Healthcare is a necessity for most people at some point in their lives. This is, perhaps, the reason why health organizations, ranging from insurers to pharmaceutical companies, historically haven't put customer centricity among their highest priorities.
But, a changing landscape is putting pressure on healthcare organizations to introduce customer-centric strategies. This paradigm shift is partly due to the fact that in the not-so-distant future, consumers will be forced to play a much greater role in their healthcare decisions. Not only is healthcare reform in the United States promising to change the way we think about health services—from doctor's visits to prescription medicines—but we're seeing changes in the way such services are being financed.
Together with increased choices, customers are now responsible for managing and paying a bigger part of the medical bill. These trends lead to a more discriminating customer who is looking for organizations that provide the best value, the best support for achieving their health-related goals, and the best overall experience.
As customers feel more in control of their healthcare choices—whether it be their health insurer or policy, their physician, or the medications they take—they are looking for partners in the businesses they interact with. They are looking for healthcare companies they can trust to help them get or remain healthy, and understand and manage their healthcare-related spending. These organizations have to battle longstanding perceptions that might not always be correct. Health insurers, for example, have traditionally been seen as penny-pinching businesses more interested in saving money than promoting health. Pharmaceutical manufacturers may be perceived as very rich companies charging too much for their products and more interested in their bottom line rather than helping patients get better. Even though these perceptions aren't entirely true, healthcare organizations are working hard to change their customers' minds and be considered trusted partners in consumers' endeavors to remain healthy or treat and manage long-term illnesses and conditions.
For healthcare companies to become truly customer-focused, they have to focus on customer data, make sure their operations and processes have a customer connection, and ensure that their people are customer-focused. These three elements will help them build a customer-centric DNA. Health insurers in particular will benefit from adopting this view of customer centricity.
Maximizing data for patients' best interests
The health insurance industry is bombarded with tremendous amounts of data, especially since every interaction with a health-related service is documented. This gargantuan amount of information is both a blessing and a curse for health insurers. Mountains of data can help organizations understand how a product impacts a person's health and a doctor's effectiveness, for example. It can also track the impact of insurance programs on a member's health.
However, in many cases, data exists in different silos that are, because of regulatory reasons, nearly impossible to connect. Different physicians, for example, will have a small slice of data about the health of their patients rather than a holistic picture. Or pharmacies, even those that are part of the same chain, only have access to medications bought from a particular location by that patient. This makes it extremely hard for the healthcare industry to get a full view of consumers.
We believe that it's imperative for each of these organizations to make the most of the data assets they already have and aggregate the information available, organizing it per individual consumer across multiple departments, and analyze it to mine insights. United Healthcare, for example, is crunching the numbers and turning data into tangible information that can help its members better manage their health, creating blueprints for personalized solutions for its members based on their individual health. It's been so successful that it has broadcasted its results in recent television ads, showing how the organization is using health data to help patients manage their asthma or diabetes, for example.
This, however, is only a first step. Industry leaders need to examine the way current healthcare regulations restrict them in making the most of their data assets, and should define solutions that will allow them to better integrate data to be able to offer a better service to their consumers. Then, they need to take a stand with regulators and lawmakers by presenting hard facts on how a 360-degree view of their consumers will help health insurers and other healthcare organizations do what's best for the population.
Putting the customer at the center
Organizations that prioritize their customers easily differentiate themselves from their competition. Unfortunately, most healthcare companies are not organized in this way. Most have a product-centric focus. Many health insurers, for example, are made up of product or service divisions with very little vision into how the various departments holistically interact with and impact patients.
The goal should be for the healthcare industry to completely shift from its current product-centric focus and instead organize itself around customer groups. The first step out is for companies to morph into ones that look at customer segments and examine the impact that their products or services have on these groups. For example, a pharmaceutical manufacturer might recognize that patients who have been prescribed a particular drug are highly likely to be taking another medicine.
Connecting products around customer groups or even individual customers will reveal insight that will allow healthcare companies to interact in a more timely, relevant, and efficient way with customers.
Everything starts with the right people
Healthcare is essential, but there's growing customer choice when it comes to health insurers and other care providers. Companies can learn a lot from leading retailers that focus on consumers on a daily basis, making sure that the brand is top-of-mind with customers. Zappos, for example, is renowned for its exceptional service and customer focus of its frontline employees who do their utmost to answer customers' questions and solve their problems. Health insurers and healthcare providers need to take a page out of the retail book and train their employees to take a customer-first attitude, striving to help their members and patients to better manage their health.
A move toward customer centricity starts with hiring and keeping the right individuals. As organizations move from being product-centered to more customer-focused, they have to ensure that their employees put patients at the center of everything they do. The healthcare industry is unique in how personal and intimate it is with customers. This means that employees need to be friendly, courteous, and empathetic. Companies must adapt their hiring profile to look for these character traits. Policies, procedures, and scripts must be flexible to empower employees to be human first, and company representatives second. In many cases, this is the main driver of internal and external attitudes about the organization.
The road to customer centricity
At Peppers & Rogers Group, we have made it our mission to help organizations become more customer-focused. The fact is that it has been proven that client-centered organizations that put the customer at the core of whatever they do achieve customer relationship and bottom-line benefit. But it's not easy, especially in a complex industry such as healthcare. At times, it requires transforming their organizational design, performance management, scorecard design, trust-building strategy, voice of the customer strategy, and process design for key customer touchpoints, including through their call center, online, mobile, and social. And, it requires both strategic and tactical commitment at all levels of the organization.
The road to customer centricity isn't easy. However, client-focus has become a main differentiator, leaving healthcare organizations with no choice but to start analyzing their current status and work toward becoming more client-centered. It is possible to create customer-centric DNA at even the most complex and traditional companies. All it takes is the willingness to change for customers.