How Medidata pivoted to support people over products

Published May 5, 2016
Last modified May 5, 2016

Before a new life-saving drug can be released, the pharma companies, researchers, universities, and charitable foundations behind a new treatment must run clinical trials to test the effects. These trials are costly, labor-intensive, and leave behind a massive paper trail for the FDA to wade through.

Or, they did, until a few years ago. Medidata transformed the world of clinical trials by bringing the process into the cloud, allowing organizations who run trials to streamline the process while still adhering to Federal regulations. Ultimately, Medidata accelerates the entire process, shortening trial delivery times so that treatments reach patients sooner.

As is the case with any SaaS technology, Medidata’s customers have questions about how it all works, and they need technical support. In the early days, it made sense to organize support around specific Medidata products. But then the company changed its approach by organizing support around customer segments, to better get to know the people using their products.

The effort was led by one-time Medidata customer and former research scientist, Jason Martin. In Medidata’s full customer success story, Martin explains this pivot and its results. But first, he tells us more about how and why it’s crucial to build service into the customer experience.

Can you begin by telling us more about the impact Medidata has had on the clinical trial process? For a lot of us, this is foreign territory.
Before Medidata was around, clinical trials were run on paper. In fact, in the not-too-distant past, I worked on a study costing hundreds of millions of dollars that involved hundreds of people and over hundreds of thousands of scanned pages—just for that one study alone. That’s over a million pieces of paper that had to be filled out, scanned into PDF files, and hand-coded into a database. They were put into a document repository, crunched with biostats routines, and turned into documents for the FDA.

It was a complicated process, and Medidata helped simplify it by providing an electronic process. Now you don’t fill out a form—you type directly into the database. It sounds simple, but in actuality, there are layers of sophistication that go into it because we’re a regulated platform, with audit trails and automatic checks on the form when you enter data. The electronic infrastructure that Medidata provides allows our clients to return information to the FDA and other regulatory agencies much faster.

From a support point of view, who are your customers—the companies setting up clinical trials or the individuals who participate?
Both, really. On the one hand, when a pharmaceutical company runs a study, they’ll buy our platform in order to run it—or to run, say, 50 studies per year, perhaps concurrently. We may be working to set up and run that study, and to answer questions for our customer, but we also have thousands of clinical sites, hospitals, and doctors around the world participating in the studies, and they’re using our platform and may need help too.

The most common type of inquiry my organization sees is usually related to access—getting access to a form or folder, needing to give someone else access, or for a password reset. Zendesk Support allows us to streamline and quickly address these issues. That frees us up to spend more time troubleshooting the harder, more technical questions.

Medidata took a corporate top-down approach to improving the customer experience and for the customer care team to build relationships with their customers. What did that change look like in actionable terms?
We split the reporting lines among the segments of different customers and said, “You own all the people and all the issues they may experience, whatever they may be. You have in your power everything you need to solve those issues.” I tried to empower the teams to know that they could come to me and escalate issues, to ask for budget, to travel, or whatever else was needed to meet the customer’s needs. We also paired them with dedicated account managers.

At the same time, we introduced Support as the single platform to help enable and support all the personnel changes. Prior to Support, we had six disparate systems involved in handling customer support, and we were able to replace all of them with a single instance of Support. Now everyone can view all the customer activity trails across various departments.

Your shift from research scientist to supporting product at Medidata, and then leading customer care, is a little-traversed path. What do you find most rewarding about working in customer care?
It’s exciting to work on a product that powers smarter treatments and healthier people. Ultimately, we’re helping pharma and biotech companies speed up the process of creating new medical devices and drugs that could be saving lives. That’s why it’s personally so important that we’re designing and delivering an excellent customer experience to those working on bringing new and better treatments for patients. It’s rewarding to be able to help the team build relationships with our customers and to be able to measure our impact in a new way.

I also find it very rewarding to be able to make an organizational or process change and see its impact so quickly. The work I did in the past had longer cycles, and it took more time to know whether changes were effective. Now we make changes and can actually see that we’ve made a difference in the team or improved the experience for our customers.

Read more about how Medidata implemented Zendesk Support in their full customer story