Health Insurance Plans: Adopt Customer Centricity to Answer Healthcare Reform


SAS is very pleased to co-host a Webinar with HealthScape Advisors on May 4, 2011 at 1:00pm ET, produced by AHIP. This Webinar will highlight the role that customer intelligence can play in helping health insurance plans manage the challenges of healthcare reform, and is titled: Manage the Challenges of Healthcare Reform with Advanced Customer Intelligence and Engagement Strategies. It promises to be a fascinating discussion as the three panelists bring their broad perspectives to bear on the interesting crossroads the industry faces: dramatic regulatory change coupled with an imminent transition to a consumer-driven marketplace.

Health Insurance is one of those industries about which it seems everyone has an opinion, and emotions can run high whenever it comes up in conversation. I’ll never forget going to the movies to see “As Good As It Gets,” with Helen Hunt, Jack Nicholson and Greg Kinnear back in the late ‘90s. The story line includes injuries, illnesses, treatments and the like, and at one point someone gets denied coverage and the Helen Hunt character yells “[expletive]HMOs!” in frustration. At that moment, everyone in the audience with me erupted in applause. Would that same audience have cheered if the same character praised the access to care made possible by the HMO that might not otherwise have been possible? I'm just wondering.

So - jeers or cheers? That’s a big question that executives in any business (including health insurance) should care about in our world of the empowered consumer. Why? Because it matters. It impacts both the top line and to the bottom line. It is not a marketing or customer service issue – it’s a business issue. Examples abound about what happens to companies described as somehow mistreating customers, but if you need convincing, type “breaks guitars” into your favorite Internet search engine and then click on the first 10 links it finds. You’ll learn about a musician who chose YouTube as his medium to express frustration with how an airline handled his baggage issue. Then you can also read about all the blog posts and articles written about how it affected that airline.

So, the issue is not so much that one person with one problem can grab a megaphone and tell the world about it and your stock price tanks. The issue is that one person sharing their experience with friends, having it strike a chord with others who’ve been treated similarly and before you know it, millions of people validated a customer issue that's not isolated and that you may or may not have known about. I propose you think of that example in terms of these two questions:

  1. Do airlines today comply with baggage handling regulations? They probably do. Did they in that case? They probably did.
  2. But do customers agree that airlines do what they should when addressing baggage handling problems? That’s another question that may be debated over and over again among your customers talking to each other very publicly in social media.

So, do both questions and how they are answered affect the airlines’ bottom lines? Without a doubt they do. And for heavily regulated industries, you can ask similar two-part questions for all sorts of issues, and both of them apply. So before the upcoming AHIP Webinar, ask yourself which are the analogous two-part questions for health insurance plans? And many health insurance plans have come up with innovative ways to engage with their members in ways that do not include forms or EOBs, yet reports are showing that patients are increasingly turning to their peers on social media as a resource for answers and advice. With that happening, are health insurance plans meeting customers on their own turf? Do they have a plan for social media analytics to keep apprised of the buzz and know what it means?

It might seem that social media will turn doing business into a chaotic mess of customers dictating the terms of engagement for everything they buy, but it probably won't play out to that extreme. What it means, however, is that efforts to understand customers and what they value, want and need are no longer simply those cool technologies that give savvy companies the competitive edge. They are quickly becoming essential to doing business, especially if the rules of the game are also changing with regulatory reform. And the value they create are already well established, as I mentioned previously in another blog post. Of particular note is the story for the heavily-regulated telecom giant Verizon, seeing triple-digit increases during the 2009 recession.

You already have a reason to use customer intelligence solutions if your corporate mission includes the word “member,” “patient,” “care,” “people,” “individual,” “customer,” or even “family.” And with regulatory reform also changing the rules of how healthcare is delivered, insured and paid for, customer centricity is not really optional any more. Tune in on Wednesday, or catch the archived version afterward at your convenience at this link. Let us know what you think.


About Author

John Balla

Principal Marketing Strategist

Hi, I'm John Balla - a Digital Marketing Principal here at SAS focused on Content Strategy. I co-founded the SAS Customer Intelligence blog and served as Editor for five years. I like to find and share content and experiences that open doors, answer questions and maybe even challenge assumptions so better questions can be asked. Outside of work I stay busy with my wife and I keeping up with my 2 awesome college-age kids, volunteering for the Boy Scouts, keeping my garden green, striving for green living, expressing myself with puns, and making my own café con leche every morning. I’ve lived and worked on 3 contents and can communicate fluently in Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian and passable English. Prior to SAS, my experience in marketing ranges from Fortune 100 companies to co-founding two start ups. I studied economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and got an MBA from Georgetown. Follow me on Twitter. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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