Wes Hayden

Three Ways to Exceed the Customer Service Expectations of the new Healthcare Consumer

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Even consumers that haven’t been impacted by the Affordable Care Act are seeing a big shift in healthcare. Instead of simply accepting the care and services available, consumers are proactively seeking out information and reaching out to healthcare providers. And, with more healthcare choices available, consumers are now making care decisions based on accessibility, customer service, cost and collaboration.

Traditionally, the path to a physician was straight to their door. Now, consumers often self-diagnose, search online for local providers or check out provider websites and ratings. Although some patients immediately reach for the phone to call the appointment line, many start this journey online – through the provider’s appointment engine, through the patient’s own online medical portal, or even via a mobile app.

According to a recent Gartner study, healthcare service organizations will need to raise their performance standards for today’s varied points of patient engagement (mobile, text, email, etc.). But for an industry that hasn’t exactly been on the cutting edge of customer support trends, how will healthcare providers bridge this gap?

The key is to take our cues from patient behavior.

Many healthcare providers went with an “educate and empower” strategy, providing significant amounts of information on web sites in an effort to educate the consumer and push us toward self-service options. But this has only been partially successful. For consumers that simply don’t understand how the healthcare systems works (which seems to be the majority of people with healthcare access) this glut of information only makes it more confusing to quickly focus in on the right providers and services.

Instead consumers (even tech savvy ones) are now bypassing overloaded online resources and turning directly to customer service for quick advice and scheduling. The challenge is, healthcare providers that were “educating and empowering” didn’t take into account how they would manage large volumes of customer service requests that fell outside of the self-service silo.

By evaluating these consumer behaviors, we know that there are three basic customer service features that consumers prefer. By working to implement this approach – and complement and extend existing customer service strategies – healthcare providers can work toward a better balance of self-service and assisted service.

  • One consistent experience across all customer service channels
  • Proactive notifications and engagement with patients
  • More meaningful interactions

One consistent experience across all customer service channels

Dealing with healthcare concerns is bad enough. But when every customer support channel offers a different experience, it makes consumers question the professionalism and service of the brand, it increases frustration and it damages loyalty.

Despite more consumers starting with online channels today, many patients end up moving to a different channel to complete their interaction. Often, the experience of “channel hopping” leads to more complexity and disappointment. In fact, according to a research study by Accenture Global Customer Pulse, 72 percent of customers get frustrated with the inconsistent service they receive across different contact channels within the same company.

The top two frustrations noted are having to repeat information and not being able to get a human on the phone. These inconsistencies are generally caused by a strategy that allows different channels to be owned and managed by different groups within the business. This silo approach leads to gaps in the communication process that are directly felt by consumers and are costing healthcare providers more than they realize.

By using an omni-channel customer service strategy, healthcare providers can integrate multiple channels to decrease the silos and improve communication consistency.

To do this, start by consolidating all interactions through one portal. Software like omni-channel callback can integrate non-voice interactions with existing intelligent call routing, VoIP and CTI systems so patients that start an interaction online or in chat can quickly and easily move to a live agent who will know the context of why they are calling.

Proactive notifications and engagement with patients

Another way to ensure that patients feel empowered by the customer support team is to give them information in the way they want it, even before they need it.

Automated notifications or touch points are an ideal way for healthcare providers to connect with consumers on their channel of choice – email, SMS, web, text or voice. Notifications can be used to confirm scheduled appointments, file deadlines, provide statue updates on requests or simply to offer up information that a consumer would be interested in – all before a patient requests it.

But let’s not stop there. Before each notification, healthcare providers need to anticipate the response to the notification. Will patients be left with additional questions? Will they want to reschedule that appointment? Maybe they’ll want to connect with a live agent?

By anticipating this next step in the communication process, healthcare providers can insert helpful content and links into messages – to more information, to connect with an agent, to reschedule appointments, etc. This provides patients with easy access to additional resources and positively improves consumer perception of the brand as a whole.

Provide meaningful interactions

Beyond just moving consumers from one channel to another, it’s important that healthcare providers understand the entire patient journey – including each touch point a patient has with a provider. This can help define the journey that best supports the consumer’s needs, as well as creates a roadmap for the technology needed to support the experience.

Technology such as virtual queuing can create the foundation for a seamless journey. It moves the patient through the customer service function while maintaining and passing along the context of the patient request as they cross channels. A data feed is used to gather customer information from each touch point. Once gathered, the information is organized into a customer interaction repository – creating a singular access point for all relevant data.

Being able to track and view the consumer journey is key in anticipating the next request. This enables healthcare providers to send notifications that the patient will find beneficial, as well as links to additional resources they may be interested in.

For agents, having this information at their fingertips empowers them with contextual information before a live interaction with a patient occurs. With this information, agents can dive directly into the issue – resolving it quickly. It also reduces the number of calls that come into the contact center without reducing the service quality.

For patients, virtual queuing creates more meaningful interactions and helps them feel in control of their healthcare decisions.

Create a memorable experience

A great customer experience gives healthcare providers the chance to deliver a positive, lasting impression. But a bad one gives consumers the opportunity to share that experience and damage a brand’s reputation. By understanding the customer’s journey, anticipating the communication process, and leveraging new technologies, providers can give customers peace of mind and create memorable experiences that drive customer loyalty, customer and agent satisfaction and a positive view of the brand.