One of the great opportunities at this meeting was to learn more about contact centers and telecommunications applications. It was a tough choice for me as this session was pitched against new & innovative technologies for medical information delivery.

However call centers won and I got the chance to hear about the new role John DiBrango has in AstraZeneca as the Call Center Management & Governance Director. John gave us the inside story on what really happens in big pharma! How do you manage the unmanageable was the starting point (my words not his!). AZ use 23 call centres, in addition to the in-house group. They have multiple websites and numerous IVR (Interactive Voice Response or those annoying menus to you and me) programmes that change constantly. His challenge was to bring that all under control to aim for a consistent voice for the customer. We were introduced to JailMail – when you’re lost in an IVR menu that takes you round in loops, welcome messages that take 90 seconds (best practice = 8 seconds) and helplines for schizophrenics with an IVR menu asking you to pick from a menu of 8 different drugs (with option 9 to repeat them again!).

By working with the brand teams early on, John can make sure that call centres and IVR programmes are set up correctly, with clear goals that are monitored and evaluated. Third party vendors are rigorously monitored for compliance on AE and PQC reports from customers. If they are answering on behalf of AZ, it’s got to sound just like AZ and met those standards.

This rigour extends into all aspects of the call centers & IVR programmes – training, SOPS, robustness of technology, personnel qualifications (nurse, pharmacists etc), capability to fulfil requests, availability 24/7 or office hours, etc.

Rich Lippincott, PPD, gave great insight into running an IVR self-service operation for a company launching a device. First you have to consider the structure you need. Rather than asking your customer if they are a healthcare professional or a patient, its better to use options that closely reflect the questions customers ask e.g. “Press 1 if you have left your injection pen out of the fridge”. Whose voice are you going to use? Choosing a company person is usually better than using a professional actor. Then use the same voice for all your menus and other IVR programmes. Use links to other supports networks (e.g. a patient assistance programme).

Second, IVR menus and the answers need to reflect trends and regular patterns. For example different questions are asked on different days of the week, or months. Many of us know those Monday morning calls about the pharmacy fridge breaking over the weekend. Do you need a recorded message? Or what about allergy information during hay fever season? He gave a great example of the WalMart (ASDA in the UK) call center. Before a hurricane, people want to order beer. But after it’s gone through there’s a rush for the Pop-Tarts, so build that into the menus.

Using an IVR self-service programme, the company concerned as able to cover the work of 5 people (from team of 35). Compelling statistics.

Tomorrow, I’ll bring you more on measuring customer satisfaction and the leadership tracks. Watch this space!