Pharma CX: Insights from the Director of Customer Experience & Delivery at Merck


In a recent episode of the Digital Customer Experience podcast by giosg, Helge Tenno, the esteemed Director of Customer Experience & Delivery at Merck, shared groundbreaking insights into transforming the pharma industry with a customer-centric focus. From the role of AI to the importance of Omni-Channel strategies, Tenno offers a fresh perspective on reshaping customer engagement.

The role of AI

In the beginning of the conversation and to get to know our guest a little bit better, the podcast host Daniel Paul – Content Marketing Manager at giosg, asked him about his favorite book.

“It’s about artificial intelligence. It is written by the author. She has a blog where I think she tries to destroy algorithms. She tries to break them and through breaking them, she identifies where their strengths are and where their weaknesses are. It just brings you into this world of AI and gives you a very good understanding. It's truly a joy to read”, Helge replies. 

The AI topic led us to our second question to Helge. 

“Can AI change the way you approach customers or customer support, and customer experience?”

Helge replied that he sees a lot of organizations that plug in data. It’s what we always do with technology, he says. We plug in new technology into old frameworks and old mindsets, and then accelerate what we already have. He continues to state that he doesn't think plugging in data into an organization makes it magically more customer-centric. Rather it’s the organization that needs to change.


“There needs to be a mindset change in the organization to better understand the customer. With a new and deeper understanding of the difference between a customer and a product or a channel – you can start to use the AI to answer new types of questions that the organization has.”


Choosing the customer route

When choosing the customer experience route, Helge expressed that his passion lies in that he wants to help organizations identify and articulate what the change is and to act on it. He started investigating change, from technology to data to products, and trying to figure out what the course of change is – and what there is to find out. 

It's always what the customer wants, what they find valuable to pay for, what they need in their life. These are always the things that influence the change in some way or another, or accept the change that they're offered. 


“I just fell in love with that route, the route course which is the customer – or the human being at the center of things.”

Helge expressed that it is an industry that, at its very highest level, talks a lot about the importance of patients and improving their lives and saving people – but then looking down through the organization, you see that there's a lot of tools, methods and mindsets that are missing and the organization grows into a product-centric organization. Not necessarily because it wants to, but because it's been like that for a hundred years.

Challenges for the healthcare professionals

Another topic was about the recent, alarming media articles in Norway writing that  HCPs have too much to do and too little time, which is worrying. We asked; what are your thoughts on this?

Helge replied: “I recognize that you have to look at the system, not only the customer. The customer, as well as us, is a part of a bigger system. When we look at treatment, especially for a long time and some of the diseases people can get, it's not only to show up and get a syringe, it's actually long-term treatment. 

And when you study the patient's interactions with the healthcare system throughout that treatment, you find out that they're maybe spending 95% of their time with everywhere else than the physician herself and so that begs the question – why is the pharmaceutical industry so interested in taking time away from the people who have none of it to give, which we know?"

Human interactions in the pharma industry

Helge said that by getting closer to the customer – we will see other things on the other side of individuals. “Like the system is, you have to understand the system around the customer. The other thing is to understand that they are very contextual, so they show up in situations.”


“If we are getting much better at focusing on the situations they are in when we interact with them – we can get much better at serving them.”


Understanding customer experience to optimize omnichannel

When asking the question about how to understand customer experience in order to optimize omnichannel, Helge says that the way that he sees omnichannel is that there’s an opportunity for wider organizations to get together – and figure out what the goals are, or the desired outcomes they have together. 

In pharma that is marketing, sales, medical policy, market access; whoever is allowed to be in the same room. Too often that is based on different markets, and also setting a long term plan.

“Omni is not only an indication that I can use whichever channel is available. It should be an indication that the organization is doing this together as a whole. It has the customer at the center, so it's outcome driven. You're going to work together towards a long term outcome and it's a long term strategy. 

An omni-channel strategy can last for a year, it can last for 18 months, but it has the potential to actually do these things if you see omnichannel through that light, through that lens. But this is again where I'm seeing a little bit that our industry doesn't see omni-channel through that lens. We see it more as a way to use many channels when sending out product information.”

Why omnichannel is useful & how Helge sees its future

Helge stated that it has to be a cross-functional marketing approach, which means working with your cross-functional team, in order to figure out what change we want to happen over time. 

He also said that a strategy is just a theory of how we think we can influence in order to reach assumed results. So, an omni-channel strategy not only sets up the kind of roadmap, (like we start here, then we do all these things, and we get up there) – and finally we reach our goal.

You have to make sure you measure all the way, because you might have maybe sent the customers something in the beginning, and maybe the first campaign didn't work at all. You need to figure that out. 

Top three takeaways 

👉 Differentiate between products, channels and customers

When you think about the customer's needs, the customer comes to us, or the physician comes to us because there's a need for progress. They are trying to achieve something or they're trying to overcome a struggle. Now, what is it that they need or what are they trying to overcome that we can support them with? So I think that's the first one to kind of start asking these questions about needs and reflecting on needs – instead of reflecting on what I want to tell them, which is very much more common." 


👉  Make sure it's a clear distinction about what we are actually learning about, and making the distinction between product and the customer

What I see in our whole industry, is that we pretend to speak about the customers – when we're actually speaking about channels or products. We have to distinguish the difference between pointing at people, like pointing at customers, and actually understanding them. And in that, we're getting so used to assuming that digital channel behavior tells us anything about our customers. You can make some assumptions about it at scale, but it is channel interactions. You're not measuring a customer, you're measuring a channel's performance.”

👉 Be curious

Curiosity is leaning into something that challenges what you think you know, or leaning into something that you don't know anything about and learning something dramatically new. Now, in a pharmaceutical industry like we've been going at this for like 100, 150 years, we're so stuck like we are product centric, as you mentioned. I want to unlearn the customer so I can relearn them in a new way.”

For more podcast episodes with similar topics by pharma executives & leaders from some of the world-renowned businesses;
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Press contact
Sofia Correnti, PR & Communications Manager, giosg
+46708 45 23 09

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