2015: Healthcare’s Year of Trustability

October 28, 2014

The three giants driving America’s $3 trillion healthcare economy–health insurers, hospital systems, and pharmaceutical companies–all face the same dilemma: how to effectively engage customers to earn trust and improve the consumer healthcare experience.

The three giants driving America’s $3 trillion healthcare economy–health insurers, hospital systems, and pharmaceutical companies–all face the same dilemma: how to effectively engage customers to earn trust and improve the consumer healthcare experience. This is no easy task at a time when consolidation and oligopoly-type market domination best describes today’s healthcare landscape.

  • Ten largest health insurers now control over 60% of all Americans’ health benefits; Blue Cross Blue Shield organizations alone cover almost 100 million Americans. In 45 states two health insurers have combined market share of 50% or more. For individually purchased products such as Medicare Advantage and non-Group medical insurance, consumer choice is limited to a select few companies controlling most of the market.
  • Over half of the 5,724 U.S. hospitals are now part of multi-facility consolidated health systems. In the last two years an estimated 200 hospital merger and acquisition deals closed. America spends over $900 billion annually on hospital care. Add to this mix a new face of today’s physician: 42% of doctors are practicing as salaried employees of corporate hospital-owned systems.
  • The top 10 global biotech and pharmaceutical companies have combined revenue of approximately $443 billion. Total spending on medications in the U.S. was $329.2 billion in 2013, fueled by more than half of all Americans taking at least two prescriptions; with each of the five most expensive prescription drugs in the United States costing over $300,000 annually.

It should be no surprise that earning trust among today’s consumer is a tough job. Entire industries have seen reputations tarnished and public trust eroded as a result of missteps and inadequate business process or quality controls–data breaches, automobile recalls, government corruption, sub-prime mortgage debacle, and most recently, politicization of Ebola.

In healthcare, ten industry behemoths spent over $150 million in 2013 lobbying federal and state lawmakers. And most recently, when the Affordable Care Act’s Open Paymentrecords were released they revealed drug and medical device manufacturer payments to doctors and hospitals of $550 million for speaking, travel, food, gifts, and consulting fees (part of an overall $3.5 billion paid-out to providers), and that’s just in the last half of 2013. How does the healthcare industry achieve a reputation of trust?

At a time when the nation’s healthcare is being defined by personal accountability, bigger isn’t always better. Buying health insurance is now a retail shopping experience, in-store and online, but not close to Nordstrom or Amazon. The hype of price “transparency” confuses the most sophisticated consumers as they navigate the complexities of trying to figure-out the cost of a medical procedure or prescription drug. And, understanding varying definitions of certification, accreditation, and “quality” clinical outcomes leaves consumers frustrated and often paralyzed in their decision-making. How does the healthcare industry create smarter, more engaged consumers?

NEXT: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

What do consumers expect from healthcare companies…RESPECT. As Maslow theorized and Aretha Franklin vocalized…”Ooh, I want a little respect”. People need to sense that they are valued and respected. Consumers able to satisfy this esteem need–to be recognized and respected–feel more confident about their decisions and relationships. When surveyed about the respect they want from a healthcare company, customers agree on five priorities:

  • Put me before profits.

  • Be there when I need you.

  • Communicate with me clearly and honestly.

  • Provide customer service I can depend on.

  • Do the right thing when it comes to my health.

Consumers want a relationship with companies they believe in, ones that will do the right thing, especially when it involves something as sensitive as their healthcare or their wallet. Efforts need to be sincere, accurate and personal. Changing behaviors on the broad range of health-related concerns: health habits (prevention and wellness), out-of-pocket spending, or medication adherence, requires a strong bond between a healthcare company and their customer. The tenets of customer respect must be central to a healthcare entity’s brand essence.

Healthcare’s giants face an enormous challenge in changing the way customers think about them. Consumer engagement has not been a core competency. Unlike transaction-based retail markets, healthcare engagement needs to focus on interactions (vs. transactions). All too often the healthcare consumer lifecycle is made up of a series of disconnected, fragmented events. Communications have been an outbound monologue managed by functional fiefdoms rather than an integrated, mutual value exchange.

Relevant engagement yields customer respect. Customer engagement encompasses every aspect of a healthcare consumer's experience with your services, products and people…it’s the sum total of everything they see, hear, feel and experience as part of their dealings with an organization. It means interacting with them on their terms and through communication channels they prefer. Ask the central question: how well does every brand touchpoint respect customers’ needs, drive engagement and promote trust?

NEXT: Relationship of trust

 

Relationship of Trust

Trust is foundational in engaging consumers and earning loyal relationships. A relationship of trust comes out of leveraging individual motivators as well as emotional and rational drivers that work in concert to change behavior. It means building and maintaining a personalized dialog with each customer throughout their healthcare journey…from awareness to acquisition to activation to resale. The payoff is a superior user experience, high satisfaction ratings, and better customer retention. They will promote you, refer you and most importantly, they will become a customer for life.

Healthcare enterprises that are able to reverse the tide of negative consumer perceptions by effectively engaging their customers and earning trust will realize significant competitive advantage:

  • By being honest and authentic about what you can and cannot help people with, pre-and post-sale customer communications will reach a more receptive audience willing to respond to suggested actions. The result is a strong ROR…Return On Relationship.
  • By being compassionate and empathetic in your interactions customers will be more satisfied with their overall experience reinforcing their purchase decision (an after-sale sale), increasing retention, and building a more proactive base of customer loyalists.
  • By being an advocate and knowledgeable champion on issues such as healthier behavior, cost containment, and improved condition management, you will be met with greater acceptance and confidence. The payoff is improved outcomes, both clinical and financial.

Trust is an outcome. Getting there takes work. A logical starting point is to better understand your customer using data, analytics and insights. Next, embrace new approaches to marketing, communication, technology, and customer service. Lastly, and especially for healthcare sector, any solution must include remapping the customer journey. The tools, expertise and intelligence to execute on these essentials are available to every healthcare company to begin transforming their customer relationships.

Consumer centric healthcare companies that demonstrate a respect for their customers’ time and individual needs will see greater “stickiness” throughout the buying process and generate significantly better customer LifeTime Value. And, customers are willing to pay more for a better experience. Healthcare companies that proceed with a sense of urgency and consistency, and bring a restructured customer experience to life with meaningful market-facing interactions, will emerge as industry leaders. Trustability is fundamental to the future of America’s healthcare.