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Learning from the healthcare customer experience


Today, rating systems are driving consumer decisions in virtually every U.S. industry. A single “gold standard” for customer ratings has yet to emerge in healthcare, and providers and payers are focusing more than ever before on the customer experience – how patients evaluate everyday interactions with their care and service providers.

Today, rating systems are driving consumer decisions in virtually every U.S. industry. A single “gold standard” for customer ratings has yet to emerge in healthcare, and providers and payers are focusing more than ever before on the customer experience – how patients evaluate everyday interactions with their care and service providers.

Healthcare organizations are working to stay in step with how they are perceived by using traditional tools that ask patients to gauge the quality of their healthcare experience, by developing their own measurements, such as patient or member satisfaction surveys, and by watching the way patients interact with the organization – online, through calls and letters, or in traditional focus groups.

A more comprehensive approach is needed to understand the wants of today’s healthcare consumers, who are in an entirely different stratosphere of expectations and interactions. As noted in EY’s 2014 Consumers on Board report, today’s technology-empowered consumers are better informed, more demanding and more able to convey what matters to them in all purchases.

In healthcare, they are making their own decisions on providers and health plans and readily reporting – in web, mobile and social media channels – on their experiences.  Consumers expect the same convenient 24x7 service, the same access to cost and quality comparison data, and the same service orientation from healthcare organizations that they have come to appreciate in other areas of their lives.  If they have a disappointing experience, the likelihood is high that they will tell others and, given the choice, will take their business elsewhere.

Winners in today’s world of consumer empowerment – where choice is the new reality – are those that are ever vigilant, across all channels, to how they are measuring up through their customers’ eyes.  To see the complete picture, health organizations need to consider the entire range of input, from the traditional, such as CAHPS and HEDIS scores, to the trending, such as consumer-generated content on digital channels.  

Here are five guidelines for success in listening to your customers, learning from their experience of your organization – and turning feedback into action:  

Mine the full spectrum of customer perceptions

Continuously analyze social media sites, blogs, online discussion forums and user-generated news link exchanges to hear what your customers are saying about you and what they care most about. Find out what members and employers are looking for in choosing a health plan through surveys from independent information service providers, such as J.D. Powers and Associates.  See what percentage of your customers would recommend your organization through the Net Promoter Score™. Consider the level of your patients’ engagement in their care through such consumer experience surveys as the Patient Activation Measure™, or PAM, which can help determine the level of support patients and members need from your organization. 

Next: Create a listening-into-action program


Create a listening-into-action program

Develop a listening culture to respond to your patients’ and customers’ voices. Engage with them in more meaningful ways by knowing their values and concerns. Use insights from customer relationship management tools to reach out in personalized ways. Listen, discuss feedback, gain insights, take action, measure the impact and listen again – in a continuous feedback loop – to improve marketing and retention results. Listening insights are a valuable resource for training employees, improving employee engagement, enabling executives to fully own and execute change initiatives, refining messages and enhancing operations to enrich the patient experience.  Develop listening-into-action strategies. For example, bring patients and customers into new product and process design processes, create a customer council that reports at a senior level in your organization, and build operations around true customer needs.

Monitor your competitors

Along with responding rapidly to negative and positive posts about your organization, monitor what is being said about your competitors. Listening to complaints can tell you what is important to your target customers and help you position your organization as better against the competition. Unsatisfied customers want someone to listen to their problems – even if it’s someone other than their own provider or health plan that’s doing the listening.  If you can reach out to that patient first, you will demonstrate a responsiveness that consumers crave and likely be rewarded with positive comments, and possibly future customers.

Identify and empower your brand fans

Give them an online outlet to tell their story. For example, create opportunities for patients and plan members to blog about their experience with your organization.  Talk with your fans and post feature stories about them. Understand what drives your most engaged customers and use this knowledge to generate new ideas for building brand loyalty.      

NEXT: Remember the basics


Remember the basics

In all interactions, offer compassion and empathy. Make it easy for your customers to get their questions answered by having a real person readily available to help customers over the phone. Reinforce that the patient and customer experience is everyone’s job. Make every touch point an “opportunity point” to build relationships.

Is your organization listening – to the good, the bad and the opportunity?  In this era of heightened consumer power and rapid digital transformation, listening is a competitive imperative.  As consumer avenues for expression continue to proliferate, providers and payers will need to amp up their listening across all channels to better serve their patients and customers – and fully leverage the power of the next consumer revolution. Companies that thrive in the new world will be those that understand, honor and value the uniqueness of each customer.  That’s listening!

Rebecca Ditmer is a principal, Jan Oldenburg is a senior manager and Kristen Vennum is a principal in Ernst & Young LLP’s Advisory Healthcare practice.

The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP.

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