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More retail clinics. New lines of business. A life-saving vaccine. A telemedicine boom. Health care organizations are innovating like never before to provide a best-in-class consumer experience. But how are consumers responding to these innovations? By switching loyalties.

All this innovation aimed at creating a best-in-class customer experience has done nothing to build customer loyalty. A recent survey found 45% of consumers changed health care brand preferences during the COVID-19 pandemic and 63% expect to change before it ends.

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Why is consumer loyalty decreasing when innovation in customer experience has become an even bigger focus?

The answer is that current health care innovations are underserving the market. They are both too much and too little. The industry has responded to consumers by creating more choice, adding more technology and trying to “delight” customers.

But these responses fall far short of empowering members to choose and experience meaningfully better care. And so, they have also failed to improve quality, bend the cost curve or increase loyalty.

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When choice becomes a burden

Many health care consumers are not in a good place. They struggle to judge quality. They select inappropriate sites of care. They don’t understand their health plans. They can’t estimate out-of-pocket costs. The list goes on.

Yet health care organizations are giving consumers more of everything. More insurance options and retail clinics. More drugs to treat more conditions. More transparency to see their own data. The reality is, choice only lessens the probability consumers will find and select the best care option.

Research shows consumers’ likelihood to make good purchase decisions decreases as the number of options they have increases. Choice without informed advice hinders rather than enhances a consumer’s health care experience.

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The door to nowhere

The addition of cutting-edge technologies was supposed to solve many member problems. The industry installed EHRs and built portals and apps. It published physician directories on websites and added online scheduling. Now everyone seems focused on “building the digital front door.”

But there remains a lack of meaningful integration across the health care ecosystem. From the customer’s perspective, connectivity between health plans and providers still does not exist.

Even within individual health systems, certain facilities or service lines may be digitized while others are not. (Many health care providers still require a phone call to schedule a virtual visit!) Too often, the digital front door is little more than a smooth entry into a cumbersome experience.

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A “delightful” myth

Many consumer experience conversations showcase delight. Stories from Disney, Nordstrom and Ritz-Carlton give health care executives inspiration that they, too, can wow their customers.

But health care organizations don’t have Space Mountain. They don’t sell fancy shoes and clothes or offer a great return policy. And they don’t have the margins of a five-star hotel. Most fail to focus their experience investments on the things that drive ROI.

With the best of intentions, health care organizations have tried to meet members where they are. But most have only created a faster path to a mediocre experience and disloyal customers.

It's clear that health care organizations must redefine what innovation means.

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The virtue of applied innovation

With the right level of focused application of innovation, offering an exemplary consumer experience can be an area in which health care organizations can win the battle for revenue growth.

There are three action steps every organization should take now:

Invest in more guidance, not more choices. Research shows people do best with a limited number of options. Too much choice leads to analysis paralysis and decision regret. Leading health care organizations will stop investing in more customer choice. Instead, they will over-invest in intelligent, prescriptive guidance. They will ensure every customer makes the best choice, every time. Health care consumers don’t need more options, just a clear path to the best one.

Forget about the front door — the money’s in the hallways. Creating an extremely efficient “digital front door” to a suboptimal customer experience erodes share of wallet and accelerates customer dissatisfaction. Top-tier health care organizations will focus on building the “hallways” — the paths between the front door and the destinations. The goal should be to build a frictionless experience, one room at a time.

Build an evidence-based delight platform. Broad-based experience efforts focused on general delight drive more displeasure than satisfaction. Health care providers and companies should work to replace the art of satisfaction with the science of machine learning. Investing in predicting which experience attributes create promoters can validate how to measure improvement. Leading health care organizations measure their experience returns in dollars.

The customer experience challenges facing health care organizations are real. Leaders with the courage to change course will turn the tide of customer dissatisfaction into true loyalty or promoters.

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