One thing I’m hearing consistently from health insurance providers is that they all want to become more consumer friendly. With the advent of health exchanges, individual shoppers, not corporate benefits managers, will have the power to choose. As one health industry insider recently said, “We’re going to have to switch from B2B to B2C.”
As part of this, health insurance providers will conclude they need to change their marketing programs to focus more on the consumer. Who knows what that means? Maybe we’ll be able to like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. Maybe they’ll start getting product placements in movies. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a whole bunch of funny Super Bowl commercials with cute, healthy animals.
I hope that health insurance companies don’t get confused about what the real shift in their market is. Advertising and awareness are important. But they’re the sizzle, not the steak. The most important thing health insurance companies need to worry about isn’t how many followers they have, but how well they run their operations.
Great consumer brands today are known for their operational excellence, not their commercials. United has spent a fortune to promote their Vivaldi jingle, but Southwest and Virgin America top the surveys because their planes are on time and the baggage arrives with the plane. Think about Amazon and Zappo’s compared to JC Penny and Sears.
Operational failures make the news. Remember the Comcast repair man who fell asleep on the couch? These days, Carnival Cruise advertisements probably create more panic attacks than bookings. No amount of marketing can make up for a service that doesn’t serve.
For health insurance executives, operational excellence will let them do several important things. First, they’ll be able to hold down costs. Hitting MLR targets while hiring celebrity sponsors won’t be easy for organizations unless they can get the back office under control.
Second, they’ll be able to avoid bad publicity. It doesn’t make the news when an insurance company pays the bills on time. But if ICD-10 or health exchanges throw payer operations for a loop, they could easily end up being the company everyone loves to hate.
Finally, operational excellence helps companies be more nimble. Healthcare markets are changing, and as markets change, the laggards get knocked out. Retailers, travel agencies, airlines, and a host of other consumer facing industries saw their ranks thinned because unwieldy operations prevented them from adjusting to the market they were competing in.
So, as health insurance companies look for placed to spend their dollars to compete in the changing marketplace, let’s all hope they invest first and foremost in the capability to deliver their products on time and efficiently. There’s no doubt we’ll get the Super Bowl commercials. We can only hope they aren’t viewed as ironic.
[This post originally appeared on the Enkata blog and is republished with permission.]