Forrester: These are the payers with the best customer experience

Humana leads the industry on customer experience scores and is the only major national payer to land above the industry average, according to a new report from analysts at Forrester.

Forrester polled members of 17 of the largest health plans in the country and found an industry average score of 70.2 on a 100-point scale, which the organization categorizes as an "OK" rating. In 2020, payers averaged 67.5 points, according to the report.

At the top of the list, Humana earned a 74.8 score, dethroning 2020's top health plan, Florida Blue, which fell to fourth place with a 71.9. Kaiser Permanente's health plan landed in the second-place slot with a 73.8 score, and Highmark placed third, earning a 72.9.

Rounding out the top five is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, which rose from a 10th-place ranking in 2020's report, Forrester found.

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Humana has consistently landed at the top of the surveys, according to Forrester.

"Humana's long-term investments in building a caring culture focused on people's individual health needs and establishing journey management created the foundation for cross-functional support of its customer experience vision, strategy and goals," the analysts said.

The report found the industry average rose, as 11 of the 17 included brands saw their scores rise, but none saw statistically significant declines. The scores are also tightly clustered, the analysts said, which can lead to volatility in the rankings even as there is pretty steady performance overall.

What's the key to driving an improved customer experience? The report analyzes six categories of drivers, but one reigns supreme: customer service. This also happens to be an Achilles' heel for the health insurance industry, with close to half of the included brands falling below average.

Sixty-four percent of consumers surveyed reported positive experiences with customer service, and, by comparison, 67% spoke positively of their plans or related services and 65% gave positive scores to payers' websites and mobile apps.

"Drivers relating to how well customer service reps solve problems have the most impact on an insurer’s overall CX Index score; sadly, brands failed to excel in this area," the researchers wrote. "Nearly half of brands fell below the industry average in this category, pinpointing an anchor that's weighing down the industry as a whole."

Members said they were more likely to stick with an insurer that made them feel appreciated, respected and valued, while they were pushed away by disappointing or frustrating interactions, the survey found. For customers who felt respected, 64% said they plan to stay with their plan, and 84% said they would advocate for that brand.

By comparison, customers who found their insurer frustrating said they would advocate for the brand just 17% of the time, and only 27% said they plan to stick with that payer.

"The consequences for this negativity can be severe: 34% of customers with the freedom to choose their health insurer say they are likely to switch to a new brand for their next plan," according to the report.