News & Press

Creating a Customer-CDMO Win-Win

Edition 3 / September 2020
Article > What Makes a Good Customer?

Edition 3 / September 2020

Stephen Houldsworth, VP Global Head of Platform Management & Marketing of CordenPharma, headshot

Dr. Stephen Houldsworth,

VP, Global Head of Platform Management & Marketing
CordenPharma International

What Makes a Good Customer?

Creating a Pharma - CDMO client relationship Win win line art of hands shaking green background

The CDMO industry is first and foremost one of service, which like a good restaurant, should be focused on the customer. But what can the customer also bring to the table which enhances the relationship, creating a mutual win-win for all involved?

There have been many articles in the trade press about what makes a good supplier, but what makes a good customer? The answer to what makes a good customer always boils down to whatever helps us help you: how customers can anticipate effective shifts in their organizational approach to get the most value from their CDMO creates a win-win for all involved.

On Procuring Experts, Not Just Capabilities

Customer organizations sometimes spend enormous numbers of hours internally devising the perfect scope of work and Request for Proposal (RfP), including in some cases a long list of the exact experiments that are expected to be run. Essentially, the customer’s project team creates a definitive problem statement – for example how to scale up a process in manufacturing – and then determines their preferred solution ahead of time. Several CDMOs are then asked to bid for the work to execute that specific solution, and are compared mainly on price. This is like choosing a restaurant based solely on having already decided exactly what you will eat and how it will be prepared.

How CDMO Customer Service is like Indoor restaurant covid-19 server with medical mask two women dining during pandemic

But what if that pre-determined solution is not exactly executable in the CDMO’s facility as envisaged, yet an even more efficient and cost-effective way of approaching those experiments exists? What if a unique, tasty dish is right in front of you, yet you just don’t know it?

In this case, it might be more effective to share the target or problem statement in the form of an open-ended question to the CDMO Experts, and then compare & evaluate their proposals in order to choose the best partner to jointly develop the optimal solution. The success rate of the best solution for a customer’s case-specific needs often outweighs a blind apples-to-apples comparison across bids from separate CDMOs. Why not simply ask the waiter or waitress, what’s your specialty?

The Delicate Balance of Customer Service

Whether a CDMO’s approach is more “The French Restaurant,” where the meal is finely prepared and served in a time-honored, traditional way with little variation, or the “US Restaurant,” where everything on the plate can be substituted, made gluten-free and served on the side with extra sauce, sometimes at the expense of taste, the CDMO should confidently prepare the best meal possible while being clear that the customer is always right.

Yet while the customer often brings their own understanding and need for flexibility to the table, it is a win-win for all if they equally accept and utilize the recommendations and expertise on offer from the chef to enhance their dining experience.

The shared end goal of their product’s tasty regulatory approval almost always depends on the CDMO’s ability to strike a balance between defending their quality systems during regulatory authority audits, and being flexible to customer specifications. The more a customer can understand this, by imagining themselves in the shoes of the regulator when judging any risks, the more they can prepare themselves organizationally to place a certain amount of trust in the expertise of the CDMO.

For example, a common misunderstanding arises when the customer compares the supplier’s quality system to their own, and automatically assesses any differences as risks or findings. In the eyes of the regulator, there is no such thing as a perfect or ideal quality system – there are only quality systems which successfully fulfill the guidelines of the customer’s particular process & product, and ones that don’t. Critics don’t judge the menu – only the meal.

The Flexible Path is Key

All customers expect flexibility from their suppliers, and CDMOs generally endeavor to provide it to some degree. However, one of the main reasons the outsourced model has become so popular versus internal manufacturing on the Pharma / Biotech side, is the CDMO’s ability to leverage a more competitive cost by collating demand from multiple customers to run their facilities at a high level of capacity utilization. The flip side of this is that unexpected changes in schedule or scope can sometimes be challenging to accommodate.

The key here is transparency and openness on needs and constraints for both sides, plus a willingness to be creative about how milestones are reached, all while keeping the end goal in mind and being more flexible on the path to get there. Essentially, if you turn up late for your dinner reservation, don’t complain about getting the table by the door or if the special is sold out, so long as the food is still great!

The Awkward Topic of Money

After a nice meal at a restaurant, a customer decides last minute to order a delicious dessert. Later, when the bill arrives, the customer is surprised that the cost is more than originally estimated. The server explains that dessert wasn’t part of the original order, however, the customer counters with they don’t have any extra money, the person actually paying the bill didn’t approve dessert in advance, and finally, since they’ve spent a substantial sum on the meal already, they feel dessert should somehow be free of charge. Although most people would never behave like this in a restaurant, these are typical scenarios that sometimes arise in CDMO-Customer transactions. No matter the industry or restaurant, it goes without saying that cooperative & timely payment for excellent services rendered fosters greater responsiveness and reciprocity.

Hearts & Minds

Despite the current situation, no amount of Webex, Zoom or Teams can replace millions of years of evolution. Human beings are social, tribal animals that thrive on relationships and networks. Time invested in cultivating working relationships on all levels will pay back on both sides in terms of how much we feel part of each other’s teams, and therefore how willing people are to go that extra mile. If you’re a regular and make an effort to be friendly and tip well, you will be welcomed and remembered for your favorite dish, and maybe even get to taste something special off the menu.

To finish on a more serious note, this restaurant analogy sharply departs when we are dealing with the actual wellbeing of patients. Being one step removed from the patient does not mean that CordenPharma employees are any less committed to improving people’s lives. In fact most of my colleagues joined the pharma industry to help bring life-changing medicines to patients in need. It is an incredibly powerful moment when a project team hears about how a therapy is working and why it is important to sufferers. So join us at the table – where you can share your vision and inspire us to better help you help your patients.

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