An exceptional customer experience Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2007

When Priority Health adopted the brand promise, “Life just got a little easier,” the company knew fulfilling that pledge would mean a paradigm shift. In health plans, even savvy consumers are easily confused, so making it easier is a differentiator as the company expands into East Michigan.

“Our strategy is to deliver an exceptional customer experience,” says George Conte, vice president of marketing and customer experience for Priority Health.

Smart Business spoke with Conte about what goes on behind the scenes to bring ease and excellence to health plans.

How do you define an ‘exceptional customer experience’?

In simplest terms, an exceptional customer experience makes ‘life a little easier.’ Health care coverage tends to be complex. Employers struggle to balance costs with employee satisfaction. Most employees don’t know which health plan is best for their family, and then they struggle to understand its benefits. This cycle of confusion continues each year during the benefits selection process.

Developing a customer experience strategy requires a road map that outlines phases of your relationship. In our business those phases are: 1) selecting a health care plan, 2) the new member's experience, 3) the ongoing member experience and 4) re-enrollment.

We know that if you succeed in making health care easier, then employers are more likely to renew their contracts and members will re-enroll, and even recommend you to friends and co-workers.

What technology investments must be made to deliver an exceptional customer experience?

Invest money, time and energy on Internet capabilities because statistically this ranks among the most effective communication tools for people of all ages. Make it easy to do business and access information online. For example, physicians can update and query the system information using employees’ names nstead of member numbers.

For members, the Internet is a tool for education, information and transactions. They can use Web sites to learn about health care issues, such as diabetes, find an appropriate provider and check the status of claims.

Or course, we know technology can never completely replace the human touch. Invest in a new phone system that will help you do an even better job in addressing members questions and resolving issues quickly.

What lessons have you learned that would help other companies improve their customer experience?

The keys are employee engagement and data. It’s common for executives to map strategies for improving the customer experience. It takes commitment from all employees to reach the ‘exceptional’ level.

We’ve engaged employees in a variety of ways — from interactive ‘vision’ exercises with the CEO to call-center ‘shadowing’ during new-employee orientation. We also use our internal Web site to engage employees with up-to-date measures and customer feedback.

It is important to continuously gather member input through market and customer surveys and focus groups, and then adjust your course as needed for continuous improvement.

How important is it for companies to restructure their customer experience?

Providing an exceptional customer experience should be your No. 1 corporate objective, with strategies and road maps to define outcomes and identify gaps.

Our member satisfaction rankings are among the highest in Michigan. The challenge is keeping our customer-service focus as we introduce innovative health care products that are far more complex than traditional models of the past. Develop a team to facilitate changes throughout the company, and keep employees in the loop as you celebrate successes and tackle new challenges.

What are key drivers in a customer experience initiative?

Put your focus on communication, technology and the personal touch. It’s astounding how hard it is to understand information from most insurance companies, so we’re improving our print communications. We’re looking at everything: letters, brochures, enrollment forms, handbooks and explanation of benefit statements. Nothing is sacred.

The Internet is another driver. A solid infrastructure helps employers administer health benefits and keeps members up to date with records and claims. Make sure the technology is robust and secure, the navigation is intuitive and the information is clear.

Last, but not least, is the personal touch. Make sure your customer service function is exceptional. Not only does our staff do an excellent job with incoming calls, we’re also proactive in reaching members about claims and other information needs.

GEORGE CONTE is vice president of marketing and customer experience for Priority Health. Reach him at (616) 464-8297 or