Patients, Pioneers, and Progress: A Q&A with New Partner Sonal Naik 
September 11, 2023
September 11, 2023
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If there’s one prevailing idea that strikes a chord with life sciences companies, it’s the concept of innovation. While it’s easy to see how it plays a starring role in the development of landmark treatments, the patient experience, and everything in between, it’s not so easy to put the wheels of innovation into motion. 

Sonal Naik, Navigate’s newest partner, has firsthand experience helping life sciences companies—and many others—kickstart innovation that improves customer and patient experiences and ultimately elevates business performance. As a national leader of Deloitte Catalyst, Sonal helped businesses align what was happening inside their organizations’ walls with innovations in the outside world. She was also instrumental in redefining the firm’s customer experience (CX) globally and scaling a global offering called Deloitte Greenhouse, where she served as chief operating officer.   

We spoke with Sonal about the dynamic nature of CX, practical strategies for implementing innovation, and how organizations can connect the dots between the two. 

The customer and patient experience, for better or worse, is not a static concept—it never stops evolving. From your perspective, where is CX now and where is it headed? 

The experience landscape—whether that’s for customers or patients—has transformed considerably and grown more complex over time. But there’s one fundamental principle that remains unchanged: Organizations must meet customers where they are. They also need to recognize that today’s customer is more nuanced than in the past. Beyond basic demographics, there’s a whole slate of preferences, characteristics, and intricacies to decipher. For example, how do they engage digitally? How frequently? Which channels do they prefer? 

Organizations have already made strides in identifying their customers and understanding their needs—some have mapped the customer journey—but now they need to really get disciplined about tracking performance and refining that feedback loop. Data is more abundant than ever, but how it’s being harnessed to drive customer engagement is the key. Keeping up with the ever-changing and unpredictable nature of customer behavior is difficult, but important; in the end, it is the customer that drives revenue. 

Simplification is the hardest part, as customers often engage with various products and services within a single organization. The challenge lies in creating a cohesive experience that doesn’t overwhelm the customer with excessive communication from multiple disconnected sources. 

Your experience with building new businesses seems to have ignited your passion for digital enhancements in patient experience. Could you elaborate on this? 

Industries like retail and banking have pioneered streamlined customer interactions, making it easier for customers to do business in fewer clicks, and healthcare and life sciences can learn from their success. In these sectors, we need to forge seamless connections between different aspects of a patient’s health journey, from diagnosis to treatment to payment. Interoperability among providers, payers, and life sciences is critical when it comes to redefining the patient experience. Technology is a catalyst in this transformation, vastly improving access, communication, and distribution of diagnostics, medications, and medical equipment. 

This is where nimble new businesses thrive: They’ve pinpointed pain points in the patient journey, prompting established players to rethink their strategies. However, a comprehensive end-to-end approach to patient experience remains a work in progress. 

Speaking of healthcare, how has your background in life sciences influenced your approach to consulting at large—what lessons have you learned in your life sciences work that translate to other industries? 

Life sciences organizations have a diverse array of stakeholders, both internally and externally. Internally, their talent pool ranges from scientific experts to sales and marketing professionals, each with distinct and often divergent needs.  

Externally, they have a range of audiences to please—they’ve got to engage with doctors, policymakers, regulatory bodies, payers, and patients, addressing different concerns for each group. My work with life sciences organizations taught me that it’s essential to take a big-picture view of the spectrum of stakeholders while delving deep into the needs of each group. This ensures a comprehensive customer strategy that truly resonates across the board. 

You’re no stranger to working with companies of all shapes and sizes, both in and outside the healthcare and life sciences sphere. What tools or strategies do you think big, complex organizations can borrow from smaller, pioneering startups

I think the biggest challenge for big companies is overcoming the “analysis paralysis” that often gets in the way of progress. It’s about shifting the mindset from seeking perfection to focusing on quick experimentation, piloting, and prototyping. Unlike the traditional approach of meticulously perfecting an idea before launching, agile organizations excel in taking concepts that are about 60% to 70% developed and testing them in a small market segment or with a group of trusted contacts, allowing for rapid iteration and feedback collection. 

The primary advantage of startups lies in their speed-to-market philosophy and continuous customer-first problem-solving. This is what gave rise to the Agile software development methodology, which is now widely applied to a range of business challenges, whether they involve technology or not. The core idea is to simplify complexity, a skill that successful startups have mastered. They focus on solving a specific problem and then using market and customer behavior to inform where/how to expand and innovate.  

On the other end of the spectrum, larger organizations often have multiple or decentralized decision-makers, elaborate processes, and lower risk tolerance. Again, simplifying the complex isn’t, well, simple, but it is crucial if you’re trying to push for change or progress.  

Finally, we have to ask: What drew you to Navigate? 

I was initially drawn to the culture, which is what sets the firm apart. Navigate emphasizes the importance of shared goals, a shared purpose, and a cohesive approach to achieving them, underscoring their commitment to practice what they preach—it’s clear that everyone on board is willing to walk the walk. Navigate’s core values are embedded in the culture, not hiding in a handbook, and I appreciate that we celebrate how levity, empathy, and humility drive impact with clients and each other.  

It’s clear, too, that Navigate punches above its weight. For a boutique firm, we’re serving large, growing clients and are relentlessly focused on delivering value. Our projects tackle complex challenges and we keep the customer and employee at the center of our solutions—this breaks down silos and allows us to work across our areas of expertise to bring the best services to the client. We’re also inherently likable people who have the end goal in mind and the best interests at heart. 

Additionally, I’ve always relished the opportunity to be a builder. The next phase of Navigate’s journey is all about shaping the organization’s future. It’s about expansion, growth, and scaling while maintaining the cultural essence that defines Navigate’s unique approach to collaboration, both internally and with clients. This prospect deeply appealed to me and I’m excited to be part of the journey.