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If veterinarians can do it - Why can’t you? Creating customer stickiness for a lifetime

Member Engagement

Regardless of how the Supreme Court votes on the Accountable Care Act, the healthcare system in this country is in a state of dynamic evolution as the demographics, costs of care, ongoing economic issues and technology revolution continue unabated. Emerging in the middle of this crisis is a trend that will perhaps have the most profound impact on predicting the winners and losers in the healthcare industry – customers demanding tangible value from their health plan and providers.

It’s actually amazing that an industry that touches its customers in the most intimate ways, at birth, during frightening medical events and through the end of life, has managed to avoid this issue as long as it has. In large part, this is a result of the disconnect between the payer and the customer. With employers or the government paying the bulk of the cost of care, members have been insulated from the true cost of care and thus have not responded as typical customers purchasing a product. The significant movement of employers to high deductible health plans which have exposed members to more of a true buying experience has changed that.

Now that your members are really becoming your customers, how would they describe your plan? Would they say they feel a deep connection to the plan? If you were creating your plan from scratch today, what would you do to create the most positive customer experience?

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) is an example of a health plan that is focusing on their customer’s experience in a positive way. Ian Gordon, the plan’s COO, created a unique member experience following his interactions with his dog's veterinarian. His dog was terminally ill and Ian's family decided that it was time to let him go. They took him to the veterinarian and Ian was amazed at the humanity expressed by everyone he encountered and how it contrasted with his experiences with the human healthcare system. As a result, he decided to put more personal caring into his plan. He asked that his medical management and member services teams pay close attention when talking to members and find ways to let them know that they were cared about. As an example, whenever a nurse or customer service representative hears a baby in the background of a call to a seriously ill member they send a teddy bear to the home. Recognizing the natural intimacy that exists between the plan and its members, he’s asked his staff to find other ways to let members know that the health plan was sympathetic to their circumstance. This simple action has brought with it not only a unique plan differentiation in the market but also let BCBSNC's staff feel better about the role they play in their member's lives. How can you create a similar initiative within your plan?

Independent Health of Buffalo, New York has created a concierge initiative called the “Red Shirt Treatment” as a way of punctuating the customer experience for their members by offering individual health coaching, community guidance, compassion and wellness support. There are specific initiatives for commercial and Medicare members, as well as employer groups. Their goal is to create a positive customer experience associated with their brand. They have created a website ( with customer videos highlighting their positive experiences. What can you do to improve your customer experience?

Another example of an innovative way to improve the customer experience is a program called Shield Deals from Blue Shield of California (BSC). This pilot program provides members with weekly discounts on fitness, nutrition, sports and Yoga/Pilates classes and equipment. The program has been so successful that it will soon be expended to additional geographical areas and to additional audiences. These types of programs can make plans more attractive to low utilizers of healthcare - especially the “Young Invincibles” that every plan wants to enroll. Why should a low utilizer select your health plan and stick with it for the long haul?

The next couple of years will see a tremendous amount of change in virtually every aspect of the healthcare industry, driven in large part by customer demand. Will your organization be able to meet the demands of your customers and provide demonstrated value and an engaging customer experience? In other words, how can you be more like a veterinarian?

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