At the PMN Summer Summit of 2021, leaders from an array of disciplines and roles within the industry came together to discuss the all-important concept of Customer Experience, and specifically, how CX continues to evolve in the aftermath of the global pandemic crisis, COVID-19.

The summit consisted of three panel discussions: “Coordinated CX: Moving Beyond Campaign Management,” “Digital Customer Experience and Analytics,” and “The Engagement Matrix: A Holistic View of CX.” Across the panels, three consistent themes emerged: Evolution, Integration, and Empathy.


Lars Merk, Senior Global Marketing Director at AstraZeneca, spoke to the connection between customer centricity and the evolution of CX. “A few years ago, customer centricity was the buzzword. Omni channel is now the buzzword. Well, they’re linked; as we think about our customer experience, if you are a customer-centric organization, you will start to evolve the ‘what,’ the ‘why,’ and the ‘how.’”

Merk went on to explain that, while evolving a company can involve major changes, those changes can be implemented in small and manageable ways. “We actually have a mantra in our organization: think big, start small, scale fast.” One example Merk gave was to find and partner with specialists, such as CX strategists, to provide expertise that a company may lack.

Stephanie Garrison, Digital Marketing Lead for the US at Idorsia, gave two examples of evolution that she has personally witnessed in her career. First, the adoption of social media. “I remember when I was at Pfizer years ago, anything ‘social media’ was not to be discussed. Now, you know, one of the things that I’m doing is planning our social media strategy for unbranded and branded for our launch next year.”

Another development came with the rise of data availability, which enabled another company, Intercept, to set up Veeva Alerts for reps, notifying them of potential leads in real time. “We put together – six months to get it off the ground, and it worked for them. They really appreciated the partnership in collaboration between marketing and sales – to help them help their customers.”


Again, and again, the fundamental need for a holistic, integrated approach emerged as a key discussion point. With more and more ways to innovate and reach out, panelists stressed the need for creating cohesive CX across touch point from call centers to websites to social media to physical sales materials.

Integration was also a key theme in the world of data, with analysts recommending a “triangulation” approach that marries data to research and psychology.

Most crucially, data should be married to positive change. “What is the objective of this analysis? Are we going to take action on it, or are we going to keep a pulse on how we’re performing, that we may or may not take an action on? It’s really going back to the objective of not only the campaign, but also the objective of the analysis.” Explained Claudia Smalley, Associate Director, Specialty Analytics, AbbVie. 

“I always say, test small. See if it makes a difference, and what’s the ROI attached to that experiment.” Concurred Sahab Aslam, Associate Director, Global Data Science & Analytics Products, Merck.


As a theme, empathy was clearly the most important to the panelists, with each discussion largely focusing on how companies should interact not only with customers, but with their employees and associates. “There’s data upon data that demonstrates a positive correlation between the engagement of your employees, and the ability to optimize customer experience,” said Erica Devine, Senior Manager, Patient Support Stakeholder Experience, Otsuka. She listed several questions to help guide a company’s understanding of this crucial aspect of relating empathetically to the people in and outside of their organization:

  • Do we have a concerted mission that is customer-centric?
  • Has there been a shift on who we actually identify as our target?
  • Do we have clear expectations for what our employees are supposed to be doing, and adequate training for those employees?
  • And perhaps most importantly, do we have a cultural expectation of the company itself?

Multiple panelists stressed the need to manage both innovation and data analysis based on actual feedback from customers and employees, whether that feedback comes from call center data, AI chatbot features, surveys, or other sources.

“In the pandemic, we really focused and trained the sales teams on conducting virtual concierge calls to ensure our customers and patients knew they could rely on us to support their needs during a difficult time.” Noted Lynn Dibonaventura, Director, Learning & Growth, US Business Operations, CSL Behring. Those calls, she explained, were not focused on sales, but on checking in and asking how customers were doing, holistically. That approach was highly successful in keeping customers engaged and informs a continuation of that “empathetic approach” to the customer experience. ”This also kept our sales team focused and engaged, and these factors combined are supporting the transition out of COVID.”

Internally, it was noted that many associates in an organization have little to no access to customer data and do not see the impact of a customer-centric approach , therefore, it’s more difficult to support a solution. Transparency and collaboration between a variety of functions are key to overcoming this dissociation.

On the employee side, it was noted that many associates in an organization have no access to customer data and do not see the effects of a customer-centric approach in the final outcome. Transparency and communication are key to overcoming this dissociation.

Furthermore, to counteract the effect of unaligned goals and metrics across teams and roles, several called for customer-centric metrics that all members of an organization can see and follow.

Karen Root, Director, Experience Strategy, Boehringer Ingelheim, sums up the importance of empathy by saying, “The world is different, and we have to approach it with that more empathetic mindset, letting customers advise their own approach.”

PMN 2021 Summer Summit was a lively and informative series of discussions that explored how to innovate the ways that we utilize touchpoints, from AI chatbots to triangulating data; integrate CX across email, social, customer call centers, digital and physical materials for reps, and more; and understand what the people involved (both customers and colleagues) actually think and want.

“You want people to rave about the work and the things that you’re doing, so that you’re not just doing it on your own: other people are helping to do that for you.” — Kevin Hsieh, Service Lead for Web & Mobile, Experience Services & Digital Innovation, Genentech, Inc.