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The value of respecting your customers … in pharma

My last post was all about the value of respecting your customers, particularly if you are an airline, and was based upon my terrible experience with Turkish Airlines.  To complete that article I should add that my experience with Turkish Airlines continued to be bad including during the flight with some of the most inedible food I’ve ever attempted to eat, old airplanes with seats that did not recline properly and grumpy crew.  My holiday itself however was awesome 🙂

As I looked back at this article though I thought it also worthwhile to add my opinion on respecting your customers in the pharmaceutical industry.  For too long this industry has been very self-centered and not particularly focused on customers, especially patients (who I also include as customers).  Of course the industry is “plagued” by regulation which has made it harder to be as customer centric per se as many other industries.  We all know by now that the end of the blockbuster era and the patent cliff ushered in huge change and a shift in thinking for the industry but we are still not where we should be.

So why are we still not as customer centric as we could be?  Regulation is often one of the first reasons bandied about for this … “we can’t talk directly to our patients” or “we can’t do that because of regulatory restrictions”.  Very often this is however just an excuse.  We can still be customer centric and comply with regulations.  For starters many patients do not want to hear promotional messages about pharma products anyway so even if we could bombard them with product branded marketing this would still be pharma and not customer centric.

Even where we can do promotion for it to be most effective it should be targeted and try to provide some value to the customer.  What is it that a physician needs or wants to hear about?  If we develop content – promotional or not – with the customer in mind then we generally see far greater results than if we just stubbornly try to force our message down their throats.

Coming back to the regulatory side of things though I do also believe that it is time regulators also become more customer centric, particularly towards patients.  Whist I do not support a US style DTC promotion I also believe that the pharma industry sits on a large swathe of data that would be highly valuable and beneficial to patients, and HCPs. Much of this data is never made available to patients – in part because of compliance but also in part because of the “fear” of regulation and legal action.  Counter this with the number of misinformation that patients now have access to online I think there needs to be a change in thinking in how we communicate and share information online.  I firmly believe that as an industry (both pharma & regulators) we have a duty of care to make sure that patients have access to accurate, reliable information.  We need to drown out the misinformation, and make sure that the correct information is coming in at the top of Google searches, and not hidden away a few pages in.

A second issue is that whilst many patients may never want to know the data, or indeed even understand it, there is a growing number of active and educated patients that do want more information.  The informed patient wants to have the data so that they can make their own decisions concerning their healthcare.  The days when we as patients blindly trusted what our doctors told us are diminishing.   As a patient who has experienced misinformation coming from a specialist, in my case an endocrinologist who told me that the symptoms form my un-managed Hashimoto’s were all in my head, I firmly believe in the movement of the informed patient and the need for patients to be more active in their healthcare.  Had I relied on that endocrinologist, and not actively sought my own answers, I doubt I would be here now writing this post as I would probably have either been too depressed or died of heart complications due to over-medication in an attempt to reduce my symptoms.

I think it is high time that all those involved in the healthcare system start to respect patients as decision makers and work together to support the informed patient.  How can we make all that data that pharma sits on, that may have no commercial value to the organisation btw, available in a digestible and understandable format for patients.  Pharma often has the money and resources to turn the data into content and disseminate it but may not be allowed to – or may not have the incentive to.  Much of that data may also have a public health benefit so one could also argue that pharma should not shoulder the burden of dissemination alone.  Pharma companies at the end of the day are businesses and if they are not profitable they will go under and that also does not benefit patients.

There are many more questions but there also numerous answers.  For starters pharma can start to work more closely with patient associations.  Why is it that for many pharma companies the patient advocacy department, if there even is one, is only made up of one or two people?!  Whilst we have huge brand teams focused on marketing to HCPs the number of headcount that is focused on patients is tiny by comparison.  Pharma really needs to start ramping up in this area.

In turn though regulators may also need to re-assess that pharma patient partnership model.  Not all diseases have a patient association but there may be online groups and individual patient experts.  How was can facilitate partnerships here for the benefit of all parties?  How can we all work together to find a model that supports patients, is compliant but also does not bankrupt pharma?  I think the answer lies in the question … we need to all work together!  We need to start talking more to patients, and include regulators in those discussions.  We need to put patients firmly in the center of the equation, along with HCPs.  We need to not only start listening more but also start being more active in driving the change needed to do this.  Only then will we start to see an industry that is truly respecting its customers and meeting their needs.

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De Puy and their patients

This morning I spotted an article in The Telegraph about how patients may have been fitted with faulty hip replacements due to a manufacturing error at the De Puy plant.  According to the article De Puy is not being exactly responsive in answering questions on this and may have known about the problem for some time.  Ill fitted hip replacements can be very painful for patients and can even be a patient safety issue.

For me a few things sprung out of this issue.  First and foremost no healthcare manufacturer should ever ignore potential patient safety issues and if De Puy knew about this flaw  they had a duty of care to their patients to inform the regulators so that said patients could be closely monitored for potential problems.  We were all appalled by the recent car scandal where manufacturers lied and tried to ignore a manufacturing fault – but if De Puy did knowingly ignored this problem then they too deserve the same villification, if not more.  After all here we are talking about surgically implanted devices not cars – and a potential direct risk to patient safety.  After the healthcare’s efforts to address its reputation problems I will also be disgusted if this turns out to be another example of “big bad pharma” (whilst De Puy is a device company it is owned by pharma’s J&J).

Shocked at this news post I naturally went straight to the company’s home page to see if there was more news.  Afterall if I were a patient or had a member of the family with a De Puy hip joint I would presume that the company has posted something to their website to provide me with information.  I would also do the same if I worked for the media btw.  I was therefore very shocked at what I found on their website.

According to their website they are inspired by us (I read that as including patients) and listen to patients and yet there is no option for patients on the website!  As the image below shows they are only interested in HCPs, job seekers and vets.  What about the poor patients?  And indeed what about the general public and media?

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In this day and age not having a general information website open to the public is questionable to say the least.  This is doubly the case for devices which do not face the same strict regulatory requirements as pharma.  Now clearly HCPs are the company’s main stakeholders, which is fair enough, but with most people now turning to the internet for information, including patient’s friends and family, it seems ludicrous not to offer up some general information about the product that is going to be surgically implanted into the patient. My mother is likely to need a hip replacement in the near future and I will want to know all the details about the product, including the manufacturer, and I will visit their website and expect to find information there.

This is of course also an issue today with new of a faulty product hitting the news.  How can I trust a company that is apparently selling faulty hip replacements but refuses to acknowledge its end users the patients?  How can I trust a company that refuses to communicate with me – even if only to tell me that due to regulatory requirements they cannot share certain information?

The other thing I did was to check their Twitter handle – again an issue like this raises questions I want to ask the company via my medium of choice, i.e. social media.  Whilst it looks like someone has secured the Twitter handle that is as far as it goes.  Whether it is De Puy or someone else who owns this is unclear but either way this looks bad on De Puy.  Firstly if someone else has secured the handle then shame on De Puy for not having noticed this and resolved this issue.  If it is their handle then at least take ownership and make it look formal and just state that you have not launched it yet.  As it is it just further adds to my bad impression of De Puy.

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I know I am just an insignificant carer and my mother just another patient but I for one will be talking to my parents about this and suggesting that if their surgeon suggests a De Puy product they ask for other options.  I for one do not trust this company to insert a device into my mother.  I wonder how many other carers and patients will feel the same as a result of today’s news and today’s lack of transparency from De Puy?

Social media in the pharmaceutical industry

This week I had the immense pleasure of attending SMI’s Social Media in the Pharmaceutical Industry conference.  As always I enjoyed the event, catching up with many of the #hcsmeu twitterati and hearing insights from the industry and patients.

SMI SlideThe event started for me on Tuesday as I led a workshop looking at how pharma can successfully engage using social media (you can find my presentation here).  With a small group we discussed some of the common issues that we still face in this space, for example internal barriers, lack of adequate process and poor understanding of this channel.

Most of these issues have been around for many years now and it does sadden me that they still need to be addressed in so many pharmacos.  On the other hand it is great to be able to have a much richer and deeper set of case studies to use in the battle in bringing some of these barriers down.  “We can’t because of regulations” clearly no longer cuts it – regulations have been clearly shown to not be a barrier.  Another element that appears to still be an issue, and which saddens me greatly, is the view that social media does not need to be approached strategically.  Whilst I am a huge advocate of pharma companies getting involved in social media I do not condone or recommend doing social media for the sake of it.  There does need to be a clear strategy and plan – otherwise you are just taking pot shots in the dark – and frankly doing any form of business, marketing or communication without a strategy is just plain old bad business.

I was very  happy however to see on Day 1 of the conference Stine Sorensen from Lundbeck discussing strategy, and not only its importance but the importance of having a regularly updated strategy (in this case she updates it every 6 months).  I was also very happy to hear Stine mention that she now has the review & approval time for social media content down to 25minutes.  I have had quite a few clients tell me that 24 hour approval times are unrealisitic so it is great to be able to counter this with the fact that quite a few companies now have process in place for near-to-live response.  Not being able to respond very rapidly due to inappropriate review & approval process should no longer be a barrier (and mini self plug – I can help you work this out).  In fact Stine supported everything I always say – there is no longer any room for excuses around not doing social media.  Those days are gone and, as her slides so beautifully shows, excuses are useless!

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Another great presentation was given by my friend Jackie Cuyvers, who recently left ZS to set up her own social listening company.  Jackie is an extremely experienced social listener and she now specialises in doing global / local listening.  Besides flagging the importance of asking the right, business questions, she talked us through some of the implications of social listening, in particular some of the linguistic and cultural elements that we tend not to think about.  She mentioned how even in the same language there are big differences across countries and groups in use of terminology.  In the UK for example “pants” means something quite different from “pants” in the US (underwear versus trousers) or the term “good crack” which means different things in the US and Ireland.  She also made the point that just translating content directly often totally overlooks cultural nuances and local idiosyncrasies. In English for example we use the term “kick the bucket” but in Slovenia the translation of this term would be “whispering with crabs”.  This has potentially huge implications on companies running social listening research, especially if they are dependend on pure technology or English language researchers.  I also loved the fact that Jackie got an image of a dog into the conference – tres social!

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Jackie’s summary of the 3 steps to social listening

One emphasis that came through throughout the conference though was the importance of patients and the incredible role they play, and the huge value that social media brings to them.  The event was actually kicked off by three fabulous ladies, Birgit Bauer, Silja Chouquet and Marlo Donato Love who shared some great insights from a patient’s perspective and mentioned one of my favourite quotes “patients are the most underutilised resource in the pharmaceutical industry”.  They talked about the importance of getting patients involved and the role they can play in working with pharma.  Silja then also went on to talk about patients participating and “attending” medical conference virtually via social media.  In fact she raised the point that whilst doctor’s are the main participants online at conferences patients are also increasingly getting involved as they search for more information on their conditions.  She also made some great points about the futility of pharma’s current approach to using promoted tweets and how this is potentially going to be a big issue resulting in dilution of high value content on Twitter.

Perhaps a highlight for me though was Trevor Fossey  who talked us through the impact of digital on patients and the NHS.  I was nearly crying as he told us that he has access to his NHS medical record online, and that of this wife for whom he cares, and that as of 1st April every NHS patient has a right to access their medical record online.  OMG!  As a UK patient, with a chronic autoimmune disease, not having access to my medical records has been a big issue.  I have been to numerous doctors, privately in the UK and abroad, and have never been able to show them my NHS blood results as I did not have access to them.  Of course the fact that I now live abroad and don’t have a GP means in all liklihood I still won’t be able to access them but the realisation of what this means for other UK patients, including my elderly parents, was profound.  Trevor mentioned some fantastic points about how impactful empowered patients really are – and how much money they save the NHS.  I can tell you I was certainly not the only person in the room blown away but Trevor’s presentation – despite being a room full of digitally savvy people none of us where aware of our right to access our medical records online.  Trevor found himself a whole group of advocates at the event (I for one have alreay shared to news to all my UK friends and family).

There were so many other great presentations, such as Letizia Affinito who showed us some great non-pharma case studies, and Pinal Patel from BMS who showed us how they are using social media in clinical trials – and more importantly how they are listening to patients and adapting their process in response to patient feedback.  An awesome point was made that often once a trial is over patients are just left alone – but really we should be thanking them and sharing the results with them (something BMS plans to do now thanks to feedback).  Charlotte Roth from Actelion also gave the Corporate POV around social media, bringing an additional dimension to the conference, while Liz Skrbkova shared perspectives around multi-channel engagement and online influencers. I also have to add that IMHO Liz was one of the best dressed ladies at the event 🙂

Last but not least was the pleasure of meeting all these amazing people and having some great discussions, including over wine and dinner.  Dinner also gave me the opportunity to catch up with a couple more of the #hcsmeu and the next day I was able to sample some of the most amazing cocktails at the Alchemist in the evening.  Afterall what would a social media conference be if it didn’t include the “social” bit!

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Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

Response to a tweet

My first response when I have a customer complaint or question is to go online and direct a tweet to the responsible company with my issue.  I have been doing this for quite a few years and it is great to start seeing some real improvement in customer service response via social media.  A few years back I followed this approach when my Karen Millen shoes broke and ended up having to find the head of ecommerce’s personal email in order to get a response.

Fortunately since then I have had some amazingly rapid, and appropriate responses from customer services via Twitter, most notable from airline companies British Airways and American Airlines, who both rock their social media customer service.  British Airways has always been fantastic at resolving my issues very promptly, professionally and in a friendly way.  American Airlines impressed me with their near-time response when I tweeted to complain about the dreadful transatlantic airplane I had just boarded – with no individual video screens but only the shared cabin screens (can you believe they still fly planes like this on transatlantic flights?!!!).  I tweeted to them just after boarding and before take-off I had gone through a small conversation, in which they apologied and assured me that new planes were being brought in – and that sadly they couldn’t upgrade me from there.  Whilst they did not resolve my issue they were still extremely friendly and professional in how they handled my complaint – reducing my anger in the process.

So naturally when I got totally frustrated with my Swiss UBS credit cards not working online yet again I vented via Twitter.  Being a big international, renowned bank I expected some sort of response via Twitter within 24 hours, especially as this is a big enough company to have a dedicated social media team.  Being a bank I also presumed they would be wary of leaving negative comments unanswered given some of the anti-banking sentiment that is out there. However after a couple of days I gave up hoping for a response from them.  They had simply ignored my tweet, or so I presumed, and I would need to start looking into finding another bank which had credit cards that actually worked online.  Needless to say I was disappointed, both as a customer and a social media enthusiast.

However I had a very pleasant surprise today.  I received a call from the UBS customer service team in response to my tweet!  The call was very courteous, friendly and apologetic and it restored my faith in their overall customer service.  During the call I gave the feedback that they need to response quicker via Twitter.  They handled the issue so well via the call it is just such a shame that they dropped the ball via Twitter.

The key takeaway for UBS, and indeed any other organisation, is that Twitter is now a major channel for questions and feedback (both positive and negative) and consumers have certain expectations around corporate responsiveness.  There is then the second point that responding via Twitter (where possible) is probably also considerably cheaper than via a call centre.  In scenarios like this one, where a customer complains via Twitter, the best course of action is a simple “Thank you for your tweet, we will look into this and get back to you shortly”.  This buys the company time to formulate an appropriate response (which may be communicated via Twitter or if appropriate via a call centre).  At the same time it acknowledges the customer’s comment and shows that the company (and their social media team) is listening.  It is a very simple but effective approach and one that any company on Twitter should really have implemented by now.

I do hope that UBS responds to this feedback and improves their customer response directly via Twitter as the guys working in their call centre and great and it is a shame to see them being let down by such a simple slip in communications.

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Things are not always what they seem…

Job-Seeker-0111Having recently joined the job seeker pool I was buoyed by a number of really positive articles talking about how this year is going to see an increase in recruitment as well as a skills gap and employees having more choice and higher negotiation powers.  Awesome says I!

There is then fact that I am an expert in social media in pharma, an area that is also growing and where there is a blatant need for more talent.  Many pharma companies still have no social media presence, strategy or even dedicated headcount and very few are approaching this main stream communication channel as strategically or as seriously as they should be.  This is after all now one of the main communication channels for a large chunk of healthcare stakeholders, from doctors through to patients.  This is where people turn to for health information and news and yet many pharma companies are still conspicuously absent from this space.

I was therefore very positive when I left ZS that I would soon be picking from an array of opportunities.  However things are not always as they seem!  Firstly given many pharma company’s lack of strategic approach to using this channel most of the jobs are at a very junior level – more focused on content management rather than being a strategic leader, relationship builder or internal change manager.  Secondly the very fact that many pharma still have this unfounded fear of social media they are also not looking to employ in this area.

This brings me onto my second road block – being “too experienced”.  Given the wealth, depth and uniqueness of my experience I am often too skilled, or more to the point too expensive, for the roles available. People always ask what my current salary is and then tend to go very silent and end the conversation.  No matter how much I explain that passion for my work and work life balance are more important than salary it seems to be a discussion closer (before the discussion has even begun).  That said I recently had a discussion for what sounded like a perfect role for me … until they mentioned the salary which was half my current salary, and less than I was earning over 5 years ago – I am flexible but not going to sell my experience short either.

hashimo2Things are not always what they seem then.  This also goes for other areas in life and in fact is something I have also been mulling over recently.  The other day I was walking down Bahnhoffstrasse here in Zurich and saw a very anorexic looking woman on the street.  The same day I saw some photos online of some obese women.  Prior to my own diagnosis with a thyroid condition I would always automatically have thought the anorexic women “needed to see someone about her mental problems” or that the obese person “should lay off the hamburgers”.  However things are not always what they seem.  I now appreciate that either of those groups could in fact be dealing with health issues which are having a significant impact on their weight.  As a result of my thyroid I put on close to 15kg – and I was a physically active, salad eating slim woman.

I also now know all too well that that friendly, smiling person may in fact be feeling desperately ill, depressed and miserable.  Many autoimmune patients, for example, struggle daily with the effects of their disease but put on a brave, happy face for the outside world.  They do not want to burden people with their misery or they feel people will not understand and they will lose their friends and will feel even more alone.

So I always remember now that things are not always as they seem.  That dream job may take a bit longer to find, no matter how great the market or your skills are.  That seemingly happy, or weight-challenged person may in fact be suffering from a horrible disease and may be feeling desperately alone, miserable and in pain.  This is why I try these days not to make assumptions and I always try to smile at people.  I may be going through a bad day but that person may be going through far worse.  My smile may not mean much but I hope it helps make things seem a little bit sunnier to that person.

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Engaging with KOL & KOI online – wake up pharma!

Despite my grumbles of not having had time to post much to this blog I have managed to find time to write three blog posts for the ZS Associates blog The Active Ingredient. The subject of this triad of posts engaging with KOL and KOI online, starting with why it is important, how to engage online with KOL and with KOI. I actually wrote about this over a year ago and to date it is probably the blog post I have shared the most with pharma clients and teams.

It is a subject area I am passionate about and as you can read in the posts it has potentially a huge value for pharma companies. The relationships of today are increasingly happening online as well as offline and the sheer volume of content on the internet is making it harder to find relevant information. Content shared by KOI is more likely to be found, in part because of their networks, but also because people are more likely to read something shared by a KOI rather than by a pharma company. Building those online relationships today is therefore aligned with current trends but also helps companies make the most of those increasingly tight budgets by expanding the reach of their content.

I was already looking at this over three years ago, and given this potential value I really thought that pharma was going to start doing more in terms of engaging online with KOI and KOL. However to date very few are doing this, with exceptions like Roche Diagnostics & diabetes bloggers and some of the early steps being taken by Boehringer Ingelheim.

Screenshot from Little Bird tool

Screenshot from Little Bird tool

Whilst a few years ago it would have taken a great deal more manual effort to identify these KOI today there are some great tools out there to do this. I actually spoke this afternoon to Little Bird who took me through their tool. I loved it! It does exactly what one needs to identify the KOI and has some great ways of looking at the data and provides actionable insights. Of course it is just a tool and the key to any tool is how you use it. When looking at this particular area the key thing is to focus on the relationship part. Once you have identified the KOI you need to develop a clear plan of who exactly you will build a relationship with, why and how. This is something that cannot be automated and is not something that should be left to your agencies! Just as in the offline world to build the relationship you actually have to present, the same is true online. How can you build a relationship through a 3rd party, or even worse through a barrage of automated tweets?! And do you really want your agency to own these strategic relationships?

Whilst in the pass the tools were a barrier to building online relationships, today I believe the key barrier for pharma companies is the lack of internal knowledge and process to deal with this new relationship model. This however should not be a barrier anymore. Equipped with the insights and looking at how relationships work offline companies can start to put in place the expertise and process required to build these relationships. Perhaps the main question is not how can they do this but why on earth are they not started doing this already?

Network visualisation from Little Bird tool

Network visualisation from Little Bird tool

 

Screenshot from Little Bird tool

Screenshot from Little Bird tool