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Winter is coming: Three member engagement trends to act on in 2016 so you don’t get buried

The exchanges open on November 1st.The last open enrollment period saw 11.7 million new enrollees, with Millennials making the strongest showing. These young adults are bringing their preferences for customer service to the world of health plans and training other generations to have the same expectations. As payers compete against a growing number of industries (more than just other health plans), they need to take notice of these changes in order to stay in business. Here are three trends where payers need to take action to engage and retain members.
Winter – and the season for predictions and trends – is coming, so here are three trends where healthcare payers should take notice.

Winter is coming. It’s the fourth quarter and time to prepare for an avalanche of 2016 predictions and trends. While it may look like I’m simply along for the ride and issuing my own set of trends to watch, I’d like you to consider these a call to action for you and you organization. Much is now at stake when it comes to health plan member engagement. We are no longer in an era where those that implement engagement strategies are innovators. If you’re not engaging your members on multiple channels throughout the year, you’re losing ground to your competitors…and no, postcards don’t count.

With that, the three 2016 member engagement trends you need to act upon are:

1. Millennialization of the member experience (it’s not what you think)

At this point, most experts and many health plans have embraced the prioritization of Millennial engagement. With Millennials accounting for 40 percent of exchange enrollees in the last enrollment period, payers have rushed to understand the communication and digital preferences of this mega-cohort. Nuance clients regularly seek our guidance on relevant research and strategies in this area, and rightly so. Forty-eight percent of Millennials with a chronic condition prefer self-service interaction over live, 41 percent want an automated premium payment reminder, and their preference for channels like text and smartphone push notifications are triple those of other age groups.

They also have high expectations – and can bring dire consequences for poor customer service. Ninety percent of Millennials state that a company’s customer service significantly impacts their decision to do business with them – pretty important when health plan benefits, networks and pricing all look similar. Here’s where I encourage you to not get too fixated with these members. The gap between what Millennials want in self-service and what generations like the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers want has shrunk significantly. As this “Millennialization” of customer service takes hold, all generations are turning to technology solutions. In fact, 88 percent of all consumers have used automated self-service – including 86 percent of Baby Boomers.

Almost 90 percent of both Gen Xers and Baby Boomers will stop doing business with you because of one poor customer service experience. So make sure that your Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system is conversational and intelligent, update your website to provide automated assistance, and ensure you’ve captured the communication preferences of all your members, because the bar has been raised.

2. When it comes to interacting with members, context is king

Speaking of intelligent IVRs, they form the backbone of an approach other industries are implementing with great success: omnichannel experiences. With the IVR, time is not on your side. You need to be clear, concise, and anticipatory. When people call in, they don’t have the patience to deal with unclear instructions or long selection menus.

Members want to accomplish tasks and resolve issues as quickly as possible. The more time it takes to find a solution the more it costs your organization…and the higher chance your customers will become frustrated (remember, you can’t afford even one poor experience).

To create a successful omnichannel service approach, your systems must also be able to communicate with one another. The inability to share information across channels – and across your organization – can create a disjointed member experience. Introducing a shared data layer for proactive voice, text and email campaigns, and self-service solutions such as IVR and virtual website assistants, creates contextually aware conversations that facilitate faster service and more connected experiences.

Imagine a member calling into your IVR and being greeted with “Hello Rick, are you calling about your premium payment reminder?” Well, this is what your members are experiencing in their other consumer relationships. This trains them to have the same expectations no matter what kind of company they are speaking with. Your plan is no different than any other consumer relationship.

You’re no longer just being compared to other payers, but also against travel companies (such as airlines and hotels), retail companies (such as food and auto), utilities, and financial companies. You cannot simply be better than industry peers – you must deliver a consumer experience that lives up to the expectations created by all these other industries.

3. Pre-empting the annual shopping trip

All of this brings us back to the reason you probably clicked on this blog post. Member retention and re-enrollment are not only the words of the day, but of the year. State exchange retention ranged from 67 to 90 percent last year, and 29 percent of federal exchange members switched plans. On the Rhode Island exchange, 69 percent switched plans! This turnstile effect with marketplaces has to be a top priority for health plan marketers, and a plan that engages the member throughout the year and across channels must be the foundation. Whether providing automated assistance on your website for ID cards and provider selection or providing claim status updates and answers to benefit inquiries through your IVR, don’t give your members a reason to leave – or even look around.

Winter is coming

With the exchanges opening November 1, this is more than an obligatory pop culture reference woven into a corporate blog post. A new wave of members are coming on this winter, and it’s a great time to think about how you’re going to do things differently in 2016. I challenge you to meet or beat industry benchmarks for member engagement and retention.

Who wants to go the way of the Starks?

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Vance Clipson

About Vance Clipson

Vance Clipson, senior principal, industry solutions for Nuance Communications, focuses on vertical-specific strategy and marketing with an emphasis on healthcare, financial services and government. Clipson brings 25 years of experience translating industry needs and data into market strategy and programs for Milliman, PacifiCare Health Systems and other organizations.