Healthcare’s strategic asset: customer service

May 6, 2016 conduentblogs

By David Rauch

In one of my first jobs after college I was a call center supervisor for a small business services company. Although I still view it as one of the most valuable experiences in my professional journey, it was also the most stressful, and (mostly) thankless positions I’ve held.  All day and into the evenings, my team scrambled to answer the never-ending flow of calls, hoping that somewhere along the way we made a positive impact with customers and contributed to the success of the business.

David Rauch
“Getting to know healthcare consumers can help eliminate the waste.” – David Rauch, vice president for Health Plan Services 

Within a few months, my views of “success” in the position became more pragmatic: Don’t let callers wait too long and NEVER let calls escalate to the leadership team. My focus had shifted from “doing good” to “do no harm.”  Common questions from the leadership team during operating reviews centered on how we could reduce the number of calls and how we could spend less on this “cost center.”

Twenty-some years and several technology advancements later, it seems not much has changed. Sure, we have some new phrases like “call deflection” and “omni-channel communications,” but at the core, the agenda is largely unchanged: Reduce calls and lower cost.

This mindset toward customer service will severely limit its potential to impact business success in healthcare. This touch point should be embraced, not eliminated.

Don’t get me wrong. Efficiency and the ability to serve customers through their preferred channels are important fundamentals, but they are insufficient mechanisms for differentiating your brand and building loyalty.  Leaders should dedicate as much energy to the question of “which” services they provide through customer service as they do on “how” those services are made available.

Consumer engagement in a health plan

The U.S. healthcare system is expensive, wasteful, and inefficient. Americans spend more than any other country on healthcare, but the U.S. system wastes approximately $765 billion every year,  which contributes to the huge increase in health costs.  If grocery costs had risen as fast as healthcare costs since 1945, a dozen eggs would now cost $55, a gallon of milk would cost $48, and $134 for a dozen oranges.

Getting to know healthcare consumers can help eliminate the waste.

Time spent communicating with members is valued very differently depending on which box you occupy on the health plan’s org chart. On any given day, member communications are simultaneously being aggressively pursued and strategically minimized.  This dichotomy presents an opportunity for health plans to revise their operating models.

With consumers having greater choice and financial responsibility for their healthcare, insurers are spending more to attract and retain members.  By 2019, digital advertising in the healthcare industry is projected to more than double from 2012 spending levels.  Meanwhile, health plans are pushing to reduce time spent with members who call customer service, many of whom are the very consumers that the marketers are attempting to reach with retention and re-enrollment messages.

Why not invest a few additional moments on these calls to deliver a personalized message about resources that could save them money or help them address an important health need?

Population health management, which relies on member engagement to improve health and financial outcomes, is an area where most health plans are investing resources to reach members. Many of these individuals are frequent healthcare users and, therefore, frequent callers to customer service.  With a little coordination and a different view of customer service, agents can educate and direct targeted members to valuable care programs when they call about administrative matters.

The Xerox value proposition

Handling more than 2.5 million customer interactions every day, Xerox is already one of the largest customer care providers in the world. Analyst firms Gartner and Everest rank us as one of the best. We’ve also made significant investments, including the acquisition of RSA Medical, to support healthcare organizations in achieving the Population Health Management goals.  Combining our expertise in these critical functions to create impactful, consumer-friendly solutions is one example of how Xerox is helping our clients win in the ever-changing healthcare markets.

The possibilities for transforming customer care into a strategic asset are as limitless as the health plan leadership’s imaginations. But those limits will never be tested as long as customer service is viewed as a cost center in the business model.

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