AHIP Institute: Anthem exec shares 5 customer experience lessons

Delta airplane in flight

LAS VEGAS--It’s easy to commit to delivering a better customer experience--the challenge is actually delivering on that commitment, Anthem executive David Poole said during a panel at the 2016 AHIP Institute.

However, it’s vital that insurers get it right since people also have come to expect more from them amid the rise of consumer-focused companies like Amazon, he added. While the retail giant lets consumers make a purchase with just one click, buying health insurance is far more complicated.

“It’s no wonder consumers are asking, ‘why can’t I buy health insurance with one click?’” said Poole, who is Anthem's staff vice president for consumer experience.

Thus, Anthem set about learning from other companies to overhaul its customer experience. In that effort, Poole and his colleagues learned that success depended on five uncommon choices:

  1. See the world as your customers do. Harley Davidson serves as an excellent example of this strategy, Poole said, as it understands and cultivates loyalty from its customers because it hires its customers--enthusiastic motorcycle riders. With its own strategy, though, Anthem took a page from Adobe’s book and created a virtual reality “customer immersion” program that allowed employees to see, for example, what it’s like to have a child in the hospital.
  2. Create a streamlined experience. Delta accomplished this by first seeking to identify its customers’ primary frustration--which turned out to be all the waiting associated with air travel--and responding with iPads in terminals and entertaining safety videos. For its part, Anthem sought to make one process more pleasant by replacing the 13 pieces of mail it used to send new customers with a “welcome box” that contained all the need-to-know information, Poole said.
  3. Design with your customers in mind. A grocery-delivery service during the dot-com boom that ultimately failed begged the question of what would have happened if it had better understood what customers wanted, Poole said. Taking that lesson, Anthem evaluates new initiatives with consumers--such as a highly personalized welcome video--before rolling them out on a large scale.
  4. Wire the customer into every decision. After hitting a low point in 2007, Sprint turned itself around by setting about fixing its customers’ pain points. Anthem, too, has learned that “the best way to get good financials is by not focusing on financials,” Poole said. Thus, the insurer created a customer experience team and increased its investments in that realm.
  5. Empower associates to challenge the status quo. Often, restrictive company regulations leave employees feeling hamstrung--a problem grocery chain Wegmans solved by authorizing its frontline associates to make decisions on the spot to resolve customer issues, Poole said. Working under a similar philosophy, Anthem decided to digitize its lengthy proof-of-coverage documents, which improved customer experience and cut costs.

Anthem hasn’t mastered all five of these strategies, but is starting to see results by following in the footsteps of companies that have been there before, Poole added. He suggests other insurers that want to follow suit work with each line of business to get a multitude of stakeholders engaged.