By Dave Palmer, President, at Everise
If nothing else, the Covid-19 pandemic has raised people’s awareness around their health, the quality of care they have access to, and how the healthcare industry can support them more effectively. These changing consumer expectations have resulted in evolving demands on healthcare providers and the underlying technology that links processes and consumers.
According to a recent US Consumer Report 2020 from Statista, half of US consumers stated that they actively do something to preserve their health, and 57% indicated they would like to do more. But perhaps more concerning is that 36% of US respondents felt the health system frequently lets patients down.
Events of the past 12 months have seen people growing distrustful of information sources they previously counted on. Now, healthcare organizations are facing unprecedented levels of customer inquiries. This surge threatens to overwhelm traditional healthcare customer service operations and even interfere with queries about critical, non-Covid healthcare needs.
Query management critical
The central theme has become one of the people wanting their concerns addressed, unfiltered, and in real-time, directly by their health services provider or insurer. This requires healthcare organizations to deploy smart technology and receive support from customer experience experts to not only respond to the influx of inquiries but also still deliver quality care.
The survey shows that 68% of US consumers rely on search engines when looking for specific information and 43% on customer reviews when deciding where to go for healthcare products and services. Perhaps more telling is that 37% of respondents will gladly pay for services that make their lives more convenient.
Making healthcare work
Amidst a global pandemic, how can the healthcare industry better adapt to these consumer pressures while still maintaining operational effectiveness? Two strategic interventions become critical enablers in this regard – delivering on a proactive omnichannel strategy and providing home-based support.
- The proactive omnichannel
Utilizing intelligent software that equips customer service professionals with the correct information at the right time is essential in this regard. But this is made complex given the myriad of channels customers prefer to communicate through. In the case of Covid-19, the most-at-risk population wants to talk on the phone, while younger patients prefer chat solutions. Some in the middle favor interacting via Facebook or SMS.
Today’s businesses need to accommodate all of these. The right software can help make sure customer service teams can interact with customers — wherever they want to do that.
- Scaling support on demand
Ultimately, healthcare organizations must focus on what they do best, “providing healthcare.” Dramatically staffing up customer service people is not an efficient answer when demand can’t be accurately forecasted. And scaling down on agents when demand dips, is the last thing a customer support operation can afford if there is the possibility that spikes (as seen with Covid) result in agents being inundated with increased volumes.
One answer is to partner with a customer experience company to help manage the inquiries. When considering a potential partner, a healthcare organization must consider whether it has access to cross-trained licensed and unlicensed healthcare agents. If they can quickly source, hire and train qualified agents and scale up to demand regardless of geographic location.
Both these interventions show the need for healthcare organizations to establish an ecosystem of support services. A specialized and trusted partner can become a crucial enabler in this regard by helping create a connected and consistent healthcare experience for consumers from inquiries through to the actual care provided.
Such a partner can combine technological innovation with a people-centric way of dealing with sensitive health matters. For instance, the core set of questions that consumers consistently ask of their healthcare providers can be handled with artificial intelligence (AI) natural language technology. Fortunately, the technology to deploy this is not complex, and most consumers are used to using it already.
Take, for example, chatbots and a voice-recognition phone response system. Using these, consumers can interact with a healthcare organization and have questions answered, online or on the phone, by what is essentially a computer. This dramatically decreases the demand for human customer service agents, freeing them to help customers with more complex questions or needs. Thanks to this technology being cloud-based and capable of leveraging an online environment’s high-performance computing capabilities, it is easy to set up and deploy. With this, it can be used to help manage the surge in a short period of time, whether dealing with Covid-19 matters or more traditional, but still urgent, healthcare inquiries.
Even though Covid-related issues are one of the primary concerns faced by healthcare organizations today, other problems still need to be dealt with. As we get more people vaccinated and get a handle on the pandemic, these problems will once again become more critical. But, with good planning and connecting the best of technology with human insights and experience, healthcare teams can return to their core mission – helping keep us safe and healthy.