Blues plan wins over members

January 1, 2014

Social media and personal calls patch rough relations.

 

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Dakota improved its image in the community and with its members several years ago. In 2007, the company found itself subject to a barrage of criticism over executive compensation and incentive trips to the Caribbean for its marketing agents-at the same time that it was raising premiums and the national economy was heading into recession.

“These local stories got rolled into the whole national debate over healthcare reform, in which insurance companies were always held up as the bad guys,” says Kimberly Wold Janke, MBA, vice president of account planning and brand strategy for Flint Group, the plan’s agency of record.

In response, BCBSND convened a series of town hall meetings around the state, at which customers were invited to express their opinions about the company. Many of those who attended left their telephone numbers, and in the following months, BCBSND executives followed up with personal calls. “People were stunned. They couldn’t believe someone actually responded to them,” Janke says.

The company also began using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media for the first time to give customers additional avenues for communicating. In addition, BCBSND formed an online member panel that it uses to get feedback on new products and services.

Based on the feedback received at the town halls and through social media, as well as ongoing market research, BCBSND launched a statewide marketing campaign emphasizing the benefits of the company’s products and refuting some of the negative stories in the media.

As a result of the campaign, says Janke, news coverage of BCBSND went from 76% negative to 76% positive between 2009 and 2012, while consumer attitudes shifted from 76% negative to 52% positive between 2011 and 2013.

Although North Dakota is a relatively small and homogenous state, Janke believes the strategies BCBSND used to improve public perception can be used by health plans anywhere. The keys, she says, are research into consumer attitudes and desires, and a strong commitment from upper management.

“The top executives have to understand the importance of and buy into a customer-centric approach,” she says. “People are smart, and they will see right through a flashy advertising campaign that has no substance behind it.”