Archives for September 2013

Why Isn’t Healthcare Concerned With Convenience?

I’m thrilled to launch a new collaboration with two outstanding colleagues Amber Thompson and John McCabe.  Healthcare as an industry is in the midst of a massive upheaval.  Amber and John have graciously agreed to bring their unique perspective on the convergence of healthcare and the customer experience here in their corner called “Two Minute Musings”.  I’m looking forward to these posts generating some great discussion from great minds on the subject.  So, to kick things off, here is Amber and John’s inaugural contribution.

When we think about how goods and services are developed, used, and sold in today’s world, it seems the healthcare industry is lagging behind in terms of delivering a happy customer experience. Think about it: we have open-source ecommerce available in every sector except healthcare- but healthcare constitutes almost 18% of our GDP annually.

Let’s look at the standard office visit today- we make the appointment based on the physician’s’ schedule, wait an average of 45 minutes in the waiting room for 15 minutes of fame, pay & check out, go to the pharmacy and wait for medications (and pay again). Remember this experience is compounded by the fact that you already feel awful and probably had to miss work for this appointment. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way because the healthcare system has the ability to treat us like consumers. Retailers understand the fundamental producer-consumer relationship: if consumers want to buy a product or service, producers will make sure we can do so with as little barriers as possible.

Now think about the average customer experience- when we want to “windowshop” on amazon, zappo’s, ebay, we can do so from anywhere at any time. Retailers don’t force us out of our way, but rather make sure we are able to spend money everywhere, all the time. Thanks to technology and forward-thinking retailers, we can attain instant gratification during lunch, on a train, or even during a chemotherapy session.

Granted- retail exchanges and complex healthcare interactions are not the same thing. However, we can look at portions of each experience in an “apples to apples” manner. Understanding how healthcare insurance and co-pays currently work is key to breaking the dependency on face to face physician-patient engagement.  Today doctors are compensated based on the patient’s type of insurance, census volumes, and based on the overall health of the aggregated patient population in a specific region. Theoretically, patients are better controlled if they have more regular access to their providers, both in person and virtually.

Now picture this scenario: *Sickpatient wakes up with a fever and feels awful. He logs onto his doctor’s virtual treatment room and signs into the secure portal. After reporting the need for treatment, he can self-select symptoms from a variety of options that run against an algorithm while waiting for the physician or nurse to engage in live chat. He can be on the couch, get diagnosed, obtain a prescription and pay for it all via one of the many e-pay systems available. Granted, *Sickpatient is sick either way, but in this scenario the healthcare system treated him like a consumer and has impacted his life in a much less intrusive manner. If the demand is there, healthcare providers will have to get on board. This is how consumer-driven markets evolve.

Why Driving Away Customer Contacts is the Wrong Approach

We all love IVRs!  Ok, no we don’t.  Study after blog post after twitter rant confirms that customers generally would rather take a sharp stick in the eye.

Then it’s web self-service.  Everyone wants self-service!  In fact they prefer it over human-based interactions.  Right?  Not so much?

So, why is it that, for certain individuals, words like IVR and other self-service elicit such guttural, vial reactions?

It’s not that IVR and other self-service solutions are inherently evil.  The answer lies in that, in a great many cases, these solutions have been implemented to do one thing.  Reduce the number of interactions that are handled by a human, thus reducing the cost of service.  And, over the past 30 years, that has been the overarching myopic focus of customer service organizations, regardless of industry.

Because, any company that isn’t maniacal about pushing customers to lower cost channels, driving down average handle times, burying the 800 number on the 10th page of the website and reducing the total number of customer interactions will surely not be long for this world.

Oh…wait.  Zappos, eBags, Virgin & Marriott among others do exactly the opposite.  And they seem to be doing o.k.

The fact is your company, any company, should want to talk to as many customers as it possibly can, through whatever channels your customers choose.  By this, I don’t mean talking to the same customers about the same problem or issue over and over.  Rather, cast as wide and deep a net as possible.  Why?  Because, if you make the investment in and take the time to listen to those unsolicited customer voices, the insights contained within will deliver a return far greater than the narrowly focused cost saving efforts of restricted access.

A strategy of cost containment and access reduction limits the insight into customer preferences, needs, problems to be solved and ultimately, their behavior.


What if we looked at the service delivery model differently?  If, rather than the conclusion of the interaction being the end of the process, we need to view that step as a means to a different end.  Then the business justification becomes clearer.   Investing in more ways for customers to communicate with your brand as the means of gathering a greater volume of unsolicited customer feedback can drive innovation in everything from product development, retail experience to back office processes and everything in between.


Pretty intuitive.  Right?

Now let me not be so naïve as to suggest that anyone in your organization, especially your CEO or CFO, is going to write a blank check for you to go out and double the size of your customer service organization, reengineer your IVR and website and dump a whole bunch of money into new channels just because of the argument above.  Sorry to say.  But, you’re going to have to prove it.  And the proof is going to be different in every organization.  So, pick an issue.  Run a pilot.  And build the business case.  If, during that pilot, you identify that you don’t have the data, can’t get to it, or don’t have the ability to analyze it, you may need help from the outside.

Also note that this model of customer service as enterprise analytics hub will likely require different skills and resources within your organization as you are changing the value proposition for customer service as an enterprise function.

We’ll explore those skills and the process for transformation in upcoming posts here.

The Real Reason Social Media Has Changed Customer Service

imagesI may as well fire this shot over the bow right from the starting gate: Customer service as an enterprise business function hasn’t changed all that much in the 30 years since the introduction of ACD (automated call distribution) technology. This is when it became practical and cost effective to deliver customer service at massive scale.

For the ensuing three decades or so, the overall focus of customer service has been centered on responding to customer issues with greater efficiency, greater scale, and greater speed at lower and lower cost.

There’s no doubt there has been noticeable innovation in technology and in the introduction of expanding communications channels through which to deliver the service. That includes social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, community forums, and other peer-to-peer networking sites.  And there have certainly been shining examples of companies that do customer service better than the rest.

But the point is that it’s the same service, the same function, driven by the same mission and measured by the same performance metrics as a generation ago.

The Tipping Point

Customer service is at a tipping point. Real change is needed. Real change is possible. Real change is being demanded.  And social media is the catalyst for this change. And, trust me when I say, I’m not a hype advocate, zealot, nor pushing any social media agenda. For as knee deep as I am in social media, I’m probably more pragmatic than most when it comes to adoption and business value, particularly in huge, risk-averse enterprises.

That said, social media is driving profound change in social consciousness, political debate, medicine, government oversight, and virtually every other aspect of human endeavor. The reasons why social media is so able to affect change differ in all these scenarios. But one thing they all have in common is this; the veil of secrecy has been obliterated. And information, accurate or not, now proliferates at the speed of light.

So what does change look like for customer service? While the tactical components are many, and those are probably worth exploring in followup posts, they can all be summed up this way.

Social media is the catalyst to move customer service from efficient reaction to value-creating proactivity

I’ve tried to test this overarching paradigm shift against every conceivable example. Every element of customer service as we generally know it today fits: enterprise strategic mission, engagement strategy, operational KPIs, interaction flows, knowledge management, financial measures, talent & skill development, data management, analytics, channel mix, workforce management. And, that’s just a partial list.

Is there anything I missed? Is there some element of customer service as we know it today that doesn’t fit this paradigm? Or am I truly in denial about my zealotry? Tell us about it below.