The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Increasingly, the pharmaceutical industry is taking a customer-centric approach to both the develop­ment and commer­ciali­za­tion of new products. From being patient-centric when conducting clinical trials to driving more engaging inter­actions between medical representatives and health­care providers, companies are placing the customer at the center of their commercial models.

On June 9, the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) Healthcare Committee hosted a virtual event entitled The Global State of Customer Centricity in Pharma and welcomed Trilations CEO Johan Vermeiren and Director Japan & Asia–Pacific Joeri De Haes. The pair discussed the importance of customer centricity, the impact Covid-19 has had on the pharma­ceutical industry, and how business can proceed in a new normal.

Johan Vermeiren

Trilations is a Belgium-based global market research company that works with healthcare, utilities, and finance companies. They recently released their annual Pharma Customer Centricity Index, a global survey that reveals how top customer-centric pharmaceutical companies are perceived.

Vermeiren began the event by talking about Trilations’ services that relate to healthcare. “We help pharma and medtech companies to develop impactful strategies for market leader­ship via customer centricity through superior analytics and team mobiliza­tion,” he explained. By helping design and install customer-centric strategies, Trilations supplies analysis and studies to help companies succeed and grow in competi­tive markets.

Starting with why Trilations was created—and why they felt the need to provide customer-centric leadership plans and analysis—Vermeiren said: “We see companies engaging in very important customer centricity change programs, taking customer centricity very seriously, and trying to reach more competitive positions through customer centricity.”

He also mentioned that there are similar initiatives on other topics, such as reputa­tion. There are companies that provide infor­ma­tion on the performance on reputation within the pharma­ceutical industry, he said, ranking companies on a global scale and also by region and country.

“[This is the] reason why we set customer centricity as a core of our service—we wanted to fill this gap. And that’s what the back­ground is of this study and the reason for starting this initiative.”

Joeri De Haes

De Haes explained that customer centricity can be measured in multiple ways. “As a pharma­ceutical company you are inter­­acting with multiple stakeholders, and there are multiple stake­holders who could be considered customers. But within our defini­­tion of customer centricity, we focus on two of the most important stakeholders that you’re working with: physicians and patients,” he said. “So, for us, customer centricity is defined as the combi­na­tion of physician centricity and patient centricity.”

Trilations’ Pharma Customer Centricity Index looks at how partici­pating companies perform, the impact of customer service, whether it matters to be customer centric, and whether this really does improve performance in the market.

De Haes spoke about how the results were gathered. A short online survey was taken by 1,422 specialists representing pharmaceutical companies in nine countries—the United States, UK, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Brazil, China, and Japan—from February to March, just as the Covid-19 pandemic was triggering lockdowns in China. The survey focused on different specialties in healthcare, hematology, oncology, dermatology, rheumatology, gastroenterology, and immunology.

In terms of immunology, the results were based on physicians ranking companies as the most customer centric. Maruho Medical Inc. took the lead, with 14 percent of respondents indicating that Maruho is the most customer-centric company in Japan. ACCJ corporate sustaining member AbbVie placed second with 12 percent, and Kyowa Hakko Kirin Co., Ltd. received four percent.

De Haes commented: “Of course, the broad­ness of the port­folio also influences these scores, and the broader your portfolio the more likely it is that you will score high. If you have a niche specialty, then it’s normal that you would receive a lower score. But we also see that companies with a lower portfolio or smaller portfolio are able to reach a high position within the customer centricity index.”

De Haes said there was no clear winner, with the results fairly evenly stretched. Immunology is a crowded market, he added, and Trilations does not see one company taking a large share in terms of customer centricity.

A key purpose of the survey was to see how some important concepts are linked to customer centricity. De Haes said two important criteria are:

  • Clinical trial recommendation—the extent to which physicians are likely to recommend a given company as a partner in clinical trials
  • Treatment portfolio recommendation—physician preference based on the portfolio of immunology products a given company is offering

“We are not focusing on individual brands here, we’re focusing on the portfolio of brands offered by each of these companies,” De Haes explained.

In the clinical trial recommendation survey, Maruho Medical Inc., Kyowa Hakko Kirin., Ltd., and Chugai Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. placed first, second, and third, respectively. The treatment portfolio recommendation found Chugai Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. at the top, with Pfizer Inc. and Janssen Pharmaceutica tied for second. ACCJ President’s Circle member Eli Lilly Japan K.K. placed third. These surveys focused purely on companies operating in Japan, and participants were Japan-based physicians.

De Haes revealed that Trilations has been working on an assess­ment of the impact Covid-19 has had on the healthcare industry in Japan, and Vermeiren spoke about the fallout. He also gave a short overview of the results gathered from the analysis. The study revealed that, in Japan, there is an increased preference for digital interactions rather than face-to-face ones. This preference has grown since the start of the crisis, and the desire for face-to-face has decreased rapidly.

He also discussed the pandemic’s effect on physician prefer­ences related to push vs. pull communication channels. Push communication refers to any information passed from sender to receiver. Pull communication is when the information is retrieved proactively from third-party sources.

“Push information, which is done through digital channels, is not as satisfying for physicians. What we saw was that, in early lockdown, there was almost no variation in pull information. But we see that in late lockdown, the pull behavior increased a lot. This is our observation on how interactions take place in Japan.”


Megan Casson is a staff
writer at Custom Media for
The ACCJ Journal.
Within our definition of customer centricity, we focus on two of the most important stakeholders that you’re working with: physicians and patients.