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Optima Health expands retail focus with customer service technology

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Optima Health, which has seen a 500% increase in individual members since 2013, is using technology processes and platforms to monitor and automate the customer experience.

Optima Health, which has seen a 500% increase in individual members since 2013, is using technology processes and platforms to monitor and automate the consumer experience.

Steve Cindrich, Optima's director of strategic business development for Optima, a wholly owned subsidiary of Sentara Healthcare, a Norfolk, Virginia-based integrated health-care delivery system, says the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has brought in a lot of new members. Optima is now trying to get a good balance of new members, Cindrich says, "so as part of our strategy, we started a retail marketing plan with customer segmentation and CRM [i.e., customer relationship management software] to try to get lower acquisition cost and greater retention."

Optima's technology platforms and processes create automated "touchpoints" for regular contact with customers, he explains. Optima also is finding ways for its call center to handle customer concerns more efficiently, and providing additional materials and taking more service/talk time with previously uninsured individuals..

"If they need answers, they know who to call back and what to expect," Cindrich says. As for selling policies, "We've increased our conversion rate from a low of 40% [pre-ACA] to greater than 90%," he says. "Every transaction is measured and monitored...[W]e're slowly redesigning processes to be more retail-oriented and looking at the experience the customer should have."

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Cindrich says Optima also is involved in a more focused effort on "secret shopping," looking at customer complaints "and trying to reimagine the customer experience."

He notes that Optima is careful in how it markets complicated, regulated products. "The regulations might say this is mandated language you must include [in healthcare marketing materials], but Optima puts in additional information and touchpoints in order to make more connection with customers," he says. "With retail, you're looking not just at the cost of the touchpoint, but at the cost-benefit. It's challenging, but we're finding ways to meet customer needs in spite of regulations."

Optima's parent, Sentara, has launched an online retail site selling 550-plus over-the-counter healthcare products, including educational books, vitamins, exercise equipment,splints, and diabetic-care supplies. Sentara spokesman Bobby Pearson says the health system hopes to increase care compliance by offering items for purchase prior to a person's hospital discharge.

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