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Five Uncommon Choices for Delivering a Distinctive Consumer Experience

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"Great customer experience reduces the cost to serve customers (while increasing satisfaction & loyalty) via @AnthemInc"

One click. That’s what it takes to buy a book on Amazon — and it’s far fewer clicks than it takes to buy health insurance. Is that an unfair comparison? Maybe, but customers certainly aren’t forgiving the extra work. 

In recent years, consumer expectations have skyrocketed, fueled by exposure to companies that examine our preferences and annoyances with forensic intensity and respond with innovative solutions. That’s why consumer experience is the new battleground for market differentiation. It’s what separates Starbucks from Dunkin Donuts, Harley Davidson from Suzuki and Southwest from United. How do these companies succeed? By making choices to understand and prioritize their customers.

Anthem, one of the largest health insurers in the country, has been on its consumer journey for a few years. Here are some of the choices we’ve made to put consumers first:

CHOICE #1 - Be the consumer

“Walk a mile in their shoes”, “see the world as your customers do”, “be the customer” -- whatever disturbing metaphor you choose to use, there is simply no substitute for deeply understanding your customer.  In-person interviews and customer observation are essential to answering the fundamental question of: “What do customers do and why do they do it?” But not all employees can directly access customers, which is why “customer immersion programs” are the next best thing to building enterprise-wide understanding of the customer. 

One of the pioneers in this field is Intuit. The company credits much of its customer orientation to its “follow-me-home” program. Each year, they log over 10,000 hours observing customers in their homes interacting with their products. The insights from these observations are what fuel their product innovations.

Last year, Anthem, Inc. launched its own virtual reality customer immersion program. With this the assistance of VR goggles, this experience enables employees to see the world through the eyes of a patient, a caregiver, a sick child and an anxious mother. “It’s an emotionally rich experience that connects us with the people we serve,” says Bryan Stotko, Consumer Culture Director for Anthem.

CHOICE #2 - Take the journey view

If you’ve recently flown Delta, you’ve probably noticed their hilarious safety videos, as well as the 2,500 iPads installed at LaGuardia airport. Delta realized that the most frustrating part of air travel is waiting, and while they can’t always control the wait time, they can influence the perception thereof. So now they’re filling wait time by entertaining passengers. Delta wouldn’t have discovered this insight by simply examining pain-points in isolation, but because they examined the entire passenger journey, they were able to surface “waiting” as a major source of dissatisfaction. 

At Anthem, we realized that we weren’t always taking the journey view. For example, we were inundating customers with multiple separate pieces of mail during their first few weeks – all from different departments. When we switched our focus and put the customer in the middle of this experience, the solution became obvious: Streamline and consolidate these mailings into a single welcome package. While it doesn’t qualify as rocket-science, this small changed made a big difference by reducing unnecessary confusion.

CHOICE #3 - Learn while doing

At the height of the dot-com boom, the online grocery store Webvan launched with a flurry of publicity and $800 million in funding. There was just one flaw in their plan: Customers weren’t ready for it yet. Consequently, they shut their doors shortly after their famed IPO. This is a cautionary tale of what happens when companies build a fully functioning product before validating the concept with the customer.  It’s also what gave rise to the idea of learning while doing – through a Minimum Viable Product. This development technique enables companies to build something “good enough” to get customer feedback, before overinvesting in a misdirected product or service. 

It’s also the approach that is gaining popularity at Anthem. Quickly taking an idea from concept to prototype and then validating our assumptions through a pilot before scaling it to a broader population. 

CHOICE #4 - Make consumer experience a business strategy  

Consumer experience can be an intimidating topic. Is sounds like money you don’t have and a distraction you can’t afford. Ironically, great customer experience will actually reduce the cost to serve customers (while increasing satisfaction and loyalty). When you make interactions faster, simpler and more personalized, you end up reducing calls and complaints. At Anthem, we’ve witnessed this first-hand. By making customer centricity a strategic priority, we’ve experienced not only improvements in our Net Promoter Score, but we’ve also shown that investment required to improve bad customer experiences surpasses the costs that accrue because of them.

CHOICE #5 - Empower associates

Customer experiences can become stilted when frontline staff have a list of policies and rules that constrain how they serve their customers.  But companies, like Nordstrom, have discovered that they can still preserve the intent of the rules and improve customer satisfaction by embracing ‘empowerment guidelines’. When Anthem began experimenting with empowerment guidelines, they saw powerful results. It turns out that when you empower associates to critically evaluate consumer issues and give them license to act, call resolution is easier and faster.

These five choices are uncommon not because they are unintuitive -- but rather, because they are hard, and they force uncomfortable trade-offs that go against the grain of how companies typically do business. 

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