Three Ways to Exceed the Expectations of the New Healthcare Consumer

By Wes Hayden

Even consumers not directly impacted by the Affordable Care Act are seeing a big shift in healthcare. Instead of simply accepting the care and services available, consumers are proactively seeking information and reaching out to healthcare providers. And with more healthcare choices available, consumers are now making care decisions based on accessibility, customer service, cost, and collaboration.

Traditionally the path to a physician was straight to his or her door. Now consumers often self-diagnose, search online for local providers, or check provider websites and ratings. Although some patients immediately reach for the phone to call the appointment line, many start this journey online: through the provider’s appointment engine, the patient’s own online medical portal, or even via a mobile app.

According to a 2015 Gartner study, Business Drivers of Technology Decisions for Healthcare Providers, healthcare service organizations will need to raise their performance standards for today’s varied points of patient engagement, using tools such as mobile, text, and email. But for an industry that hasn’t exactly been on the cutting edge of customer support trends, how will healthcare providers bridge this gap?

The key is to take our cues from patient behavior. Many healthcare providers have gone with an “educate and empower” strategy, providing significant amounts of information on websites in an effort to educate the consumer and push us toward self-service options. But this has only been partially successful. For consumers who simply don’t understand how the healthcare systems works – which seems to be the majority of people with healthcare access – this glut of information only makes it more confusing to quickly focus in on the right providers and services.

Instead consumers, even tech savvy ones, are now bypassing overloaded online resources and turning directly to customer service for quick advice and scheduling. However, healthcare providers who were busy “educating and empowering” didn’t take into account how they would manage large volumes of customer service requests that fell outside of the self-service silo.

By evaluating these consumer behaviors, we know there are three basic customer service features consumers prefer. By working to implement this approach – and complement and extend existing customer service strategies – healthcare providers can work toward a better balance of self-service and assisted service:

1) One Consistent Experience Across All Customer Service Channels: Dealing with healthcare concerns is bad enough. But when every customer support channel offers a different experience, it makes consumers question the professionalism and service of the brand; it increases frustration and damages loyalty.

Despite more consumers starting with online channels today, many patients end up moving to a different channel to complete their interaction. Often the experience of channel hopping leads to more complexity and disappointment. In fact, according to a 2013 research study by Accenture Global Customer Pulse, 72 percent of customers get frustrated with the inconsistent service they receive across different contact channels within the same company. The top two frustrations noted are being asked to repeat information and not being able to get a human on the phone. These inconsistencies are generally caused by a strategy that allows different channels to be owned and managed by different groups within a business.

This silo approach leads to gaps in the communication process that are directly felt by consumers and are costing healthcare providers more than they realize. By using an omni-channel customer service strategy, healthcare providers can integrate multiple channels to decrease the silos and improve communication consistency. To do this, start by consolidating all interactions through one portal. Software like omni-channel callback can integrate non-voice interactions with existing intelligent call routing and VoIP and CTI systems so patients that start an interaction online or with chat can quickly and easily move to a live agent who will know the context of why they are calling.

2) Proactive Notifications and Engagement With Patients: Automated notifications or touch points are an ideal way for healthcare providers to connect with consumers on their channel of choice – email, SMS, Web, text, or voice. Notifications can confirm scheduled appointments, file deadlines, provide status updates on requests, or offer information a consumer would be interested in – all before a patient requests it.

But let’s not stop there. Before each notification, healthcare providers need to anticipate the response to the notification. Will patients have additional questions? Will they want to reschedule that appointment? Maybe they’ll want to connect with a live agent.

By anticipating this next step in the communication process, healthcare providers can insert helpful content and links into messages, allowing recipients to access more information, connect with an agent, reschedule appointments, and so forth. This provides patients with easy access to additional resources and positively improves consumer perception of the brand as a whole.

3) Provide Meaningful Interactions: Beyond just moving consumers from one channel to another, it’s important that healthcare providers understand the entire patient journey, including each touch point a patient has with a provider. This can help define the journey that best supports the consumer’s needs and create a roadmap for the technology needed to support the experience.

Technology can lay the foundation for a seamless journey. It moves the patient through the customer service function while maintaining and passing along the context of the patient’s request across channels. A data feed is used to gather customer information from each touch point. Once gathered, the information is organized into a customer interaction repository, creating a singular access point for all relevant data.

Being able to track and view the consumer journey is key in anticipating the next request. This enables healthcare providers to send notifications patients will find beneficial, as well as suggest links to additional resources they may be interested in.

Having this information readily available empowers agents with contextual information before a live interaction with a patient occurs. With this information, agents can dive directly into the issue, resolving it quickly. It also reduces the number of calls that come into the contact center without reducing the service quality.

For patients, this results in more interactions that are meaningful and helps them feel in control of their healthcare decisions.

Create a Memorable Experience: A great customer experience gives healthcare providers the chance to deliver a positive, lasting impression. But one bad interaction gives consumers the opportunity to share that experience and damage a brand’s reputation. By understanding the customer’s journey, anticipating the communication process, and leveraging new technologies, providers can give customers peace of mind and create memorable experiences that drive customer loyalty, customer and agent satisfaction, and a positive view of the brand.

Wes Hayden is CEO of Virtual Hold Technology.

[From AnswerStat October/November 2015]