Building a pharmacy fit for the 21st century.
How Walgreens Boots Alliance turned a century of service into a next-gen digital experience.
“We needed Adobe to help us serve our customers better than ever at the peak of the pandemic. Adobe was a critical part of our technology solution when our customers needed us the most.”
Global Chief Marketing Officer, Walgreens Boots Alliance
Chief Customer Officer, Walgreens
A healthy dose of collaboration
You might not expect a typical CMO and CIO to be on the same page. Or even in the same room. Anyone who’s worked with a CMO or CIO knows that they think a certain way, and even speak their own specialist language. So you might suppose that the CMO and CIO would stay in their respective lanes, only pausing to connect when absolutely necessary.
But Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) isn’t most companies. And their CMO and CIO are anything but typical.
As leaders of one of the world’s largest retail and wholesale pharmacy corporations, Global Chief Marketing and Customer Officer Vineet Mehra and Global CIO Francesco Tinto are working through a unique time in history. The global coronavirus pandemic of 2020 added urgency to a challenge that had already been looming in the healthcare industry for years — delivering customer experiences that are on par with other industries. Faced with rapidly growing customer expectations, WBA needed to reevaluate how they connected with consumers digitally. With over 120 million customers and 10,000 brick-and-mortar locations across the US and UK, it was clear that digital technology would have to play a huge part in the company’s continued success.
Because customers’ health and wellbeing were on the line, WBA needed to manage the sudden increase in digital experiences with extreme care. Built on the legacy of two iconic pharmacies, Walgreens and Boots, WBA has long been a staple of local communities. Charles Walgreen would personally greet every customer who walked through the door of his first Chicago location in 1901. Boots, founded by John Boot in 1849, began as a single herbalist store in Nottingham, England. But today, most WBA customers across the US and UK have a storefront within five miles of their homes. Pharmacies have evolved since Walgreen and Boot opened their doors over a century ago, but the imperative for a personal touch has remained.
It was up to Mehra and Tinto to lead WBA into a new era where high-quality, hyper-personal customer experiences were available to every customer on every channel — at a global scale.
Separated by specialization, united by passion
“I like to joke that Francesco, our CIO, is basically my digital soulmate,” said Mehra.
Though Mehra and Tinto faced a huge task, they had an unstoppable tool at their disposal — collaboration. Unlike the typical CMO-CIO relationship, the pair worked closely together to overhaul their company’s digital presence. As the symbiosis between customer experience and technology continues to grow, the two leaders are a prime example of the narrowing divide between the CMO and CIO roles. In business today, forming a personal connection with customers is everything — and it takes both marketing and IT to make that happen.
“The modern CMO needs to be dangerous enough on things like data architecture and technology to truly be cutting edge and build experiences. And on the flip side, the modern CIO needs to be able to talk the language of customer experience,” said Mehra.
Their respective fields may differ, but Mehra and Tinto share plenty of common ground. They are both experts at the top of their fields. Both come from a consumer packaged goods (CPG) background. And both have a passion for the other’s focus area, whether it’s Mehra “geeking out” over technology or Tinto maintaining an in-depth knowledge of customer experience. As Tinto says, “The skill set that we have in common is that we are driven and collaborative. We really want to drive transformation.” The leaders actively work on building even more common ground and keeping their collaboration productive, whether it’s through frequent walks around the WBA campus, shared family dinners, or these days, virtual coffee breaks with espressos from their matching Nespresso machines.
“What has been at the core of the partnership, frankly, is having one single goal. The single goal is how we reinvent experiences for our customers. We don’t separate what we do into IT and marketing. Instead, we work as a team, focusing on the customer journey and the experience we want to provide,” said Tinto.
“What has been at the core of the partnership, frankly, is having one single goal. The single goal is how we reinvent experiences for our customers. We don’t separate what we do into IT and marketing. Instead, we work as a team, focusing on the customer journey and the experience we want to provide.”
Global CIO, Walgreens Boots Alliance
Reimagining the pharmacy experience
“Pharmacies are healthcare’s front lines in local communities. We need to bring them up to speed,”
Pharmacies — and the pharmacy experience — haven’t changed much in the past few decades. For a process so familiar to so many people, picking up a prescription can still be rather mysterious and frustrating. If you are lucky enough to have your prescription sent to the right pharmacy on the first try, chances are it won’t be ready to pick up at a convenient time. Or if you, like many people who work nine-to-five, drop off your prescription after work, you’re likely to face long lines and an uncertain wait time.
In the world of the 2020 pandemic, where customers can order groceries online and stream new-release films on their living room televisions, the old way just doesn’t cut it anymore. Especially in pharmacies, which are especially critical when health is on the general public’s mind.
Fortunately, WBA has a history of finding ways to improve the pharmacy experience. The company famously pioneered the “drive-thru pharmacy” at a national level. And their wildly popular Walgreens app, released in 2017, has five-star status with nearly three million ratings. In 2019, WBA was already en route to a full-scale digital transformation to make their services even more personal and convenient. But with the pandemic pushing all businesses more fully into the digital realm — plus social-distancing protocols — the company needed to do even more for their customers, fast.
As Matt Harker, WBA’s VP of global marketing strategy and transformation, put it, “I think healthcare is waking up to the conveniences that we’ve seen in so many other industries.”
This is where Mehra and Tinto came in.
Together, the leaders aimed to create a more personalized omnichannel pharmacy experience than the world has ever seen. This meant making everything digital. Touchless. Frictionless. Adding delivery options. And achieving all of this and more with an unprecedented level of personalization — at global scale. For example, customers could receive personalized recommendations based on past purchases, right when they’re about to run out of a product they’ve taken regularly for years. If the customer chooses, she can pick up her purchase via drive-thru — a capability that, until now, has only been available for prescriptions. And when she arrives at the drive-thru window, the staff will already have any filled prescriptions on hand for her to pick up. They’ll also remind her that she’s due for her annual flu shot.
If WBA’s mission to help patients lead happier, healthier lives — and if the way to get there is through hyper-personalized customer experiences — this is what it looks like in the 21st century. As Mehra said, “Health is the most personal thing in the world. And if there’s one category that needs to be personalized, human, and customized to each and every one of our customers and patients, it’s got to be healthcare.”
The better the partnership, the better the personalization
“Look, when you’ve got 120 million customers and the amount of data and transactions around the world that a company like us has, you have to immediately seek partners that have the industrial strength to handle the level of customer data, orchestration, and personalization that we need in a category that’s as sensitive, from a privacy standpoint, as healthcare. We can’t band aid and duct tape our way to sustainable digital transformation at a scale like this,” said Mehra.
Mehra and Tinto agree that when you start with the customer, everything else falls into place. With this in mind, WBA chose Adobe, in partnership with Microsoft, to lead the company on the path to personalized customer experiences at enterprise scale. “The pipes between Microsoft and Adobe just work, and that’s what’s allowed us to make this seamless and quick,” said Mehra. Microsoft’s cloud computing infrastructure, including Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Dynamics 365, and Microsoft Power Platform, formed a stable foundation on which WBA could, with help from Adobe Experience Cloud, build towards the level of personalization they envisioned. With Adobe and Microsoft as partners, the WBA team knew they had a long-term partner that could evolve alongside them — and help them reach customers with “surgical precision.”
“When you think about what matters to individuals, whether it’s a product, service, content, or messaging, you soon realize that personalization — at our scale of hundreds of millions — is going to quickly overwhelm you. You need help from technology to orchestrate content and messaging to land with individuals in exactly the right moment and context,” said Harker.
“You need help from technology to orchestrate content and messaging to land with individuals in exactly the right moment and context.”
VP of Global Marketing Strategy and Transformation, Walgreens Boots Alliance
With Adobe Analytics, WBA started off on the right foot by gaining a deeper understanding of their customer base. The company had the good fortune of already possessing a rich source of customer data thanks to their 100 million customer loyalty program members. This made it easy for WBA to use Adobe Audience Manager to create intelligent customer segments for their retail operations and start delivering the most relevant messages to every customer via Adobe Campaign. With Adobe Target, WBA could personalize their new omnichannel retail experiences at scale — and perform all the necessary testing to ensure that each experience was optimal. And with Adobe Experience Manager, Mehra and Tinto could gain visibility into their new customer experience, making sure that customers received seamless, consistent, relevant experiences across every channel for both pharmacy and retail transactions.
The result is just what Mehra and Tinto were aiming for. Now, WBA can meet customers wherever they are. Literally. From mobile to laptops to drive-thru or in-store experiences, WBA shows up for customers when and where they need it — a claim that even the most dedicated pharmacist can’t make.
Healthier communities for a healthier world
“I think personalized healthcare has a real opportunity to transform society in ways that we’re just beginning to understand,” said Mehra.
Technology, especially in the healthcare industry, has made a huge impact on individual wellbeing — be it innovations in medicine, equipment, or the delivery of care. Mehra and Tinto, along with their entire teams at WBA, have used technology to make healthcare more personal and accessible at an immense scale. Whether it’s a 24/7 pharmacist live chat, spot-on wellness recommendations, or even simply adding ease and speed to filling prescriptions, every small step forward adds up. As Mehra speculates, the sum total of these advancements will doubtless lead to wide-scale positive change.
This is particularly important in the face of COVID-19, which has created waves across the entire globe — but also increased many businesses’ drive and passion to build healthier communities. It’s called on people to recognize their shared humanity. And it’s asked every member of the healthcare industry to collaborate and cooperate in new and exciting ways. As leaders, Mehra and Tinto have set an important example across WBA and the industry for how experts — even those with different specializations and different points of view — can come together to build something more powerful and lasting than they could on their own.
As Mehra said, “In important moments, great companies can rise to the occasion if employees believe in their company’s purpose. The way our people have emotionally responded to COVID and met our customers exactly where they are — it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”