Consumers today expect a level of convenience and service that was unimaginable decades ago. Consumerism has challenged organizations to find innovative ways to serve their customers. It’s made its way into virtually every industry. And healthcare is no exception.
As other industries leverage technology to create personalized experiences, consumers have begun to expect the same from their payers and providers. High deductible health plans have led members to examine their options more carefully as they sift through more choice in healthcare than ever before. That means you need to embrace the demands of consumerism, or risk declining member satisfaction and people will choose more competitive plans.
One of the biggest ways consumerism impacts health plans is by changing the way you communicate with members. Direct mail, phone calls, and even emails aren’t enough anymore.
Here are some key capabilities consumers are looking for from their plans.
Members value convenience
Consumerism has taught your members that there are easier ways to interact with businesses. They can manage their bank account or investments through an app. They can order food online without having to call and talk to a person. And they expect websites to work well on mobile devices (because that’s how most people access the internet).
When payers send member information through email or direct mail, or members have to make a phone call to complete simple transactions, it’s like discovering that a restaurant is cash-only. The experience is inconvenient enough that it may lead people to make other choices about where you eat in the future—even if they liked the food and service at that restaurant.
Members expect more of their healthcare experience to be “self-service.” They don’t want to take time out of their day to make a phone call to check their claim status or dig through the mail to find their most recent explanation of benefits.
Put simply, members expect to communicate with you less, because they shouldn’t need to, to perform basic tasks.
They also expect better access to important information. And that means payers need to adopt an omnichannel approach – one that uses a wide range of communication channels – to interact with members on the communication pathways they prefer.
Payers need omnichannel communication strategies
Years ago, when a member requested important information about their care, you could simply mail it to them and trust that you’ve done your part. But today, not only is direct mail one of the least engaging communication channels at your disposal—it’s one of the least convenient and reliable for members.
Like multichannel communication, omnichannel communication involves using a wide range of channels—both physical and digital—to engage your members. The key difference is that omnichannel communication joins these touchpoints together to create a seamless experience. It enables the ability to begin a conversation on one channel and seamlessly transition to another.
Different people prefer to communicate in different ways. Some may still prefer to receive information via direct mail or through a phone call, for example. But increasingly, consumers prefer the convenience of digital channels—especially those that embrace the power of mobile. What’s critical is that payers need to focus on understanding and accommodating their members’ diverse preferences. Whatever journey your member chooses, you need to create a consistent, unified experience.
You’ll also need capabilities that allow you to initiate communication and engage with your members, instead of simply waiting for them to call you. This creates a more convenient experience for your members and helps them manage their care better.
Here are just a few digital channels you should explore.
Chatbots–computer programs that can conduct a simulated “human” conversation in virtually any medium–have grown in popularity because they allow consumers to quickly get the information they need. Using artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing, chatbots understand what your members are asking, and then give an appropriate response. This allows them to automatically resolve many of your most popular requests, without taking any of your staff’s time. (And unlike your staff, chatbots have a nearly infinite capacity, and can simultaneously engage numerous members with different queries.)
On your website, a chatbot is essentially a conversational way for members to navigate your site and receive information. They can ask questions about their care, and your chatbot will direct them to the appropriate page or pull the relevant information from that page. You can also integrate a chatbot with your mobile app.
Text messaging is one of the most effective ways for payers to reach their members. According to Campaign Monitor, the average email open rates in healthcare are less than 20 percent. And that’s actually pretty good for commercial emails. But when payers send text messages, 98 percent of recipients view them.
Text messages are extremely convenient to read and respond to. Plus you can link members directly to your platform or app, so they can get more information with a tap, or even close gaps in care.
When members download your mobile app, you gain the ability to send them push notifications. These alerts display on their phone even if the app isn’t open, and they can link directly to your app.
Like text messages, push notifications are a highly engaging form of communication that your members are already accustomed to receiving.
Smart speakers (increasingly equipped with display screens) like Amazon Echo Show and Google Home Hub are rapidly growing in popularity. These devices give consumers a hands-free way to access information and perform simple tasks. Many companies are already exploring the applications for healthcare, and payers that want to remain competitive will find innovative ways to serve their members through voice recognition devices. After all, nearly 25% of US households have a smart speaker of some kind—more than double the percentage that had them just six months ago.
But regardless of which communication channels you invest in, one of the biggest things consumers want right now is the ability to interact with you in multiple ways—without having to repeat themselves.
Conversations should continue from one channel to the next
Sometimes circumstances change which communication channel is most convenient for your members.
When you’ve just sent your member a text, replying to that text is often the fastest way for them to get more information. (As long as your SMS solution includes a chatbot.)
When their phone is out of reach, they may prefer to ask Alexa to read the information they need.
And in some complex situations, they might prefer to talk to someone on the phone, where they can talk through their unique or difficult-to-explain problems.
However your members communicate with you, they shouldn’t have to start over every time they talk to you. In the years to come, payers that allow their members to continue conversations across channels are going to be the most competitive–because they’ll be the easiest for members to talk to.
Stay ahead of consumerism
Consumerism is making the healthcare industry more competitive as technology evolves and payers are able to put their members’ needs first in new ways.
Want to meet the demands of consumerism, and become more competitive?
Our new ebook, 7 Things Members Want When Shopping for Care, outlines several of the biggest demands facing healthcare today.
Download your free copy of 7 Ways to Improve the Member Experience When Shopping for Care.