Sonia Bhatia Salmin has, for the last three years, been responsible for the gargantuan task of implementing a customer-centric agenda in a pharmaceutical company that stands among the top 100 on the planet.
As Head of Customer Experience at Mumbai-based Piramal – a global firm with a presence in over 100 of the world’s markets – Sonia is the umbilical cord between the very top of the conglomerate to the everyday user of their products.
A judge at the upcoming Gulf Customer Experience Awards, Sonia took time out of her packed schedule to tell CXM World how she performs her incredible role of keeping a mega-company’s focus on the customer at all times.
Before she took on the role of Head of CX at Piramel, Sonia spent the best part of a decade as a Senior Cabin Crew member with one of the world’s most influential airlines, British Airways.
It was while ensuring the utmost satisfaction of countless passengers at 30,000 feet that she sharpened the skills necessary to chart similar high-flying success in her next role.
With her feet firmly back on terra firma, Sonia was hired in 2014 by Piramal Enterprises – the largest branch of the Piramal Group – to create a company structure that from the top to the bottom has its sights set on customer satisfaction.
“Foraying into the pharmaceutical industry from the aviation industry was initially a challenge, but although the two industries are very different, the principals of customer experience remain the same,” she explains.
“However, it was a challenge to change mindsets in an organisation as diverse as a firm with so many sides to it, and many international locations.
“This was because CX was initially viewed as a passing fad, but I was able to make people believe it is worthwhile for a company as a whole.”
Sonia spent a year overhauling attitudes to customer centricity by identifying good practices for implementation, and diligently brought the entire leadership of the firm on board with her vision.
“CX follows a top-down approach and, therefore, it is essential that the top management endorses the initiative from day one,” she said.
“At Piramal, I had the support of our CEO and CFO, but the bigger task was to make the entire organization aware of this process.
“A series of leadership meets and workshops were conducted where the entire focus was on helping everyone understand what is customer centricity, why is this important for Piramal, and how it will add value to the organization in future.
“The mission of Piramal was understood: we wanted to be a company where people come because of the superior customer experience and the quality of the products.
“So, eventually all the leaders connected and understood the importance of this initiative.”
Each of the organisation’s dozen sites had their own customer journeys mapped, with Sonia identifying areas for improvement, and at every stage possible enhancing the CX factor.
“We have manufacturing plants, where the workers would have never met the customer they were creating the products for,” Sonia continued.
“We took the customer to them, allowing the staff to hear stories of exactly how these medications were helping patients – in many cases changing their lives entirely for the better.
“They met with the customer, talked to them, and at the end of the process the staff understood, with each member thinking ‘Ok, I’m working for a really worthy cause, let’s keep it up’.
“If the staff don’t know the value of their roles, they may fail to be excited about coming to work.”
Key customers praised Piramal’s CX practices – such as annual customer surveys – as the key differentiator between it and its rivals at a recent Drug, Chemical and Associated Technologies Association (DCAT) event in New York.
“It’s not just about taking the survey, what is more important comes after – connecting to the customer and understanding how we can improve our services. The customers value this very much.
“We are the first pharma company to have added Net Promoter Scores. We do an extensive analysis for each of our sites on how customers have rated us and, as an organization, are aggressive about turning passives and detractors to promoters. We have really built up the trust between the customer and the company.”
Implementing customer centricity is a job that will never stop for Sonia while her talents grace Piramal. Every day she seeks out innovative ways of connecting the firm with its customers.
“Social media continues to be a great way to help us understand out product users. Without it we would be unable to work as fast and as effectively as we do. It’s an invaluable tool, and we wouldn’t have as firm a grasp as we do on what a customer is looking for.”
Sonia predicts that that much more is possible in terms of companies implementing successful CX strategies, insisting that the “peak” is yet to come, but will do so through further development of aids such as software and analytics.
“CX is in its infancy, and it’s an exciting time for any company that wants to truly understand who their customer is,” she added.
“This is something that should be understood by each and every member of that organisation. It’s exactly what we did at Piramal – we helped everyone understand that although we are making formulations for big pharma companies, these are actually being developed into medicines that are used by patients, so our end customers are these patients.
“Our CEO communicated the message to everyone that their roles could save lives, and hence were as important as doctors, who wouldn’t be able to save lives without the medicines we manufacture.
“Even with our Business Development team, we helped them understand that just selling is not going to add value unless the customer has a good experience.
“Only when they have this experience end-to-end will the customer come back to us, and, will we get more business from them.”