Health Plans: Dead Last in Customer Experience

Fueled by consumerism, health insurance exchanges, and changing business models like accountable care organizations, customer experience is receiving significant attention in healthcare. Yet despite this attention, the healthcare industry continues to be its typical self – very slow to change and scoring very low in the eyes of the public.

I’ve been grousing for many years that healthcare, and particularly the provider sector, is far more focused on employers and physicians rather than patients and members – all too frequently forgetting that patient/members are the real customers. That mistake is catching up with us. Market pressures and mandated changes from CMS and the Accountable Care Act require increased attention on customer experience to be viable businesses in healthcare. Buyers, whether individuals or groups, need to optimize their choices for both health and expense management. And new relationships between health plans and providers necessitate improved care and outcomes to make the relationships effective. Meeting these needs means improving the customer experience.
Despite this need, when it comes to customer experience, healthcare seems to be dead last. I just read the recently released 2014 Temkin Experience Ratings report. It’s a sad story for the current state of healthcare.

The report, from the Temkin Group, founded and led by Bruce Temkin, former star analyst for Forrester Research, is the result of sentiment from 10,000 consumers who were surveyed about their interactions with 268 companies across 19 different industries. For healthcare, this includes 14 major health plans.

Healthcare has the worst scores in the report and its industry average beats only one group, cable TV. That’s right, only the cable guy is worse. The four lowest-rated companies out of 268 are all health plans, and nine of the 14 health plans rank in the “Bottom 51 Organizations”.

Kaiser Permanente is healthcare’s only bright spot, taking top honors in the category of ‘most above industry average’. Not surprising at all, given Kaiser is a frequent recipient of customer experience awards from the likes of JD Power, but in this case it is an award for being the best of the worst. As exemplary as Kaiser is in healthcare, their score in the Temkin report is only 11 points higher than the healthcare industry average, but 20 points behind the overall winner, H-E-B grocery chain. To put it in perspective, healthcare’s best is not even one of the top 50 companies in this customer experience report.

" improve on customer service, we need to look to the winners for inspiration."

For the healthcare industry to improve on customer service, we need to look to the winners for inspiration. For each, their IT investments effectively support, rather than hinder, their direct and indirect interactions with customers. From a customer-centric viewpoint, we all want three simple things:

  • Easy Access – give me easy and convenient channels to interact with your company
  • Success – allow me to efficiently get things done with your company
  • Delight – make it such a pleasant experience I’d recommend you to a friend.

Kaiser’s success, for example, is due in large part to smart CRM technology allowing them to flexibly handle a complex business model while providing tailored service for each customer. Their patient/members generally have easy access to Kaiser, succeed in accomplishing what they need to do, and feel good about the interaction. H-E-B goes even further, presenting wonderfully easy, yet highly informative access for their shoppers, exceeds customer expectations for success, and truly delights their customers in the process and the results.

It’s time for healthcare to get serious about customer experience. We can – and we must.


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