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.
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.
Having 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.
Things 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.