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AHIP Institute 2014: 'Unleash the power of consumers'

Insurers must pivot from necessary evil to trusted partner

The health insurance industry must "unleash the power of consumers" to foster a real relationship between patients and their providers, Mark Ganz, CEO of Cambia Health Solutions, said during the AHIP Institute 2014 opening session today in Seattle.

"Health insurance shouldn't be a necessary evil but a trusted partner," he said. To do that, Ganz added, insurers must "utterly transform healthcare" by completely focusing on customers.

Certain principles and values remain constant in delivering a great customer experience--speed and convenience, as well as quality product and seamless interaction. When insurers can create a quality product in their health plans, they can create a lifetime customer.

"These are the basic principles that drive everything," Mike Koppel, chief financial officer for Nordstrom, said during the panel discussion.

Doug Rauch, former CEO of Trader Joe's, added that companies looking to become more customer-centric must first look within. They should ask themselves "Why do we exist? What's our purpose?" he said. And then they must implement a model that says that how the company treats its customers matters.

Essentially, Rauch said, being customer-centric boils down to a company's culture, which is "the one thing no one can really copy." That means there must be "congruence in the organization, not just a separate department" that addresses customer needs. "It must be driven all the way down through the company so that everyone recognizes" the need of prioritizing the customer.

Part of that culture is ensuring that no one within the company uses the word "consumer" because although it's a currently embedded term in the insurance market, it implies a person merely purchases a product. Instead, a "customer" is an individual with a personalized experience.

When it comes to technology, the panelists all agreed that insurers shouldn't focus on developing digital initiatives to the detriment of their current customers. "Technology is just about enabling those values" that customers want, Koppel said. It shouldn't change the goal or aim of a company.

Michelle Clements, senior vice president of human resources for REI, agreed. "There are too many bells and whistles with technology. Just focus on basic human needs and connection," she advised the audience.  

Rauch added that "innovation should be about human interaction." Insurers should aim to create relationships not transactions and should ask whether the relationship will keep a customer coming back.

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