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Competing with Haven? It’s possible—with a comprehensive Voice of the Customer platform

This article was also published on Becker’s Hospital Review website.

Amazon’s formal entry into the healthcare space sent shockwaves across the industry.  The digital service giant’s joint venture with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway, called Haven, has sweeping ambitions for the healthcare system. As articulated by CEO Atul Gawande, MD, Haven’s goal is “To make healthcare better. For all Americans.”

To consumers, that may sound like an encouraging promise. To healthcare leaders it’s an unmistakable opening salvo from a new—and powerful—competitor.

Health-system leaders are right to be concerned. Amazon’s commitment to customer satisfaction is legendary. It pioneered the concept of customer obsession, using deep consumer intelligence to map out every phase of customers’ decision-making, becoming one of the world’s most efficient customer-acquisition machines.

To date, health systems have struggled to achieve such clarity with their own customers. A comprehensive, longitudinal vision of a patient’s journey eludes many health systems. Yet, if they’re to stay competitive in the age of Amazon, such in-depth customer intelligence is exactly the competency that healthcare organizations must develop.

The urgency of customer-obsession

Further, organizations must develop this competency soon. This is because today’s consumers have become exceedingly selective about their care choices. For health systems, attracting and retaining these consumers is not likely to become any easier.

Two phenomena drive this selectivity.

First among these is the influence of consumerism. Conditioned by the convenience and ease of modern digital services, an increasingly sophisticated population of consumers is beginning to expect such convenience from every arena of their lives. When companies fall short of these expectations, most consumers are slow to forgive them. Healthcare is no exception: 80% of consumers, in fact, select their primary-care providers based on convenience factors alone.

Powerful as cultural factors can be, the second force behind consumer selectivity is more powerful still: healthcare costs. Market forces have foisted a large portion of care costs onto the consumer. The Kaiser Family Foundation has found, in fact, that the average deductible for consumers—with employer coverage—has risen more than 400% since 2006. This higher cost-burden has made consumers far more discriminating.

Hearing the Voice of the Customer

Combined, these cultural and economic drivers of consumer selectivity put providers in a difficult position. Health systems have to negotiate somewhat contradictory demands, appealing to consumers’ tastes while simultaneously maximizing value-for-dollar. To have any hope of bringing these priorities into balance, organizations can’t afford any wasted efforts. They must thoroughly understand their consumers’ expectations before they act.

For this, there’s no substitute for a Voice of the Customer (VoC) platform.

The function of a VoC platform is to offer health-system leaders a comprehensive vision of their customers. It systematically traces the customer’s entire journey of care, plotting and assessing how customers feel and behave each step of the way. What emerges is a cohesive story, legible to every stakeholder in the organization—a story that, once understood, can be rewritten.

This story, crucially, stretches beyond what happens in the exam room. It’s both comprehensive and longitudinal. It encompasses every point of interaction between the customer and the organization, from the efficacy of advertising campaigns to the quality of post-discharge follow-up.

Here are the essential elements of a functioning VoC platform:

Before care: Market research and web transparency

Consumer intelligence begins with insight into the broader market. Health systems can use market research to calibrate their messaging, and make sure that their communication efforts are resonating with targeted consumers.

When a care need arises, consumers rely on their online peers to guide their decisions. Publishing ratings and reviews, then, is an excellent differentiator for health-system websites. It respects consumers’ desires for transparency, and gives them some idea of the care experience they can expect.

Concurrent with care: Real-time feedback

To help health systems perfect consumer encounters, timely feedback is indispensable. Ideally, organizations should capture consumer opinions within hours of their episodes of care. This is the best way to secure fresh, candid feedback—which clinicians are likely to trust.

After care: Post-discharge calls

Finally, care shouldn’t stop when the patient leaves. Post-discharge calls have a strong track record of reducing readmission rates and improving continuity of care. Something as simple as an automated, one-minute outreach can even save patients’ lives.

An enduring advantage

While a healthcare entity backed by Amazon’s consumer intelligence is certainly cause for concern, traditional care organizations have a distinct advantage: their long histories of service with a community. By providing a complete, longitudinal picture of the customer’s journey, VoC platforms offer health systems a means to consolidate that advantage and bring truly customer-obsessed care into the digital age.