At this year's AHIP Institute health insurance conference show in Nashville, the "consumer" was everywhere. Nearly everyone was talking about member engagement, customer experience, and building trust in sessions and on the show floor. It's clearly evident that health insurers have gotten the message about the importance of customer centricity. Now the challenge is to make it work.
During a session on personalizing the experience, my colleague Ron Wince noted that most health insurers typically engage with consumers when there's a problem – if a member gets sick and has questions, when disputing a bill, or finding out about network resources. Consumers are often already frustrated, scared, and confused before the interaction even begins. And health plans wait for consumers to come to them. A superior experience is therefore rare. He recommended proactive outreach to begin to build a relationship during the good times. "Think like a retailer," he advised the audience, by acting strategically and using data to drive acquisition, retention, and personalized interactions.
Mandy Bishop of Dell Healthcare added that engagement is the only way to differentiate for consumers who now have more choice. And it takes small, everyday tasks of engagement to build consumer trust in the health insurance space. Many health plans are starting with the claims process as a place to engage with members. It's a good starting point, but shouldn't be the only area of consumer focus. "It's 10 percent of your story," she said. "Ninety percent of health has nothing to do with clinical encounters."
How to engage was a popular topic during the event. Plans like BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois try to think mobile first with their communications, said Lynde O'Brien, senior director of digital communications and customer lifecycle management for the plan, who presented with Bishop. She also discussed her brand's social media evolution, from online reputation building and crisis management to a social online community that facilitates social commerce among members, rather than a one-way message. Content includes educational and informational material, discussion boards, and even personal photos from employees and members around Chicago to add the human element lacking in many healthcare interactions.
Most health plans are beginning to move toward improving the customer experience by identifying ways to improve member onboarding, explanation of benefits, the claims process, wellness activities, and patient reminders, for example. But as they enhance engagements, their siloed structures often impede a positive customer experience. Some plans admitted that they reach out to a consumer multiple times in one month from different divisions. This over-engagement destroys trust and counteracts the benefits of the engagement in the first place.
"A member wants to hear from us once a month at maximum," said Ingrid Lindberg, former customer experience officer at Cigna and Prime Therapeutics. Research from medical technology firm Silverlink backed up this assertion with research that correlated levels of member disengagement to an increase in plan communications. Lindberg recommended integrating silos as much as possible. At best that means hiring a customer experience executive, and at least it means getting cross-functional internal teams together on a regular basis to coordinate communications that will positively impact engagement and trust.
The takeaway from the show is that while the desire to be more consumer focused now permeates the health insurance space, the strategies and tactics to create the ideal experience are still in their early days. The good news is that the mindset to bring humanity to business is there. The atmosphere from the event can be summed up with a quote from one plan executive: "Our goal is to humanize the brand."
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