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Can AI Bring Humanity Back to the Customer Experience?


Incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) technology in commercial life sciences has become increasingly necessary as more channels have been added to the engagement mix. Omnichannel engagement is the goal, and companies now have the tools to engage with customers across channels – but which channels? How often? What content is best? The answers to these questions at scale can only be achieved using AI – and, in that way, AI creates a more personalized engagement. Ironically, it’s artificial intelligence that enables a natural experience – infusing humanity back into marketing and sales.

Florent Edouard, Global Head of Commercial Excellence at Grünenthal, is passionate about the potential impact of AI in commercial life sciences. He says, “AI will play a key role in the future of marketing.”

Clay Hausmann

Clay Hausmann

Aktana‘s Clay Hausmann recently had a chance to chat with Edouard, who has dedicated the last three years to reimagining and recasting the organization's commercial model to be both customer-centric and unafraid of change. Prior to Grünenthal, Edouard spent 12 years shaping and delivering global strategy at AstraZeneca, in Japan and the UK. He also brings a background in banking and tech startup companies. This unique mélange of experience gives Edouard a unique perspective on the business of marketing and what needs to change for commercial success in life sciences.

Clay Hausmann: Let’s start with the term “customer-centric” and what it means, specifically in terms of AI.

Florent Edouard

Florent Edouard

Edouard: There’s an ongoing debate in the industry about whether we should be patient-centric or customer-centric, with most companies leaning one way or another. At Grünenthal, patient-centricity has always been in our values, but we are ultimately a business serving the people who are treating and caring for patients. Therefore, every healthcare professional (HCP) should be considered as an individual customer, and it is our job to deliver the high-quality support they want, when they want it.

Historically, the traditional product-driven marketing model has fallen short of delivering coherent and high-quality customer experiences due to internal competition between brands, lack of customer listening, and frequent employee turnover. This model alienated us, our customers, the patients, the public, and regulating authorities—and if we want to be in a better place, we need to rethink everything. No matter how many apps and brand portals a company offers, the model was doomed to failure because it centered on the brand, not on the customer. Consequently, nurses and physicians still go online searching for the information they need. That is exactly where we need to offer our services and meet them were they are. We can help them deliver better care by providing what THEY want to consume, rather than spoon-feeding them what WE want them to consume.

Here is where AI comes in – it uses unbiased, real data to inform our approach to customers. It enables us to be truly customer-centric because it tells us exactly what the customer wants and shows that delivering something else is counter-productive. In doing this, it eliminates our own biases.

How can AI and omnichannel-enabling technologies help pharma companies finally get over the hump of digital transformation and rise from the ashes of the pandemic?

Edouard: The pandemic suddenly removed our main point of contact with our customers, and the whole industry raced to use more digital channels, with varying outcomes. One positive lesson learned is that our customers are digitally savvy.

At Grünenthal, we interact with about 300,000 customers, some between 40 and 60 times a year, giving us hundreds of millions of data points. We know what content has been shown to what customer, what content interested what customers, how long they engaged with it, their feelings are about it, and any cross channels they went through to get it. Without AI, there’s no way to sift through that many data points to pull out insights that will drive a better customer experience. Finally, the industry is starting to recognize this reality – AI is the only way to leverage big data.

Additionally, doctors are no longer satisfied with the technology they were using pre-pandemic. As reps are returning to the field, they will need new skills training to learn a new role that includes how to incorporate digital touchpoints into every engagement. Thanks to AI, we now have the analytical capabilities to help commercial teams better understand customers so we can personalize engagement.

In the next five years, AI will drive massive transformation across the entire industry. Tomorrow’s healthcare system will be ‘consumerized,’ into an Amazon-like service for a seamless patient experience. There will be video calls with virtual doctors who can diagnose patients who don’t necessarily need specialized care. Prescriptions will be processed for same day delivery. Referrals will be electronic. Ultimately, this will dramatically reduce the cost of healthcare and make medicine more accessible.

One non-negotiable key to this brighter future is absolute clarity around digital ethics, GDPR respect, and transparency on what we do and why we do it. If we openly share with our customers which data we use and what we do with that data then we will be able to deliver the services patients want and the experience HCPs deserve.

Aktana’s customers have consistently added nearly 50% more content, particularly growing the number of email templates used to provide richer and more personalized engagement with HCPs. Can you tell us a little bit about how AI is impacting commercial success?

Edouard: Nearly 70% of our field teams quickly adopted the recommendations provided by our intelligence engine. Our reps did what the system suggested they do because they understood why as each recommendation was based on deep customer understanding – insights derived from actual data. In the same way, we have seen a 50% open rate and a 40% click-through rate on our emails since October 2020. It’s night and day compared with the blind campaigns and mass emailing, which have a 3-5% open rate.

Additionally, 91% of HCPs who attend our webinars report that the content was relevant to their practice. AI can give us the insights to be more relevant to customers. That is a great outcome because it means that we are dramatically improving the customer experience.

What do you feel is the biggest advantage of AI?

Edouard: First, AI can take data and turn it into insight totally objectively, and reveals things, threats or opportunities that would have gone unnoticed otherwise. This is for us the chance to not only improve our business by acting faster and in a smarter way, but also by enabling through AI a much better customer experience, and that critical to better care and commercial success.

Secondly, AI helps us verify that each HCP receives appropriate information when it comes to pharmaceutical products and the way to use them, therefore reinforcing the quality of care they provide. The worst thing that can happen is misuse of a drug, whether it's being used on the wrong patient or in the wrong way. AI can help us verify this via data analysis to diminish this risk.

What is one thing that is holding this new tech-inspired model back right now?

Edouard: Challenges vary by company. It seems, the bigger the company, the more challenges. Decision-making is often split across multiple business units making it difficult to come to a joint vision and then jointly execute on that common vision.

A second roadblock is sometimes the technology itself. Digital, alone, is not enough; it’s just a channel. People believe that tech is going to be a differentiator, but it is just the enabler of strategy. The key is to know what you want from your technology before choosing it. You can have the most elegant, advanced technology, but if it is used to execute a poor strategy, it won’t work.

Another barrier is the siloed nature of digital. I see many chief digital officers and digital offices in organizations which suggests that they are not yet fully digitally mature, as those roles, strategies, and capabilities should be in everyone and everywhere in the company, not separated in pockets.

With the increased reliance on digital technology, HCP outreach today needs to be uniquely thoughtful, efficient, and respectful. An AI-driven omnichannel strategy makes this possible by giving every member of customer-facing teams visibility across communications. Using big data and AI helps foster a customer-centric culture that enables HCPs to improve their practices, and ultimately, better serve their patients. AI isn’t replacing humans; rather, it can enrich the customer experience with greater humanity and drive the industry in healthy, sustainable directions.

Clay Hausmann is CMO and SVP, Strategic Alliances, Aktana.

To view a complete podcast of this interview, visit www.aktana.com/podcast.


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