The Essential Do's and Don'ts of Member Onboarding

How can health insurers breed engagement and not mistrust? Let us count the ways...
Customer Experience

The Affordable Care Act opened up a new market for health insurance carriers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that by the end of 2016, approximately 10 million individuals will be enrolled in coverage through the health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act.

As the open enrollment period for individual coverage winds down, insurers are turning their attention to onboarding processes. Member satisfaction begins with an engaging and informative onboarding experience. A successful onboarding strategy not only gets customers up to speed on using a product but also communicates the value of being a customer and establishes the framework for a loyal relationship. Here, we outline common mistakes made during the onboarding process and how stakeholders can realign their approaches to avoid such missteps moving forward.

1. Do: Send a robust welcome guide.
First impressions are critical. Members tend to leave a plan because of a lack of engagement with their insurer or a lack of knowledge of the plan or healthcare system. Begin building a strong customer relationship with a cohesive welcome campaign. Set the expectation for the relationship by advising consumers of what they can expect during the first month and year of being a new member. Messaging should be consistent and coordinated across channels and ideally would be based on channel preferences established during the enrollment.

For employers, the benefitsonboarding process is an opportunity to educate employees about their insurance benefits as well as tie those benefits to the company culture. "Savvy employers treat benefits onboarding like an orientation experience," notes Greg Hodges, co-CEO at Hodges-Mace, an employee benefits and technology communications firm. "It's a chance to educate new hires and current employees about their benefits while emphasizing that the company is invested in their well-being."

2. Don't: Overwhelm readers with too much information.
Highlighting common questions new members have about their plans or creating a checklist of the plan's offerings are helpful without overwhelming the individual. Clay Heinz, VP of care services at TeleTech, a consulting and customer services solution provider, identified three questions health plan members often ask:

  • How do I manage my health? What programs are available for me to manage my health? This may open the door for a health risk assessment or engagement in medical management programs for chronic conditions.
  • How do I manage my money? What are the cost-sharing implications for my new relationship? Members want to know if there are strategies to save money (in network, preferred tiers etc.), for instance, the difference between an urgent care center and an emergency room could be significant for the wallet.
  • How do I manage my plan? Understanding how to navigate the health plan's website and customer service environment is critical to keeping the member engaged. A plan can reduce frustration by educating new members on how to best accomplish what they need.

3. Do: Provide clear definitions of benefit terms.
Don't assume that everyone understands the meaning of terms like deductibles, co-pay, and out-of-pocket maximum. The onboarding process is a great opportunity to educate subscribers about their coverage options and drive health literacy. Plain language, graphics, and examples boost engagement among people making decisions about health insurance, according to a study conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis.

The study examined effective ways to explain key insurance terms and details to people who never had health insurance. In addition to using plain language, graphics, and examples, the study found that presenting plan benefits in order of importance to enrollees rather than alphabetically, which is typical, is more helpful.

"Starting with simple information is never a bad thing for people making complex decisions about health insurance," noted the report's first author Mary Politi, PhD, an assistant professor of surgery at the School of Medicine, in a statement.

4. Don't: Adopt a tool just because it's buzzworthy.
Instead of chasing after the latest technology and tools, determine whether these tools add value to the customer experience, advises Will Hinde, senior director in West Monroe Partners' healthcare practice. For example, mobile apps "are the sexy thing to talk about but most insurance companies struggle to get their app downloaded," Hinde says. "Companies should only invest [in a new solution] if it adds value such as by influencing behavior, provides cross-sell opportunities, and builds loyalty."

Incorporating customer feedback and data analysis will ensure that insurers and employers are in line with member expectations and preferences. "It's important to ask your associatesfor feedback," notes Maureen Kushner, director of benefits at cold storage provider Americold Logistics, and a client of Hodges-Mace. "For example, the results from an engagement survey showed that our associates wanted more help understanding their benefits and so we've been working on our communication pieces, simplifying terms and explanations, and adding tools like a benefits calculator."

5. Do: Invest in a sustainable data strategy.
Even the most sophisticated marketing strategy will fail without data hygiene to guard against duplicate records and other issues. "Clean data is essential," Hinde notes. "The value of clean data is always underestimated because no one wants to spend more money developing something they already have-data-but without a cleansing and management strategy, it's useless."

From there, insurers can focus on segmentation and messaging. Capturing important information that can segment the population will drive messaging that is more relevant and engaging. Additionally, every company needs to determine which members or customers present the highest risk of disenrollment and why. Having a system in place early on to track customer engagement patterns is key. Doing so can help insurers identify red flags like non-compliance with evidence-based guidelines or non-adherence with medications.

Payers should use this information to prioritize members and reach out to them with personalized messages that address their specific high-risk factors and barriers to engagement. Understanding the presence of chronic conditions, for instance, should trigger a specific health risk assessment and allow members to engage with medical management opportunities.

6. Do: Provide customized, real-time support.
The last thing customers want is to be placed on hold or go through a complicated process to find answers to their questions. Having associates on hand to quickly answer questions is important. Consumers tend to only look for coverage information when they need it, therefore making it easier for members to understand how much a procedure will cost and what they need to know before and after receiving care provides a great customer experience.

Use data analysis to identify the communication channels customers prefer to use, such as live chat, self-service portals, email, or the phone. Also, respond promptly tocomplaints on social media and participate in online conversations about the company's brand and services.

A robust onboarding process starts at the sales and enrollment process and enables members to be well-informed and take control of their options. Once customers are past the onboarding process, moving on to the next steps in the customer lifecycle will be easier and ideally lead to word-of-mouth recommendations and other benefits as well.