What Payers Can Learn from Uber

Posted by Anand Natampalli

This article was originally published in Managed Healthcare Executive.

What can standing in the rain trying to hail a cab teach us about delivering better service to health plan members? Quite a bit actually.

As more consumers choose their own health plans, health insurers are looking to other industries for strategies to improve the member experience and build customer loyalty. Rather than sticking to what worked before the Affordable Care Act (ACA), payers know they need to adopt proven techniques from industries where customer loyalty has always been fickle and where digital engagement is high.

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Consider the taxi business, which is being disrupted by Uber, Lyft and a number of lesser-known mobile startups that have succeeded by streamlining and simplifying the customer relationship. These companies may serve a vastly different market, but their innovations hold the key to improving payers’ use of digital channels to engage members and build loyalty.

Uber’s innovation: A technology-enabled focus on the consumer

We’ve all likely had the experience of standing outside at rush hour in the rain trying to hail a taxi. If we did manage to flag down a cab, there is a good chance that the car was old and the driver unfriendly. Our experience as a customer simply was not the taxi company’s priority.

This lack of quality and efficiency in the industry was largely a result of regulation: Operating a taxi required a licensed medallion, and taxi companies focused on being compliant with regulations rather than on optimizing the customer experience.

Uber entered the scene and disrupted this status quo. By taking advantage of some regulatory loopholes, the company empowered consumers with choice and injected fresh competition into the industry. The result has been an improved consumer experience and lower prices.

Uber’s ability to challenge a century-old entrenched industry hinged on its early decision to completely reimagine how digital channels could be used to engage consumers, build loyalty and improve the consumer experience.

Rather than fix one aspect of the existing taxi system, say by introducing mobile payments, Uber invented an entirely new experience to make the taxi ride seamless and enjoyable across the board. And it did so primarily using digital engagement.

The Uber app capitalizes on the ubiquity of the smartphone to significantly expand the capabilities of traditional taxi companies. Consumers can schedule a ride anytime, anywhere without making a phone call. They can track the car’s arrival time and location on their phone as they wait. And they can read and post reviews of their experience with a particular driver. In short, Uber uses technology to deliver ease, convenience and a superior experience to its customers.

This capability is what health insurers are looking to gain in a radically disrupted market.

How payers can deliver ease and convenience

Uber worked its way around regulations to introduce competition into the taxi industry. In healthcare, the ACA has played a similarly disruptive role.

By establishing the health insurance marketplace, the ACA has placed unprecedented power in the hands of consumers. Like taxi companies, payers must shift their focus from simply complying with regulations to proactively satisfying the consumer—or they risk being surpassed by the innovative Ubers of the industry.

Challenges of digital engagement

Like healthcare in general, health insurers lag other industries in their adoption of technology. Most customer data is siloed, stuck in a particular technology infrastructure or member designation. Vision member information is often handled separately from dental information and medical information, even when the customer is the same.

The challenge this creates is that insurers lack the kind of insight into individual consumer histories and preferences that other, more consumer-centric industries enjoy.

When consumers interact with Uber, or Amazon, or Apple, they are no longer surprised to learn that the company knows their last purchase, their buying preferences, their birthdays and other personal information. When insurers fail to deliver an equally seamless and simple experience, members can become frustrated.

Another challenge is that, unlike Uber, Amazon or Apple, health insurers have relatively few touchpoints with members and therefore fewer opportunities to build loyalty. Creating more touchpoints with members and building affinity whenever a touchpoint occurs—from enrollment, onboarding and health plan education to appointment reminders, wellness programs and change-of-life events—is therefore critical.

Intelligent use of technology enables insurers to manage the member’s experience consistently across these touchpoints.

The ideal member experience

A critical aspect of engaging members is to deliver a unified, seamless experience across the channel or device of the members’ choice. However the member chooses to engage with the insurer, whether it be via smartphone, laptop, landline, email, or online chat, the plan must be ready to meet (and even anticipate) the member’s needs.

Fortunately, health insurers seem ready to make the digital transformation required to succeed in the new healthcare environment. Many are taking the first step, consolidating data from different plan environments onto a single technology platform and, in turn, creating a single view for understanding the member’s full experience. With such a foundation in place, insurers will be prepared not only to engage members today but to manage them throughout the consumer lifecycle.

Anand Natampalli is vice president, global business development, for HGS, a provider of end-to-end business process services for numerous Fortune 100 health insurance companies and large provider organizations.