Insurers: Customer service, member retention is more than a marketing initiative

Key takeaways from meeting on customer experience and member retention

When it comes to purchasing and selling health plans, consumers and payers start the experience clock ticking at different times. 

For consumers, the experience begins the minute their insurer picks up the phone. But that's not always the case for payers, since they don't process claims until days after that initial phone call.

This was one of the topics speakers and attendees discussed at the 6th annual Insurer's Customer Experience and Member Retention Summit, which took place last week in Boston.

Present at the two-day summit were healthcare execs representing top-name insurers, such as Wellpoint, Humana and Blue Cross Blue Shield. They discussed what the industry as a whole can do to improve service as insurers, providers and consumers gear up for the second round of health insurance enrollment in November.

The emphasis: Cater toward the consumer.

FierceHealthPayer spoke with one of the keynote speakers, Deborah Gordon (pictured, right), former VP of marketing, sales and product strategy at Tufts Health Plan in Boston, who recently left the insurance industry for a private sector job. 

Gorden noted that one summit speaker, Meg Rush, vice president of consumer experience and e-marketing at WellPoint, said customer experience has been viewed as a marketing initiative in the recent past. But Rush stressed there is an economic incentive to implement a solid customer experience strategy.

Back in 2011, WellPoint began looking at the end-to-end customer experience, as to acquire new members, retain existing ones and improve cross-selling.

At the meeting, Rush touched on this so-called "customer journey mapping" and the pivotal role it plays in customer service. 

"This is really important," Gordon told FierceHealthPayer. "Sometimes, payers are dated and we tend to just measure a lot of metrics. But when it comes to working with consumers, we need to take into account how they feel."

Another hot topic at the event: Customer engagement.

One of the panels tackled a tough question: How can insurers get people to engage with their health plan?

"Customers pay attention to details," Gordon said in our interview. "As a customer, my expectations are set from the world around me. I don't forget what companies like Amazon or Apple can do for me. I don't hold different standards for payers. Consumer's expectations need to drive payer's operations, instead of the other way around."

One example: Consumers need more than new communication channels to go from being simply policyholders to becoming active healthcare users.

And last summer, when FierceHealthPayer spoke with Tom Paul, chief consumer officer at UnitedHealth, he explained how UnitedHealth established a deliberate approach to become an outside-in organization, ensuring that through its product development and service delivery, the nation's largest insurer is "fitting into the life of the consumer--not making them fit into us."

It's important to remember that a customer's journey is end-to-end, Gordon said. Insurers need to be with members every step of the way--right from that very first phone call.