By Srikanth “Sri” Lakshminarayanan, Vice President, Center of Excellence for Healthcare Engagement Services (HES)
Imagine this scenario: You are in the hospital after an emergency appendectomy, and you have a simple but urgent question about payment of this (just-delivered) health service. Your physical and mental stress is a load made only heavier with that pending insurance coverage conversation. You are in no mood to struggle with an exasperating app or digital exchange. You want a straightforward, reassuring dialogue—one delivered with good, old-fashioned empathy.
From the other perspective, the bar has just been raised for your engagement team. The right customer service agent has to deliver on several levels: as an empathetic advocate who can listen, relate, and also resolve the issue at hand. Simply put: With all of the renewed—digital and otherwise—efforts towards optimized CX, healthcare customer service remains highly challenging.
The recent COVID-19 surge has exposed CX teams to an all-new type of issue, one which no bot or digital channel has ever dealt with, to date. What’s needed is a fresh approach to empathy-based engagement as part of healthcare customer experience.
Now is the time for healthcare to learn a few lessons from technology-retail elites like Apple, which is actually renowned for its very untech-like empathy focus. Apple aims for Geniuses to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and to recognize the emotions their customers feel and change those, to make them feel better. The Apple manual advises the “Three Fs: Feel, Felt, and Found.” This means connecting, relating from personal experience, and consoling with issue resolution. Healthcare would do well to borrow from this model and reduce friction points for more effortless, empathetic problem solving.
Ultimately, there is still a strong foundation for every contact in healthcare—charting of a basic blueprint for compassionate issue resolution. An optimized experience, delivered by an agent empowered to deliver empathetic customer satisfaction, should comprise this flow:
Step 1. Empathy begins with active listening. From the first word spoken by the customer, the agent needs to be focused 100% on the communication at hand. This point in the conversation is critical as an opening to bond and win immediate customer trust. Agents shouldn’t make notes while listening; unless they listen properly, they cannot react to the situation of the customer. Reduce any miscommunication with follow-up questions.
Step 2. Acknowledge the customer with member/patient name and personalize the communication with a concierge touch to earn trust and loyalty. By using unified desktop and disparate systems, today’s agent can pre-emptively acknowledge the issue at hand without spending time on a longer intake. There are also opportunities to track prior visits to eliminate abrasion with unnecessary restating by the member/patient.
Step 3. Show understanding and calm. The adage is that you never truly know what a person is going through. But with healthcare, that goes out the window. Because one thing has been made clear with healthcare customer calls, and that’s that the member/patient’s life is, in fact, being affected by a health issue. Empathy at this stage might mean a reassuring tone with, “I understand this is difficult. I’m here to help.” Do not interrupt the customer, instead show attentiveness.
Step 4. Demonstrate intent to resolve the issue, with the understanding that it won’t necessarily be the case that everything is within our control. At this stage, it’s key to let members/patients know that empathetic customer care means trying your level best to help, with the understanding that some conditions or procedures simply may not be covered. Aim for authentic communication, with an added personal touch and thank you or expression of gratitude for patience.
Having been on the front lines of delivering healthcare customer service, we’ve seen how clients have evolved their metrics focus—from quality, first-call resolution, and call center CSAT to NPS.
One emphasis that has remained the same is empathy, as the leading attribute in every single interaction that drives all of these metrics. And while empathy is required for all customer service, in healthcare, even more so, the mission is to address critical, personal impact related to health, finance, and the often raw emotions at the core. Helping customers resolve their issues is a delicate balance of all three of these things.
That’s what makes healthcare customer service as uniquely fulfilling as it is challenging.