Interview with Marlanges Simar

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Marlanges Simar is the Director of Customer Experience at Prime Therapeutics (Prime) managing their CX (Customer Experience) Architect team. Prime manages pharmacy benefits on behalf of health plans, employers and government programs. I interviewed her to better understand their role, and how they help Prime improve the customer experience.

Could you start off by describing the CX Architect Role?

CX architects play a strategic role in improving the experience of our different customer groups (members and health plan clients), as well as the prescribers and pharmacists we work with. This can range from fixing a problem to reworking or developing an entirely new portion of the experience.



We partner with several other groups throughout the organization to do their job.  Our Customer Insights team does research and gathers the voice of the customer to help them bring together the latest customer data with a broader understanding of how the business’ actions affect our customers’ experience. Additionally, they work with Marketing, Digital, and a whole host of other teams.

Do architects have the actual authority to change things, or are they more of an influencing force?

Some things we own, but a lot of it we’re influencing. For example, let’s say your doctor prescribes a medicine, but it requires prior approval from the insurance company. If Prime is doing that work on behalf of the insurance company, we try to influence the quality of that customer experience (for example, how fast it’s done, how communication happens with the member and the doctor and the pharmacist, etc.), so that whole process proceeds without friction. In fact, whenever possible, it’s our goal to remove the member from it altogether, so they don’t even know this is happening.

How do you distribute the voice of the customer?

We try to be creative and insert the voice of the customer in a number of different ways. For example, we produced a year-long video series that ran on our company intranet. Each week, a 1 to 2-minute video featured a different member telling a bit about themselves and an experience they’d had when using their pharmacy benefit. It gave employees a chance to empathize with our members and to gain a better understanding of the experience from their perspective. People loved it.

We’ve also done articles on the company intranet to tell the customer story. Some have been about members living with a specific condition, while others might be about our B2B clients’ experience working with Prime. In addition, we target internal decision makers with research findings to influence business decisions on behalf of customers. So, there’s no one way we share the voice of the customer, be we do it consistently so that it stays top of mind.

Is every project assigned an architect? And if so, how does the organization make that happen?

We tend to work on the most strategic projects because we’ve been successful in educating the organization about the value of delivering a good customer experience. If they know there’s a customer impact, they tend to seek out the involvement of an architect.

The way we get involved depends on the project source – either the innovations team, IT, or some other group. For example, with the innovations team, we first assess the CX impact. If it’s high, we get involved up front in the development process so the architect can not only insert the voice of the customer, but also influence how the final product is built and delivered.

How do you handle a product that has inherent issues with its experience?

We realize that not every product can have an ideal experience. In those cases, we try to mitigate the disruption and reduce the negative impact. For example, sometimes just proactively informing members of a change to avoid unwelcome surprises can help remove some of that friction. We know, though, that not every solution we propose can be adopted, so we help identify and plan for those outcomes (e.g. high call volumes in the contact center). Sometimes it can be a balancing act.



You mentioned that a sub-optimal experience can result in higher call volumes; how are you measuring ramifications like that?

We have a voice of the customer analyst who keeps an eye on call drivers and the effects of new products or product changes with high customer impact. She works closely with the contact centers, staying in touch remotely and through on-site visits. If there are features or functionality issues that are driving calls, we might work with others in the organization to develop a job aid to help agents handle those calls. We might also recommend experience changes to avoid the call driver altogether.

What does your whole CX team look like?

Until recently, we were a team of 9; five architects and four researchers. In late December, we became a team of 12 with the addition of three team members that make up the Solution Design Team. The Solution Design Team is responsible for designing the recommendations made by the CX Architects and executing web and mobile interface updates.

And could you tell me about a typical “day in the life” of your team?

There really is no “typical day.” There are usually meetings with key stakeholders who have expertise related to the work the architects are doing. When exchanging information, the architects may bring them up to speed on the latest findings from our research team. The architects may also work on a variety of documents – a journey map, process flow or another artifact to support the customers’ story. When the architects share insights, they always do so with recommendations; often, however, the insights trigger solutions from the business owners themselves before recommendations are presented (always a good sign that we’re being effective).

Of course, sometimes proposed solutions are not necessarily customer-focused, and the architects must influence the business owners to be more customer-centric. That skill of “influencing” can be a bit of an art, usually involving compromise, and most often including both quick wins and long-term recommendations.

How is your team organized?

The CX architects used to be organized by the type of work; meaning, one architect would do all the digital-related work – anything on the web or mobile; another architect specialized in specialty pharmacies and specialty conditions; while another might focus on retail pharmacies and mail pharmacies. Now, we mix it up and distribution of the work really depends on bandwidth because there’s so much more involvement of our team within the organization. Inevitably, we have architects that become experts in specific areas of the business because of the work they’ve done, but we try to maintain the variety of work among the architects, which they seem to enjoy.

So, if an organization doesn’t have a CX team but is building one, what are some signs that they should bring in an architect for that?



I would say, if the organization needs an individual contributor at a level more senior than an analyst who can help the organization understand what is happening with their customer experience and how to strategically manage the experience, a CX architect would do the job. However, there are some situations where it wouldn’t make sense. For example, if the organization already has CX managers with a good understanding of their customer experience, who identify areas of opportunity and ways to address them, and clearly articulate how to strategically move forward to manage the experience, then there probably isn’t a need to onboard a dedicated CX architect.

Thank you! Is there any last advice you’d like to share?

Recently, you and I had the conversation about the title and what it means. People tend to think of this position as a design position, but it’s more than that. I would say the majority of an architect’s time is not necessarily journey mapping or creating a blueprint or process flows. They spend most of their time educating and influencing, which is key to the organization’s overall success in embracing Customer Experience.

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