September 24, 2015 Owen Carey

Survey: Consumerism Demands Improved Healthcare Customer Service

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The rise of consumerism in U.S. healthcare has raised expectations for accuracy and effortlessness in customer service, according to a recent survey commissioned by IntelliResponse.

The company’s second annual consumer survey found “health insurance is far and away the industry where Americans expect the highest level of customer service accuracy.” It reports 54% of respondents selected health insurance as the industry in which accuracy is most critical. The next-most critical industry, respondents said, was the utilities industry at just 14%.

The survey suggests health insurance companies need to meet the expectations of modern consumers or risk falling behind.

Several healthcare experts tell Healthcare Dive they agree.

The ACA has created a very evident shift in healthcare from what was traditionally a B2B model to significantly more of a B2C model “where engagement and relationships will drive the future of the business,” says Anand Natampalli, Vice President, Global Business Development, Healthcare and Insurance at HGS.

For those who need to re-enroll in an ACA plan every year, there’s no “stickiness” to retain them if they have a poor experience, Natampalli notes, so the quality of their interactions is critical.

He agrees accuracy and effortlessness are now among the top expectations of health plan members, but suggests while accuracy is critical, effortlessness may potentially weigh most heavily with consumers who are now used to choosing the path of least resistance.

“The rise of consumerism in health insurance has made effortlessness a huge issue,” Natampalli says. He adds positivity also now plays a large part in improving the member experience—an angle of unique importance in healthcare because interactions with patients can be so emotionally charged. “The response that consumers get can change their life and it can also create a customer for life,” Natampalli says.

Teresa Velk, Executive Director, Strategic Programs for SKYGEN USA, echoes similar sentiments. She adds while the ACA has led to a great deal of emphasis on acquiring new members, it is just as critical to retain those members, given estimates it costs 6-7 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one.

In addition, she points to how the new B2C model means payers need to ramp up their customer support for individual members, because their primary customers are no longer the professional benefits managers of employers.

“Further complicating matters,” she says, “members aren’t just comparing the experience to those with other insurance companies. They’re comparing it to all their other consumer experiences, such as those with online retailers and [telecommunications] companies that have very sophisticated customer service organizations.”

Dr. John R. Patrick, president of Attitude LLC, author of “Health Attitude,” and former vice president of internet technology at IBM, sees the impact of health insurance consumerism as primarily driving demand for data and efficiency.

“Healthcare is costly in America—this is becoming more and more visible to more and more people, and they’re asking questions,” Patrick says. Consumers are looking for answers on costs, for access to their health information, and for better communication with payers and providers, he says.

When it comes to data, “Patients are going to ask for a lot more, be doing a lot more, and buying a lot more to collect data,” he predicts. He sees data as driving a more equitable collaboration between payer, provider and patient, as well as driving the healthcare movement toward population health.

“There are so many ways we can improve efficiency,” Patrick says. “Compare what happens in a healthcare transaction to what happens in an Amazon transaction; healthcare is just so far behind. But it’s starting to change, and I’m confident things are going to get a lot more efficient.”

Keeping pace with customer service demand

Based on its survey, IntelliResponse recommends three specific actions to health insurers:

  1. Going omnichannel;
  2. Predicting consumer needs; and
  3. Providing a seamless escalation when required.

Even though healthcare has unique challenges including risk aversion and regulation, experts suggest looking toward other industries as examples.

“Payers know they need to adopt proven techniques from industries where customer loyalty has always been fickle and where digital engagement is high,” Natampalli says. He names the taxi business as an example due to its disruption by Uber, Lyft and other mobile startups that have used digital channels to simplify interaction, engage members and build loyalty.

Customers have come to expect companies like Uber, Amazon, Apple or American Express know their last purchase, buying preferences, birthdays and more, Natampalli adds. “When insurers fail to deliver an equally seamless and simple experience, members can become frustrated,” he says.

He suggests insurers create more touchpoints with members and work to build affinity whenever a touchpoint occurs, from enrollment, to onboarding, to appointment reminders, etc.

“Most health insurers seem ready to make the digital transformation required to succeed in the new healthcare environment,” Natampalli says, with many already taking the first step by consolidating data onto a single technology platform that creates a single view for the customer’s full experience. “With that foundation in place,” he says, “insurers will be prepared not only to engage members today but to manage them throughout the consumer lifecycle.”

This article originally appeared here.

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