Shaw. “We had a lot of legacy tech and systems that had been built on top of each other without keeping the customer’s needs in mind. As a result, we created an entirely new ordering platform for our wholesale customers.”

The digital platform, called Sigma Connect, features SAP Commerce Cloud and Qualtrics software and allows the company to improve how customers order and manage stock, offering faster checkout, clearer product details and better customer experience. Using Qualtrics allows the firm to perform customer surveys and collect verbatim feedback across the entire customer base.

“It gave us that one-on-one connection with everybody in our network. We place the feedback mechanism across every page on our ordering platform, so our customers at every step can give us feedback, good, bad or indifferent,” Shaw says.

Sigma now uses this feedback to further develop its technology, he explains. “We ask our customers what they want, act on that feedback and then measure our success. It’s a really powerful tool to find out whether we’re going in the right direction.”

Key to the process is the ability to analyse sentiment across the customer base, to allow it to focus on changes that are going to make a big, positive difference to the company. Sigma combines the insights it gleans through technology with information about customer sentiment it collects face-to-face when talking with pharmacists instore and also at events and conferences.

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The Experience Effect Podcast series

Being able to combine this information gives the business an understanding of what’s truly important to customers. This avoids placing too much emphasis on issues raised during one-off focus groups, which may be important to that group, but may not be as critical to the wider pharmacy cohort.

An example is a recent focus group that involved an important group of pharmacy owners. They had concerns around Sigma’s search engine marketing.

“We had been working on search and our analysis showed search wasn’t a primary concern across the customer base. But it was for that focus group at that time. So while the feeling and the sentiment immediately in that workshop was valid, search was less of a priority for the greater customer base,” Shaw explains.

Had the business decided to redouble its efforts on search just based on the feedback from the focus group, it may have missed responding to customers’ other concerns it was able to glean from a more comprehensive sentiment analysis. This showed inventory accuracy – being able to tell customers when an out-of-stock item would be back in stock – was more important than search across the board.

Sydney University’s professor of marketing, Vince Mitchell, also stresses how important it is for businesses to seek immediate, regular feedback from customers to drive business decisions.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions and all businesses find feedback nourishing,” Mitchell says. “Previous tracking of ‘how are we doing in general?’ on customer experience has been replaced with ‘how did we do today or on this transaction?’”

Being able to combine information gives businesses an understanding of what’s important to customers.  Getty.

Online pop ups, mobile texts, end-of-call surveys or social media feeds can be used to generate real-time feedback to build a much more detailed and actionable picture of customer experience.

Nevertheless, Mitchell concedes measuring sentiment can be tricky. “You need to have the right ‘dictionary’ of words that are bespoke to your brand to get an accurate read on sentiment.”

He also says it’s important to use multiple touchpoints including online, telephone, instore, face-to-face and email when measuring sentiment. “You can analyse positive and negative reviews online, but this only covers one touchpoint and only people who use social media. So making conclusions from this is difficult.”

As for what’s next for Sigma on its journey to use technology to get closer to its customers, Shaw says they are working on harnessing customer feedback to drive greater loyalty.

“We do that by continuing to measure our net promoter score. It’s shifted more than 60 points in the past 18 months. This gives us faith we’re doing the right thing. If customers appreciate we’re giving them a better experience, this builds trust, which will lead to even greater business benefits down the track.”