Empathy Transforms Health Insurance

Focusing on the human element will improve consumers' experience; empathy and top-notch communication must be the driving forces.

Forrester’s “The U.S. Health Insurers Customer Experience Index, 2018” found that the consumer experience with health insurance companies is among the lowest-ranked in the industry. The cause, according to Forrester: Insurers don't engage with emotion. Making an empathetic, emotional connection with consumers should be a top priority for health plans that want to differentiate themselves from competitors in an increasingly crowded market.

Why Customer Experience Is Essential — and Difficult

A positive customer experience can set a health insurance organization apart from others. With more choices available than ever, members are ready to switch health plans if they feel you’re not meeting expectations. Not only that, they’ll share stories with each other, and these stories and reviews matter more than you think.

I saw this play out with my company’s recent open enrollment process. My colleagues and I were deciding which insurance company we would choose. A couple of employees mentioned how difficult it was to work with one of the companies on the docket, while another woman said that one option was more collaborative and seemed like it cared about her health. She said she wouldn’t mind paying more for a trustworthy company, and, just like that, eight of us were swayed to go with the more expensive option because of the experience it delivers.

To be fair, the industry faces significant hurdles in its quest to improve customer experience. Health is a personal and sensitive area, so healthcare is an emotional field. When dealing with intimate, frightening medical issues, it’s easy for consumers to transfer their fears and frustrations to something as complicated as insurance. And it doesn’t help that consumers often don’t know exactly what they’ve bought until they need to use it, which sometimes causes unpleasant surprises.

See also: Thought Experiment on Life Insurance

Communication between members and health plan representatives is another barrier to connection. Because many member-payer interactions happen over the phone or via email, it’s difficult for health plan representatives to empathize with consumers. Add to that the high turnover rate within this field. A lack of trained, experienced staff makes it difficult to build trust and long-term relationships with consumers.

A Simple, Human Approach to Customer Experience

Despite these challenges, focusing on the human element of health insurance will improve the consumer experience — if you make empathy and top-notch communication the driving forces. Getting in front of new members is crucial. Because they probably don’t have a full understanding of what they’ve bought until they need it, you have an opportunity to give them more information and build trust.

Consider it a preemptive strike: As soon as they sign on as members, welcome them with communications that outline just what they’re getting from you, and explain how they can best communicate with your organization. When questions arise down the line, they’ll feel prepared instead of frustrated.

Using plain language is crucial because the industry’s jargon confuses many. In a Policygenius survey of more than 2,000 Americans, plenty of health insurance consumers were confident they understood basic health insurance terms like co-pay, deductible, out-of-pocket maximum and co-insurance. But when asked to provide definitions, far fewer respondents — 4%, to be exact — could correctly define those terms. Being able to communicate insurance terminology so the everyday consumer can understand will be essential to forming member relationships and offering an excellent experience.

Empathy is equally important. Again, health insurance is an inherently emotional field, and you have the opportunity to interact with members with the kind of sensitivity, empathy and emotional intelligence they crave. 60% of consumers will cut ties with a company if they feel staff members are apathetic. From copywriters to customer service team members on the front lines, train people on how to empathize with others and how to communicate with empathy. This isn’t a skill that can be taken for granted.

See also: 4 Trends to Expect in Health Insurance

Finally, don’t forget about your own employees. If you take care of them as you would your members, you’ll empower them to provide the best possible service and experiences. Research shows that recognition is employees’ No. 1 desire, and it can inspire them to do their best work. Everyday affirmations and formal acknowledgment that they’re doing great work can help encourage employees to maintain the highest standards when it comes to customer service.

Customers need to trust their health plans if they’re to build an enduring relationship that lasts through a turbulent, competitive market. That trust is best established through authentic human connection. A focus on clear, empathetic communication and emotional intelligence can be transformative, giving even the most frightened, confused member a feeling of comfort and support.

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