Top Ways Health Organizations Improve the Customer Experience

May 10, 2018
Tracey Walker
Tracey Walker

The latest research from PwC’s Health Research Institute has shown that U.S. health leaders are making building a better customer experience for patients a top priority instead of a “nice to have.”

Healthcare executives have invested a fair amount of money on customer experience initiatives over the last several years, but a gap remains between where companies need to be and where they are today, according to a new report.

The latest research from PwC’s Health Research Institute has shown that U.S. health leaders are making building a better customer experience for patients a top priority instead of a “nice to have.”

It’s been six years since the Health Research Institute’s first report on customer experience.

Some of the experience features that consumers value haven’t changed, like convenience, says Paul D’Alessandro, principal and customer experience leader at PwC. “Five years ago, convenience almost trumped all with consumers. But now, people are more and more informed, and we found this time that quality and personalization are really beginning to rise as a consumer concern,” he says. “Now personalization in healthcare means you need to know me not just know my name. Knowing ‘me’ extends beyond surface of a name or even my generation. That's where the context of people lives and the situation they are in become more important. Social determinants like food insecurity or housing challenges come into play.”

This is where healthcare organizations can make more use of data, , according to D’Alessandro. “The next wave of customer experience initiatives need to focus on acquiring data that uncovers the preferences, motivators, and circumstances of not only different consumer groups but also of individual consumers,” he says. “Then healthcare companies can use that data to target their customer experience investments effectively.”

Specifically, the report found:

  • Forty-nine percent of the provider executives who responded to the report said revamping the customer experience is one of their organization’s top three priorities over the next five years.
  • Eighty-one percent of the insurer executives said their organizations are investing in technology to improve the member experience.
  • Thirty-six percent of pharma/life science companies said remote monitoring and smart devices represent the greatest opportunity for their companies to improve the customer experience.

“We believe the primary reason for this gap-which refers to where companies are today and where they need to be-from wearables, on the web, through EHRs,” says D’Alessandro.

Health companies lack a complete view of their customers because they lack data, according to the report. Eighty-eight percent of providers and 64% of insurers said that having insufficient information about the customers is a barrier to meeting expectations.

The report found:

  • No stakeholder has a complete picture of the customer today. The data they need is scattered all over the health ecosystem and beyond (e.g. community organizations). So now they need to figure out a strategy for going out and getting it and then using it to refine their services and target their investments.
  • Existing measures of customer experience are insufficient; measurement is untimely. Ninety-seven percent of provider executives said that the industry needs new measures of customer experience that incorporate information such as psychological well-being and quality of life, active participation of patients in their care plans, how much the system is understanding the context and situation patients are going through in between care touchpoints. We need to move from patient experience measurement to experience management in a real time or at least in a relevant time.

“The industry has been talking about customer experience for a long time, especially over the last four to five years as consumers have increasingly taken on more of the burden of their healthcare costs as a result of higher deductibles and other cost shifting,” D’Alessandro says. “Because of these cost shifts, consumers are becoming more informed about their options. They’re expecting value for their money and a more seamless experience similar to what they get from other industries. They are starting to question the full continuum of their healthcare experience, including member, patient, retail, pharmacy, and wellness.”

Although there’s been some definite advances in customer experience in healthcare, healthcare companies are not getting an adequate return on many of the customer experience initiatives they’ve invested in, according to D’Alessandro.

“Most efforts to improve the customer experience have been focused on the administrative aspects of care like online billing, digital communication tools, and facility improvements,” he says. “These are all important, but they’re not enough. Health companies should start connecting data about not just the patient encounter but also the preferences and social circumstances shaping everyday health and healthcare-related purchasing decisions. They need to then use that information to provide a more seamless and customized experience and be able to stay connected to customers in the ‘white space’ of health. Bringing all of this data together will be crucial for delivering a customer experience that enhances the brand, grows market shares of profitable business lines, enhances margins and improves health outcomes.”

What consumer value and how to get there

The report found that 12 out of 47 experience features consumers were surveyed about were highly valued by all consumer segments-from the frail elderly to healthy families to those struggling with chronic disease. According to D’Alessandro, the top high-value customer experience initiatives for healthcare organizations include:

  • Personalization
  • Convenience
  • Quality
  • Communication
  • Support

“These are the ‘no brainer’ investments health companies should be making,” says D’Alessandro. “Then, there are more selective investments they should be making.”

For example, the research found that the frail elderly really value having doctors and hospitals with partnerships with organizations in their communities, such as YMCAs and churches. According to the surveys, 73% of provider executives and 50% of payer executives said their organizations have implemented or are implementing partnerships with allies in local communities, such as schools, grocery stores, and churches.

“Unless these partnerships are targeted at groups that care a lot about them, they may be a waste of time and resources,” he says.

Healthcare executives are beginning to realize that they cannot revamp the customer experience on their own and that data sharing and strategic partnership are cornerstones for building their organization’s success, according to D’Alessandro.

“They can establish direct data-sharing partnerships, but these are not the only options,” he says. “The health sectors are beginning to find different data strategies including using or becoming data hubs or aggregators and commercializing their own insights. Health companies also need to find ways to hardwire customer insights into employee workflows so that customer experience becomes a core way of working rather than an added burden. Finally, they need to unwire the healthcare experience. Many consumers are increasingly looking for more convenient options, even in-home care. The proliferation of digital health technologies, such as DIY diagnostics and remote monitoring and engagement tools that feed patient data to clinicians, is making this possible. The care experience is no longer tied to the physician’s office.”

As this study shows, customers expect seamless and tech-savvy experiences when it comes to their interactions with brands, and the healthcare industry is no exception, according to Lynne Capozzi, chief marketing officer at Acquia, provider of cloud platform and data-driven journey technology to build, manage and activate digital experiences at scale.

“This presents a significant opportunity for healthcare executives to improve every touchpoint -from their sites and apps to in-hospital and long-term care procedures-and shows why it’s so critical that they make the customer experience a strategic priority in the coming years,” Capozzi says. 

Capozzi has three tips for healthcare executives:

  • Evaluate customer touchpoints with the healthcare “brand.” “Referring to a healthcare institution as a ‘brand’ may feel a bit odd, but it’s an important mindset to have when it comes to customer experience,” Capozzi says. “When looking to make changes to a customer experience strategy, it’s important to assess a patient’s end-to-end experience with every touchpoint across the enterprise.”

For example, when Steward Health Care set out to pioneer a new patient-user experience, the hospital network drew inspiration from major retail brands. The network used a combination of site analytics, patient interviews and stakeholder meetings to make massive improvements to the user experience of its website, according to Capozzi. “Steward looked to consumer brands like Amazon, Netflix, and USAA for guidance on how to reinvigorate the patient journey and was able to change its difficult to navigate site, which lacked responsive capabilities, into a source of patient-centric content that is streamlined and intuitive. The community hospital network more than doubled the number of users across its facility websites, both on traditional computers and across mobile devices.”

   2.  Understand what defines a positive customer experience. In every industry, but especially when it comes to value-based care, it’s critical to identify what elements of the experience matter most to your customers, according to Capozzi. “How are they engaging with your company? At what part of a customer’s journey do they typically enter and exit their relationship with you? What are their current dissatisfactions or pain points? How can you improve those to better serve them? This will provide a necessary baseline against which to determine changes and evaluate success,” she says.
   

   3.  Bridge disparate data sources to create unified customer profiles. Like any business, today’s hospitals and healthcare institutions are struggling to organize the massive amounts of data at their disposal, according to Capozzi. “This information comes from numerous disparate sources, from website log-ins and clicks to the various elements that make up a personals health records, which are increasingly moving into the digital realm,” she says.

Healthcare organizations will need the customer on their side to remain competitive in a rapidly changing, uncertain market, according to D’Alessandro. “Consolidation is heating up, there’s increased scrutiny on healthcare prices. And there are increasing pressures on healthcare companies coming from the outside. We know industry outsiders-Apple, Google, Microsoft, retailers like CVS and Walmart-already have been disrupting the customer experience in healthcare,” he says. “But there is evidence some of these new entrants are doubling down on their efforts. A flurry of recent announcements signals that new entrants to the health industry are poised to disrupt the customer experience in healthcare using technology and data. Healthcare companies need to be prepared to compete with them.”