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The COVID-19 pandemic added urgency to a challenge that had already been looming in the retail healthcare industry for years — delivering customer experiences that are on par with other industries. Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) — the holding company that owns the retail pharmacy chains — has stepped up efforts to modernize and transform its company to better serve the changing needs of its customers. The company is moving toward becoming a customer-first organization that places a priority on interactions that combine the physical and digital worlds into a single experience.

In a chat between Llanor Alleyne, executive editor at VentureBeat, and Mike Maresca, chief technology officer at WBA, during VentureBeat’s Transform 2022 virtual conference, Maresca describes how WBA relies heavily on its extensive global presence in the retail, pharmacy and healthcare sectors. It also relies on strategic alliances, digital channels and data to better serve its clients and patients with the aim of establishing enduring connections with the clients.

Integration of customer experiences

Maresca said customer experience is “constantly evolving how you interact with your customers.” He noted that organizations are prioritizing such interactions, whether in stores or online, to give their customers remarkable experiences. According to Maresca, what WBA has been able to do across its major businesses — retail, pharmacy and healthcare — is to ensure that the company creates an experience that meets the customer where they need it.

“The experience may be from when they’re trying to get some retail products or medicines to serve their health needs. It could also be from a growing ecosystem of healthcare services, whether it be weight loss, labs or clinical services. But how do you connect those experiences so they feel like it’s a single-integrated experience that serves their needs best?,” He said. “As a CTO, driving those experiences has been energizing. It’s been energizing because as we’ve seen over the last two years of the pandemic, the way we check with our patients or customers has changed so much, considering that we were essential businesses that had to continue to be on the front lines in our communities.”

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Maresca says as those customers’ needs changed over the past couple of years, even as the world is moving out of this pandemic, it has accelerated WBA’s telehealth capabilities.

The company has been quickly investing in technologies and rolling out capabilities to help customers have better experiences.

“It’s been energizing as a CTO in the last two years to see so much change, and I’m really encouraged by what’s next,” Maresca said.

Navigating technology

WBA started with its own teams to establish an inclusive, customer-focused culture. It began with updating the company’s essential technology. From there, work then quickly intensified to further integrate digitalization throughout WBA. This development improved access to both first- and third-party data.

Maresca said the company is evolving its workforce with the technology change.

“We’ve recently introduced Adobe as part of the new capabilities to our workforce,” Maresca said. “The team members are so critical to what we do and technology is changing so fast. With the stat out there that says you have to rescale yourself every three to four years in technology, we make provision for continuous learning for our talents. We have an IT academy, which is a wonderful online school or a set of courses that allow us to really take our IT workforce to the next level.” 

Maresca noted that WBA has the power of the cloud, with a strategic partnership with Microsoft. He said the company has about 50% of its capabilities in the cloud. It has helped the organization interact with its customers in a scalable, but still resilient, way. It can send out mass-personalized communications to drive awareness of the products and services offered in store, as well as offer a digital experience to view and select products online.

Alleyne noted that data plays a vital role to really craft a remarkable customer experience. Adding that to personalize such experience effectively, customers will have to grant access to their data. She asked, “What are some of the things that you extend out to the customer to let them know that you really care about their safety and their privacy when accessing this data to personalize their experience? What are the things the customers see that give them such assurance?”

Maresca answered, “We are, I believe, best in class in terms of how we secure our data, but also how we hold the precious data that we have.” He said on the retail side, they use data to help personalize and enhance customer experiences, making recommendations for products they think the customer will like. 

He emphasized that on the healthcare side, privacy is very important to the organization, and they focus on getting consent as needed, securing the data, and really using the data for a patient’s safety and continuum of care.

WBA is continually looking for new ways to innovate as it moves forward, not only at scale but also quickly and nimbly enough to fulfill customers’ rising demands across all channels in a personalized way.

Don’t miss the full discussion on how Walgreens Boots Alliance is using data and insights to transform the customer experience at its locations worldwide. 

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