How Cochlear is tuning into customer lifecycle marketing

Hearing implant producer shares its customer experience strategy

Becoming a customer experience-oriented company requires customer intelligence, strategy and cultural change, along with a healthy investment into technology and content, according to hearing implant producer, Cochlear.

Speaking at this year’s Forrester Summit for Marketers in Sydney, Cochlear’s global head of customer experience, David Williams, shared the steps his company has taken to understand and respond to the needs of its customers across the lifecycle, and the challenges in helping people hear and be heard.

Williams said a key motivator for Cochlear to become more customer-focused is the significant lack of awareness of hearing loss and treatment options globally, particularly in adults. He noted that it can take 10 years to educate someone about hearing loss, through to having implant surgery. A lack of understanding and referrals for hearing implants from doctors is another ongoing challenge.

One of the first steps in crafting a customer experience strategy was to revise the Cochlear mission. This helped pulled together culture and thinking across the organisation, Williams said.

“Our mission is that we help people hear and be heard. We empower people to connect with others and live a full life,” he said. “It was a fundamental change to put the customer message at start of our mission statement.”

The second big step was customer lifecycle mapping, and Williams identified five “Es” that Cochlear employs across the 12-stage journey of a customer to align messages and engage more effectively. These are: Entice (driving awareness), enter (choosing the Cochlear brand), explore (diagnosis then choosing the right implant solution), engage then empower (prepare for surgery, switch on, learning to hear then learning to hear more); and extend (continuously improving hearing for better quality of life).

“In the early days, a common marketing program to entice someone was to get a product brochure and mail it out to someone inquiring about it,” Williams commented.

In addition, Cochlear historically spent 95 per cent of its marketing effort on engagement, the middle stage of the journey.

“What we didn’t want to keep doing is starting with an out-of-warranty conversation with a conversation,” Williams said. “So we’re trying to extend the reach of the business.

“If we have done the right thing by our customers in helping them go through that journey of understanding the solutions, it’s more likely they’re going to look more favourably at the time of brand choice, which is the official end of the candidate’s journey.

“As they go through the surgery and activate the device, it’s then how we build that ongoing, lifetime relationship, one that enables them to return to their life as early as possible. So how to use the device, and learning to hear... if you have this type of surgery, you expect to go through some education and training. So we need to mange expectations and make it clear people need to invest a bit in order to get those outcomes.”

To achieve all this, the journey for the business started on the back-end and around the ‘empower’ and ‘extend’ phase of the customer’s lifecycle, William said.

“We changed the experience for customers ringing about an out-of-warranty device, to one where we engage the moment they choose to go forward with our technology,” he explained. “There was a lot of change in bringing that about.”

Some of this change was deliberate, and some was accidental, Williams admitted. For example, he noted a shift in the attitude of US clinicians away from protecting their customer base, to calling on Cochlear to take direct care of customers post-surgery.

The newer frontier for Cochlear has been engaging with customers at the front-end of their journey in the ‘entice and enter’ phases, Williams said. Hearing solutions is providing a lot of answers, awareness is filling the pipeline, and discovery is discovering what type of solution best meets their needs, he said.

“We have broken up the candidate and recipient part of the journey and we’re now developing a membership program to build that direct loyalty and engagement with our customers,” he continued. “In order to overcome some of the internal execution or operational issues, we have key program buckets, such as learning to hear, so we can form cross-functional teams to deliver on an outcome, as opposed to getting stuck in traditional functional silos.”

Across all of the stages of its customer-focused work, Cochlear is also investing in a “clinical care” program around B2B relationships, Williams said.

“Internally, it’s also important to listen, learn and act and we’re using Net Promoter Score to constantly ask customers how we’re doing on delivering on those needs,” he said. “We’re using those insights to inform brand messaging, our products and services and also the operations.”

Cochlear is investing in a number of “customer experience enablers” to underpin its strategy. One of these is technology, and the company is combining IBM’s online, app and Web portal platforms with Salesforce CRM, Marketo marketing automation software and its own clinical connectivity and management systems.

Content is the second enabler to being able to craft personalised, emotive, journey-based interactions with customers over their lifecycle. Williams said the focus is on small pieces of content, with a preference for video.

“The challenge is we have a building full of engineers who love to talk about the technology, rather than the outcomes a customer gets... moving to more emotionally based content has been essential,” he said.

The third element underpinning Cochlear’s customer experience strategy is services. These need to be connected and convenient, taking into account remote self-service capabilities, along with emerging telemedicine opportunities that create new clinic models, Williams said.

To do this, Cochlear needs to look after four key stakeholders, he said: Candidates and recipients, through the best possible outcomes; clinicians, to ensure they have sustainable practices; referrers, so there is an incentive to refer; and payers, such as government agencies and insurance companies, who are increasingly looking to embrace outcomes-based medicine.

“Everyone today wants their own ecosystem, and Cochlear believes that if we can have that thriving ecosystem, it will address efficiency and effectiveness of the industry,” Williams added.

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