Without a doubt, 2015 will be the year of the consumer for healthcare providers. Not only does patient experience continue to be a top priority for hospital systems, but consumers are taking a more active role than ever before in their healthcare decisions. And as consumers become more active, they’ll demand more information directly from the providers they are engaging with. It’s a safe bet that the majority of hospital systems will experience record customer service inquiry volume during 2015. So, to that end, here are three ways that Hospitals must evolve as they engage with their current and prospective patients.

Price Transparency

This year, price transparency will play a huge role in healthcare. Whether it comes from payer data, third parties, or providers themselves, pricing will become public and it will begin to play a role in consumers’ healthcare decision-making journey. Questions around pricing will undoubtedly emerge and providers’ responses to these questions will be critical, as the questions will most often come when a consumer’s healthcare decision is imminent. For providers, this means that the answers to questions around price could mean the difference between acquiring a new patient or losing them to a competitor. However, no matter when consumers bring these questions to hospital systems, systems must anticipate potential questions around pricing and develop a communication strategy that proactively addresses issues that price transparency will raise. Obviously, most providers won’t have the lowest price, so it will be imperative to develop customer service messaging that communicates value when engaging potential patients.

Service Recovery

When you think of customer service, your first thought is probably service recovery - and that hasn’t changed. However, what has changed is how important service recovery is to today’s hospital system. In this new era, service recovery isn’t only about solving a patient issue to ensure loyalty. Today, an unhappy patient can affect much more than just their future visits. Not only can a patient influence their personal networks (online and off) via negative word of mouth, but if they are chosen to take an HCAHPS survey, their poor experience can drive survey scores down and negatively affect reimbursement. So what can providers do? First, develop a strategy to encourage patient feedback. Out of sight and out of mind is no longer a viable strategy. Every time a patient provides negative feedback, it is an opportunity to solve an issue before it negatively affects reputation or survey scores. Second, providers must ensure they are monitoring all possible channels – owned or not – to ensure that they are capturing all possible service recovery opportunities. This goes beyond a hospital’s owned Facebook and Twitter channels. It means monitoring Twitter as a whole, review sites like Yelp, blogs and any other public channels. In order to be successful, providers need to have the right tools (manual monitoring will no longer be effective) and develop governance around engagement and workflow.

Effortless Customer Experience

For many, the conventional wisdom around customer service is to use all interactions as an opportunity to delight the customer and over-deliver.  However, that myth was dispelled in 2010, when the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) published their Harvard Business Journal article, “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.” This foundational research highlighted two key points:

  1. Organizations don’t need to focus on exceeding their consumers’ expectations, they just need to ensure they meet them. The research showed almost no difference in loyalty between customers whose expectations were met vs. those whose expectations were exceeded during a service experience. But it did show that if a customer’s expectations were not met, they were unlikely to continue a relationship with that organization.
  2. Reducing customer effort is the key to customer experience success. 96% of consumers who reported a high-effort experience with an organization also reported being disloyal as a result of the experience - compared to just 9% of the customers who classified their experience as low-effort.

  Based on these two takeaways, hospital customer service leaders should focus on developing strategies to reduce patient effort. Here are three ways to do that:

  1. Keep customers on the channel they used to contact you. According to CEB, the #1 cause of customer effort is having to switch customer care channels.
  2. Empower your team to solve issues.  Ensure your team members who interact with frustrated patients have the tools and access they need so they can move quickly to solve the patient’s service issues and not have to transfer them to another channel or person.
  3. Ensure issues are solved quickly. While satisfaction is always the end goal of a service recovery interaction, speed of resolution is important to reducing patient effort.

It’s time for providers to take a good look at how they engage with patients around customer service issues because in 2015, status quo won’t be enough. The patient is taking control, and if providers don’t have an engagement strategy that considers the entire patient journey, they run the risk of losing patients and reimbursement.

Image credit:  flickr - hobvias sudoneighm
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