At a time when 93% of consumers claim their purchasing decisions are influenced by online reviews, organizations across all industry sectors must recognize the vital role of word of mouth — electronic word of mouth or “eWOM,” in its modern form — in building brand affinity, loyalty and advocacy.
Crowdsourcing platforms and social networks have helped to fuel an economy that is equally consumer-conscious and referral-driven by aggregating the opinions of our fellow consumers and placing them at our fingertips. But while the technology and terminology may be relatively new (Yelp circa 2004 and crowdsourcing circa 2006), the concept of community-based decision-making isn’t. Consumers have long relied on the shared experiences of others to help narrow down the many choices we face throughout our daily lives.
Today’s healthcare consumers — and particularly consumers of government-sponsored health programs like Medicaid, Medicare and marketplace plans — have choices. And although newly-eligible enrollees may not be running to Yelp to vet the list of plans just yet, your current members can still serve as your biggest advocates — that is, if they’re engaged with their health plan and satisfied with their experience. Here are five engagement strategies you can implement to help organically boost member retention and acquisition.
- Be There From the Start
As healthcare becomes increasingly consumer-driven, organizations must adopt a strategic marketing mindset in order to foster the types of interactions that will resonate with consumers. With a deep understanding of the motivations and behaviors of the populations you serve, you can continuously refine your engagement efforts to align with the diverse and ever-changing needs of your members.
If, for example, your population includes marketplace or Medicaid expansion members, there’s a high likelihood that this is the first time many of these individuals have received health coverage. With this in mind, you can maximize your earliest interactions by collecting and sharing critical healthcare information during the onboarding process, which is also when members are likely to be most open and receptive to exchanging this information.
- Incentivize Engagement
Loyalty, rewards and incentive programs have long been proven effective in customer retention and acquisition, with up to 84 percent of consumers saying they’re more likely to stick with a brand that offers a loyalty program. For health plans, incentives are a great way to encourage healthy behavior and can run the gamut from financial rewards and additional health benefits to less formal approaches like positive reinforcement in your member communications.
How you structure your incentive strategy will depend largely on the populations you serve, but the bottom line is that your members need to understand what’s in it for them. For instance, Medicaid generally requires a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) to be completed within the first 90 days of enrollment, with some states mandating even stricter guidelines. Putting the HRA into a personal context will help ensure the member understands the need for this information and the benefit of providing it — e.g., receiving transportation to and from doctors’ appointments or developing a personalized care plan to manage any chronic conditions they may have.
Providing positive feedback around healthy behaviors can also get the member comfortable and open up the conversation to address other critical health needs. (“I see your steps are up from last month — keep up the good work! Now, let’s talk about getting that mammogram scheduled…”) Making sure your members feel understood and supported is what’s going to get them talking — in the best way possible.
- Go High-Touch & Multi-Channel
High-risk members, especially those newly enrolled, generally want to engage with their health plan to understand the benefits and services to which they’re entitled. And if there’s anything negative online reviews can teach us, it’s that people are frustrated when they can’t get the information or support they need, especially when it comes to their health.
Communicating with members via their preferred channel and in their primary language can be the difference between a successful engagement and a negative experience or outcome, making multi-channel, multi-touch outreach a necessity for today’s health plans. Based on HMS’ Eliza data, for each channel employed, payers see a 3 percent bump in retention, with additional touches also improving results. In total, retention efforts can produce an average topline savings of $1,300 per retained member.
With healthcare consumers ever on the go and healthcare data becoming more complex and difficult to manage, relying on one communication channel to reach your members isn’t going to be effective. Implementing a comprehensive communication plan that leverages phone, email, text and direct mail will help ensure you’re reaching your members when, where and how they want to be reached, resulting in healthier behaviors, better outcomes and more satisfied members.
- Listen, Respond & Learn
The power of the consumer in the eWOM era can be both an asset and a detriment, providing unprecedented insight into the needs, desires and frustrations of the communities you serve — but for all the world to see.
Keeping a constant pulse on your online reputation, including Google Reviews, Yelp, social media sites and even reviews from your employees on Glassdoor, is essential not only in terms of brand integrity, but also in addressing the individual and collective needs of your member populations. When possible, respond to both positive and negative feedback authentically and in a timely manner, working one on one to address grievances offline. Often, the simple act of human interaction can not only mediate the issue at hand, but also turn a negative experience into an opportunity to strengthen the relationship — and your reputation.
- Make Customer Service, Engagement Your Top Priorities
Though the crowdsourcing movement hasn’t fully made its way into the health plan arena, members — and dissatisfied members, in particular — are making their experiences known by way of Google Reviews, with the vast majority of negative feedback centering on a lack of information and customer service. In a system that is notoriously difficult for even the most well-versed consumer to navigate, seemingly little things like proactive communication and support can go a long way.
Whether you’re responding to negative feedback or welcoming a new member to your health plan, ensuring the person on the other end of the screen or phone has the resources and support they need to manage their health is key to improving engagement and, in turn, the overall healthcare experience.
How are you building affinity with your health plan members?