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Health Insurers Must Establish Post-Reform Customer Strategy: Accenture

With more individuals to deal with, as opposed to the current group structure, segmentation will be increasingly important, the company says.

The market pressures for health insurance companies have traditionally be different from their personal lines counterparts in P&C and life lines of business. With insurance mostly consumed through the small group market through policyholders' employees, there hasn't been as much of a need to focus on customers on a one-to-one basis.

But after the passage of the healthcare reform bill, and with consumer-directed health plans growing in popularity, health insurers need to break new ground in customer engagement, Chicago-based Accenture Health asserts following the findings of its latest study, "The 7 Things Your Health Insurance Customers Are Not Telling You."

"The structure of healthcare is changing from a b-to-b relationship to a b-to-c model," says Doug VanWingerden, senior executive for Accenture Health. "The nature and role of the customer is very different in that b-to-c model."

Though a plurality of consumers (42%) report satisfaction with their health insurance provider, that does not mean they would be willing to purchase additional services from them — 41% say they are not likely to do so — nor does it mean they are especially loyal, with only 23% reporting strong loyalty to their carrier.

And while health insurers have embraced a number of customer service-focused technologies over the past several years, Accenture's research found that those investments aren't resonating with customers as much as carriers might believe.

"There's been tremendous investments in technology and self-service. A lot of companies have benefited from reduced number of calls and reduced channel time," VanWingerden says. "But if you look at it from a customer perspective, only 11% strongly agree that their service experience is better because of advanced technologies.

"If they had been implemented with the voice of the customer instead of these cost considerations in mind, they might have had better results," he adds.

Part of the reason these technologies haven't moved the needle with customers is that there is often fragmented ownership of customer contact channels, VanWingerden notes. Companies would benefit from having a senior executive responsible for representing customer interests who's in a position to effect change in the organization.

"The channels are often fragmented in the business: Marketing owns social media, customer service owns the phone, and it's debatable whether IT or other areas own IVR or mobile or some of the other channels," he explains. "Having someone driving a multichannel experience and getting the voice of the customer into the business decisions at a level in the org that can have influence is important."

Health insurers could also benefit from better segmentation of their policyholders, and use that information to build a closer relationship with them, VanWingerden says. Customers who feel that their insurance company is knowledgeable about them and their personal situation are more apt to be loyal.

"You can segment your customers, identify rifts, and change the dialog," he explains. "A lot of companies do have segments, but they're operationalized from a marketing standpoint. They're not at a high level in the customer service interaction."

Insurers that don't acknowledge the paradigm shift in how their customers expect to be serviced will see losses in a post-reform world, VanWingerden concludes.

"Payers really are in a difficult place compared to other industries; they're dealing with your money and your life, two of the most critical things that are out there," he explains. "Listening is great to understand where they might have some structural or policy-based things that are driving dissatisfaction or confusion."

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio

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