The medical device industry is an estimated $147.7 billion dollar industry that up until recently followed a very strict "product-centric" model. But the rise of Amazon, social media and personalized healthcare are making the end customer, or patient, demanding a more personalized experience. In order to thrive in this new digital world, it is crucial that the industry pivots and turns towards a more customer-centric approach.
Social media and patient (customer) satisfaction are pushing companies to embrace and incorporate patient needs and engagement into their product lifecycle which can be used to create more relevant products for their users. As the industry is projected to grow to an estimated $173 billion in 2019, it makes business sense for companies to embrace this customer-centric strategy going forward.
When it comes to medical devices, such as orthopedics, pacemakers, or even 3D printed limbs, obtaining and retaining patients or customers is vital to maintaining a successful and profitable business. And in order to stay competitive and retain customers in any industry, especially the growing and very competitive medical device industry, you need to implement a customer-centric strategy within your organization.
Customer-centricity can be quickly defined as letting your customer's or patient's needs drive your product offerings. Customer-centric strategies can increase patient satisfaction and help you retain them going forward as competing products arise and shifts in healthcare continue to take fold.
Patient satisfaction should be the priority of any organization, regardless of market size. According to a study by McKinsey, 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they’re being treated. Today's customers or patients expect to be treated with white gloves. They aren't just asking for a great "customer experience", they are asking for products that fit their needs and lifestyle.
Customers want to be heard and listened to, as well as properly cared for even after the "sale." Customer service in medicine or any industry for that matter should not be restricted to the original "sale". It must incorporate the entire product lifecycle of the product. Many companies have been operating under the notion that customer service and the product experience start and end at the purchase point of a product or medical device. But the truth is, good product experience and customer service encompass every interaction your customers have with your organization, from concept to customer. This includes the moment they purchase the medical device to even their experience with your customer complaint department.
The New Generation of Patients
Today's new generation of patients don’t just want customized solutions or better experiences, they’re demanding them. Patients and customers are feeling more empowered than ever. From custom-printed prosthetics to IoT-powered precision medicine, customer expectations are at an all-time high. And with non-medical industries dictating change, and consumer subscription services booming to the likes of Netflix, Blue Apron and other "custom box" services, customers from all types of industries are expecting their other purchasing experiences to operate the same, from their car dealership to grocery stores to yes, even healthcare.
What Does That Look in Healthcare?
No longer are we creating products that fit what someone in a boardroom decided was important for their bottom line or what shareholders suggest you make to appease some investor. Now, you must listen to and continuously incorporate patient feedback into your product lifecycle.
What does that mean?
That means, engaging and surveying your customers or patients in the field. Find out what they want, how they respond to the products and experiences you are offering, how they feel about your company, and what needs are not being currently meant.
Then that patient feedback should be incorporated into your product lifecycle in some form of automated way, preferably a product lifecycle management (PLM) or Quality Management (QMS) system, and fed back into your product lifecycle for future iterations. Patient engagement and feedback should drive future products and work towards eliminating product issues.
3D Printing and Customer-Centricity, a Real-Life Example
Additive manufacturing sometimes referred to as 3D printing is a great example of a medical industry change with the customer or patient in mind. Instead of taking months to get a metal part - create a plastic prototype, build out the tool for a metal prototype, and then go to volume production - additive manufacturing cuts out months of time and thousands of dollars from the manufacturing process.
When 3D printing first hit the mainstream, no one expected it to take flight and potentially revolutionize the medical device industry, let alone the world. While others might think 3D printing is just for custom toys or trinkets, it is actually a perfect example of customer-centricity in medicine.
3D printing technology in healthcare can be used to produce prosthetic limbs that are customized to fit the patient. When using traditional methods, it's quite common for amputees to wait months or longer for their new prosthetic limbs.
CSIRO, Australia's premier national research organization, partners with Anatomics, to deliver 3D-printed prosthetics. This novel approach greatly speeds up creation and delivery of new limbs, sternums, and other body parts at a lower premium. The ability to make a custom-designed body part in hours is a truly a customer-centric approach to medical devices.
Hearing on Demand by Eargo
Another prime example of successful customer-centricity in healthcare is Eargo, an American online retailer of beautifully designed hearing aids. As our population continues to age, hearing loss is experienced by more and more people. Eargo flipped the traditional model of selling hearing aids by going directly to the patients with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Frustrated by high costs and inconvenience, consumers were unhappy with buying choices and methods. They also found that patients didn't want to go into a brick and mortar stores and preferred shopping at home. Eargo listened to their needs. They sell award-winning hearing aids online and by phone at a reasonable price by cutting out the middle person.
Healthcare is an undeniable need that we all have and will continue to have as we start living longer and start requiring different devices to help us thrive. Just as Tesla innovated our commute and impacted the world, healthcare and medical device companies will need to think like Eargo and CSIRO and start innovating and listening to what customers or patients need, instead of the other way around.
Driving Customer-Centricity at Your Company
For organizations to successfully employ a customer-centric strategy they need to do so from the inside out. That means getting each department and team member on board with the methodology. But what does that look like across the board?
Engineering and product teams need to design with the customer's needs in mind. They need to listen to feedback gathered in the field and use that dictate product features and materials used.
Marketing and sales teams should understand their customer and set up their efforts accordingly. If customers are responding to certain products or offerings, then that should drive your campaigns sales channel strategy.
Quality teams should gather feedback from customers using a quality management system that allows them to feed complaints and comments back into a CRM for engineers to eliminate product issues and drive future product iterations and changes.
This cycle will create a closed-loop for engineering and allow them to create products their customers will use and enjoy. Traditionally, engineering has been closed off to what is said in the field but with a customer-centric model, engineering is deeply part of the conversation and able to address those changes and comments in the next product version. With a customer-centric model, customers should also dictate each phase of the product lifecycle.
The Right Technology to Drive Customer-Centricity
We've discussed how teams need to communicate and use that customer feedback in their respective roles but what about the technology needed to do so?
Quality management software (QMS) is a must-need for any and all medical device companies. Quality management software allows you to manage the quality of your products through various tools and dashboards. But in the day and age of the customer and for those organizations who look to follow a customer-centric strategy you need a QMS system that gives you more than the standard set of features.
Just like we discussed open collaboration across team members, we need that in our
software as well. A collaborative QMS that plays nice with your other systems is step one. You need to take siloed departmental processes and put them in a secure and robust system. Ideally you should have a QMS system that has customer, product and quality data all in one place. That allows customer data to be connected and read in one place, especially customer complaints and feedback. Whether a company is dealing with customer complaints, supplier incidents or non-conformances, there needs to be an integrated process that can quickly identify and resolve those issues.
A good QMS solution would ideally eliminate the headaches of manual entry. When you are following a customer-centric approach, you want all your customer, product and quality data in one centralized location. Typing in complaints, related items and feedback from one system to another can lead to errors and incorrect information being attached to the wrong customers, the wrong products or not at all. You should have that customer feedback or complaint flow directly into your QMS and PLM systems, so engineering can quickly resolve product issues from the appropriate product in versions 2, 3 and 4 of that model. Only by having a direct integration between your QMS and PLM systems can you be sure that the right quality issues are being flagged against the correct product revisions and Engineering Changes.
Another benefit of a single system for quality is the that everyone - including Engineering, Operations and QA - can collaborate on quality management processes such as (Corrective and Preventive Actions, or Corrective Action Preventive Actions), NCMRs (Non-Conforming Material Reports), SCARs (Supplier Corrective Action Requests). A QMS system should help you improve compliance across the board, not hinder it. A compliant organization not only helps reduce business risk, but it also helps keep your customers and patients safe.
An ideal QMS solution should also have pre-configured workflows to help you reduce errors and stay compliant. With pre-configured workflows, you can establish those built-in best practices and collaborate better across teams. And for companies in the medical device industry, quality management systems are held to a much higher bar. Medical device companies need to comply with standards like 21 CFR Part 11 and ensure their systems are fully validated.
When it comes to manufacturing certain products, medical device companies might need to track environmental and regulatory requirements for each component, like RoHS, WEEE and REACH. To manage those product specifications, organizations need to be able to identify and rollup how products comply with these specifications. Your QMS solution should help you in staying compliant with these requirements by helping you track the requirements for each component of your product for the interest of your business, the environment, and your customers.
Medical devices require proper training and compliance for more than products themselves but for the employees of the organization that are manufacturing the product. A good QMS system should help companies track training records, identify which employees are non-compliant and update records based on new procedures.
Proper training is key for the safety of your customers or patients. For some companies, they prefer to put training procedures in their LMS or learning management system. This is not a recommended approach. When you use an LMS in this context, all the training assignments in that system are completely separate from the products, documents, and procedures that are being updated and versioned. These training assignments should be managed in your QMS system. This missing link between systems creates the potential for training plans that don’t match the latest products and procedures, resulting in non-compliant training and increased risk for your organization and your customers.
When you use a collaborative QMS, anytime you create or update a document or product, each team member should be immediately notified of the new training assignment. As people complete their training, you should be able to track who has completed their training assignments, who are having trouble and in turn, schedule periodic re-training sessions to ensure everyone is up-to-date on the latest information, helping you minimize risk or oversight.
In the medical device industry, audit management is an absolute must so you need a proper QMS system that helps execute good audit management. In order to employ a strong quality management approach, companies should have periodic audits to comply with regulations and ensure product safety, quality and customer satisfaction. Companies should be able to plan, schedule, and conduct both internal and external audits with their QMS system. Audits can or should include internal processes, supplier procedures, training records and more.
Many organizations might think that any software will work with a customer-centric strategy, or that they can piece together any set of systems. Just as due diligence would be made for the medical devices you manufacture, due diligence should be made for a good quality management system, for the purpose of maintaining your business, training your employees, and keeping your customers safe.
While other industries have begun embracing customers in their product processes in some shape or form, the healthcare world, specifically the medical device industry, has lagged behind.
The benefits of embracing customer-centricity are quite evident for medical device companies, especially as the industry will only continue to grow. With the rapidly changing landscape of healthcare and medicine, companies need to start pivoting and embracing customer-focused strategies that make sense for their organization and their products. Customer-centricity requires commitment from the leadership of your organization to team members across the company to even the software you implement. It also requires focus and attention to each stage of your product's lifecycle. Because in order for medical device companies to survive and thrive, they need to focus on customer-centricity from the original concept of the medical device to the moment it is being used by the patient and back again. Customer-centricity should be a closed-loop that puts the patient's needs and wants at the forefront of product decisions.
Companies that employ customer-centricity set themselves up to experience financial rewards and a happier organization because of this strategy. So the question remains, are you ready to embrace customer-centricity within your organization? If so, where do you start?
Propel Your Future
When it comes achieving customer-centricity within your organization you need a QMS that seamlessly connects with your CRM and PLM, so you can have a true closed loop that can quickly resolve your product issues and customer complaints. Propel, a cloud-based QMS completely built on Salesforce gives you true customer-centricity by eliminating manual data entry, siloed departmental processes and rigid software configurations that can hamper even the best companies.
With Propel, you can drive higher product quality, increase customer satisfaction and maintain regulatory compliance all within one single system. Propel is cloud-based quality management built for customer-centricity, from concept to customer.