A curious phenomenon has taken place in healthcare in the past several years: Patients turned into consumers. This evolution was, actually, a little more gradual, driven in part by patients' increasing out-of-pocket spending and the rise of digital platforms that gave them quick and easy access to healthcare information—as well as a voice for sharing their opinions.
Healthcare consumers have come to the realization that they have options. They don't have to settle for poor service, long wait times, limited hours, or confusing bills. Customer loyalty has to be earned—as in any other business. And consumers make it perfectly clear that if a provider can't deliver a better and more personalized experience, then they will switch to one that can. Moreover, the shift in mentality demands that providers be transparent and personal as much as possible. And from generation to generation, consumers are demanding clear communication and a trusted connection with their providers.
According to the Solutionreach Patient-Provider Relationship Study: The Ripple Effect Starts with Boomers, 43% of millennials are likely to switch practices in the next few years, 44% of Generation X are likely to switch primary care physicians in the three years and 20% of Baby Boomers are likely to switch in the next three years. Also, 70% of patients desire the ability to text the doctor's office, and 70% would like to receive text messages from their doctor, especially about appointments.
Overall, the patient's ideal doctor includes greater connectivity, online tools, convenience via text, and more time with the doctor.
A personalized experience, enabled through honest and relevant communication and information-sharing, engenders trust, which is both harder to maintain and more important for all companies than ever before.
Communication Drives Experience
Although this consumer mindset is somewhat new to healthcare, the lessons that doctors and hospitals are learning now about customer experience apply to most other industries as well.
Retail and hospitality, for example, were earlier adopters in recognizing the importance of how experience and honest communication build trust. The growth of the Internet and smartphones meant consumers could easily compare prices and customer reviews, which decreased their loyalty to any particular brand. As a response, retail and hospitality companies transformed the customer buying experience. They launched savings and members' programs that offered lower prices or perks for registered customers, expanded free shipping on purchases, and blurred the line between online and brick-and-mortar. Accordingly, they redesigned their websites and email marketing programs with an emphasis on personalization. Social media platforms became engagement tools, too. Brands started to quickly respond with empathy when customers would post a complaint on Twitter or Facebook—and with gratitude when customers shared praise.
Using technology to increase engagement and personalization delivered dividends to savvy retailers and hospitality companies. It's also applicable to companies that market to other businesses, because, after all, companies are run by people who also want to feel valued and understood.
The essence of creating a positive experience is making customers feel that they are heard and important—before, during, and after a transaction. Consistent, relevant communication between your company and customers is the answer to optimize that experience and engender trust.
Honest communication with an emphasis on personalization builds the trust that all companies need to grow in this new information-driven, engagement economy.
Entering the Engagement Economy
Consumers are demanding a more personalized relationship that requires a depth of knowledge of their wants, needs, and buying behaviors—and, ultimately, the best ways to engage them. Brands that succeed are the ones that manage engagement across the entire customer lifecycle.
In most instances, the lifecycle and trust-building process starts very early in the customer's buying decision, even before they are considering a purchase. With healthcare consumers, for example, the prospective patient may notice a press release about a new urgent-care clinic opening nearby, or scroll across a tweet that leads them to a branded blog with relevant health tips. This seed-planting process, which is effective across numerous industries beyond healthcare, can later blossom into engagement, trust, and long-time customer loyalty.
Who Are You Talking To?
Perhaps the most significant change in engaging with customers has been the medium through which healthcare organizations communicate with consumers. Press releases, blogs, articles, and social media channels all push out customized content. As there are more communication advances, the overall goals are the same and the general rules still apply—namely, companies must do their research and ask themselves questions about their customer:
- Who are your customers, exactly?
- What are their unique goals? Interests? Needs?
- What, specifically, do they want from your organization?
- How do they want to engage and communicate?
- How can you improve their experience with your company?
Creating a positive customer experience requires knowing your audience, engaging interpersonally, and meeting their needs. Answering those questions helps you develop an understanding that will be reflected in how you communicate with them across all channels, as well as what content you deliver. Also, organizations must be clear and concise; they must also offer up a valuable story; and they must be prepared to tweak that story as the marketplace changes.
Focus on Delighting Customers
The Disney Company is perhaps the foremost expert in developing outstanding customer experiences, and even offers courses on it at the Disney Institute. The company's overriding vision, however, boils down to just one goal: to create happiness.
Though creating happiness might be easier for a world-famous amusement park and resort than it is for a financial services company or medical device developer, the principle nevertheless applies: Focusing on ways to delight customers will go a long way in nurturing engagement and trust in your brand. Again, communicating and delivering valuable information to potential and existing customers can please them, especially when that information demonstrates an understanding of their pain points and goals.
Before you start pumping out content, however, the foundation needs to be in place. First, there needs to be a conversation about what your company currently is, what you want it to be, how you differ from your competitors, and, most important, who your customers are. Once you lay that foundation, you can establish content themes and a tactical content calendar that includes distribution strategies. Content is king only if it is supported by a strong plan that furthers your company's overall business strategies and goals.
In an environment where trust is in short supply and customer engagement is spread across a broad digital ecosystem, companies must focus on their customers and on nurturing relationships through effective, relevant communication.
Focusing on customer experience, needs, and preferences will not only enable brands to differentiate their products and services in a competitive market but also build the trust that results in loyalty.
Note: Andrew Pelosi, president of Partners & Simons, co-wrote this article.