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Consumer connection 101: Lessons from retail

As health insurers – and pretty much all other stakeholders in the rapidly evolving world of health care – work to build a more sustainable system, they are adapting lessons learned across a variety of industries. Retail is one area of particular interest to health plans that are more than ever before engaging individual consumers. So it was no surprise that voices of innovation in retail got top billing as last week’s meeting of America’s Health Insurance Plans opened. The goal, according to AHIP board chairman and Cambia Health Solutions President and CEO Mark Ganz, is for health plans to be viewed as “a trusted partner … from birth to death, in health and in sickness.” The key, say experts including Doug Rauch, CEO of Conscious Capitalism who spent 14 years as president of Trader Joe’s, is to hone a company’s mission and infuse it into every aspect of the organization, from how promotions are given to how big decisions are made. And at the core of that mission should be humanness, Rauch said – seeing customers as not statistics, but people. “An individual who made a choice to come to that store is the only thing that ever walked through that door,” he said of the Trader Joe’s approach to shoppers, something he said health plans would do well to emulate. Michelle Clements, senior vice president for human resources at REI, echoed those themes, saying much of what makes her organization successful is the connections it fosters through a religious adherence to its mission. The effect is an engaged staff whose lives reflect and promulgate the company’s mission, and moments of authenticity and connection with shoppers. Rauch and Clements brought inspiration, while Nordstrom executive vice president and chief financial officer Mike Koppel brought concrete strategies for building a consumer-centric organization. He distilled the strategy to a three-pronged approach: Speed and convenience: The rapidly evolving world of digital communication makes this point both challenging and essential, Koppel said. With the advent of smartphones, companies must create touchpoints that are not only fast and convenient, but they must be personalized. Quality product: “The customer is right, the customer comes first, and we want the customer to be happy,” Koppel said, summarizing Nordstrom’s approach. He urged attendees to think strategically with each customer interaction, suggesting the ROI on conceding a point with a concerned customer might be immeasurable over the long-term. Seamless interaction: Consumers don’t know – and don’t care – how companies are organized and whether they dialed the right department, Koppel said. He urged attendees to ensure a seamless experience to customers who reach out to the company. But none of the strategies discussed matter much, Rauch said, if a company is trying to be everything to everyone. “If you want to be customer focused, you also need to be focused,” he said.