Why Health Insurers Can’t Fix Claims And Benefits Self-Service Through Design Alone

Over the years, I have worked with dozens of health insurers on the usability of their member self-service sites. The sites have admittedly gotten better over the years — easier navigation, fewer confusing links, clearer presentation of information, and even better feedback in response to user actions. But most companies are still struggling to show the value of their self-service solutions. This breaks down into two fundamental problems. The first is measurement — a problem I’ll tackle in a future post. The second is a problem I can most succinctly describe as garbage in, garbage out.

Digital customer experience professionals and eBusiness professionals responsible for website design typically have no control over benefits and claims content. That means that while sites have arguably made users’ tasks of finding claims and benefits information more efficient, the information is just as useless as it is was a decade ago.

This content is rarely designed with the consumer in mind. It’s written by lawyers and for lawyers — and (sorry, Dad) lawyers don’t speak English. They usually speak CYA. But CYA doesn’t answer people’s questions — real average-reading-level human beings who just want to know what different procedures will cost before they blindly follow their doctors’ advice.

This is the fundamental problem with the majority of today’s health insurance member websites, at least as far as claims and benefits are concerned. Until insurers produce better, clearer information outlining what is covered, what is not, how much services will cost, and (for claims) who owes/paid how much and why, it is not possible to design a member site that drives self-service for these critical areas.

Where Are You On The Centralization/Decentralization Pendulum?

It's a constant tradeoff for B2B CMOs, who want their marketing people to be totally in tune with the customers and markets they serve: "How much should I decentralize by aligning people closely with business units, industries, or regions" versus "How much do I centralize to maximize quality and minimize redundancy?"

I know as a marketing leader that I was constantly trying to figure out the right balance, and it seems like a pendulum. I would hire or assign a few marketing specialists to work with dotted-line reporting to line-of-business heads and then realize that each of them were using their own tools and struggling with the same issues, so I would look for work functions that I could bring back into a centralized role.

To help marketers manage the pendulum, I recently interviewed a dozen CMOs and organizational consultants to gain insights on this. There's no single best org structure that works for all companies, so don't ask me for one, but there are a set of drivers that can help you figure out where on the centralization/decentralization spectrum you should be for the different work streams or functions you need to perform. There are market factors, functional factors, and business factors.

For example, here are some market factors:

  • Breadth and diversity of product lines. Companies with narrow or closely-related product lines can centralize more functions, whereas companies with diversified product lines will find it necessary to move people closer to each product line.
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Showing Facebook Love On Valentine's Day

Recently, social media consultancy Sociagility published an infographic showing the top brand leaders and laggards in the social media space based on a study conducted in November 2011. The infographic ranks brands based on their proprietary PRINT index, which is based on popularity, receptiveness, interaction, network reach, and trust. The top brands include Google, Disney, Starbucks, Apple, and BlackBerry. I visited these brands on Facebook and found some similarities: They each have millions of fans, they have fun and interactive brand posts, and most are wishing their fans a happy Valentine’s Day. They’re also inundated with positive comments from fans.

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If The Market Is Changing, So Must Your Market Research Sources And Processes


As mentioned in my last blog, I (Peter O'Neill) was at the Distree EMEA event last week and met with many executives from tech industry vendors and distributors. I also swapped impressions about market trends with colleagues in other research organizations, such as Context, GfK, IDC, and Regent. 

The most discussed section of my keynote presentation was “Apple takes a bite at B2B business,” where I quoted research from my illustrious colleague Frank E. Gillett. I said that Apple had an 8% share of new “corporate PCs” in 2011, which we predict will grow to 13% in 2013. Apparently, many vendors and distributors haven’t noticed this: They aren’t getting the same message from their usual research providers. Later in the week, I listened to such a presentation in which it was reported that “the PC market slowed in 2011 but will pick up again in 2012.” Another researcher made a similar observation in his presentation. No mentioned of any new vendors or devices: “Not significant” was the tenor.

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PR Agencies: Adapt Or Die

DeathI’ve been wondering if the PR role is slipping and if the growth in interactive marketing will make PR agencies largely irrelevant unless they diversify and get wise to online opportunities?

Forrester’s December 2010 US Interactive Marketing Online Executive Panel Survey showed that PR agencies held a respectable fourth place when it came to which agencies are helping with company/brand interactive marketing but the same survey also showed that 68% of marketers were working with at least two or more agencies for their interactive marketing needs (all competing for budgets and control no doubt).

In the 14 months since that survey took place interactive marketing has continued to mature, and I wonder if the full-service interactive agency is growing up and gaining control -- leaving the PR agency behind at the kids table.

Why is PR at risk of losing their seat at the interactive table?

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CI FAIL: The Valentine's Day Edition

Despite being something of a romantic, I don't really go in much for the so-called "Hallmark Holidays." In fact, this XKCD comic sums up my feelings rather perfectly:

Still, I'm very aware that lots of other people enjoy Valentine's Day, and that it's a holiday that's just begging for CI pros to get more strategic about. Leveraging shared wish lists is one use case I really like, as is intelligent (read: permission-based) householding. Imagine, for example, a travel company that enables a couple to "gift" each other a special dinner or spa treatment during a shared vacation. 

But sometimes, CI goes horribly awry, as I recently experienced with Proflowers.com. I offer Exhibit A:

This email was sent to my email address, but addressed to my ex-husband. It's not hard to understand how this could happen: householding snafus might sometimes create a false connection between an email address and a first name, for example. In the grand scheme of things, if I was going to put CI Fails on a TSA-scale rating, I'd give this one a very bright yellow.

But embarrassingly (for all involved) it got worse. Just a few days later, another of Proflowers' brands, Shari's Berries, sent me this email:

In case it wasn't obvious? I'm not Kimberly.  

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Seven Steps To Get Started With Customer Experience

While I write frequently about the rise of the chief customer officer within firms advanced enough in their customer experience efforts to consider this kind of executive position, I often get questions at a much more basic level, such as: "Where do I get started?" Often an individual may get a mandate from an executive to spearhead creating a greater customer focus at the company. For those, here are seven steps for getting started:

  1. Put together a cross-functional work team of supporters. Getting involvement and buy-in from different functions across the organization is important . . . a working group can be a source of getting allies across the organization. Build a working group of 10 to 15 individuals who can help put together some foundational pieces of your customer experience effort. While having diverse functions represented in this group is important, more important at this stage are influential leaders who are putting their budgets and reputations on the line in support of the effort. Look for supportive leaders who are already actively supporting customer-focused efforts or are willing to with some direction. A great source of early supporters is the frontline, where customer care and call center organizations interact regularly with customers. In addition to main marketing/branding, sales, support, and operations organizations, others you may want to consider early on include market research or customer insights, IT, HR, and legal/compliance leaders.
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Credit where credit's due

Taking verbal swipes at Gerry Harvey and his Harvey Norman retail chain has almost become a national sport among eBusiness professionals in Australia. And given Harvey's long history of talking down online retail and talking up his own business, this is far from surprising.

But something interesting has happened over the last six months or so. The sleeping giant has woken to the importance of online retail.

At first, one could have been forgiven for underestimating the scale of the transition occurring within this company, as its first public effort — a deals site called Harvey Norman Big Buys — was unremarkable to say the least.

But then Harvey Norman launched a transactional website for its national retail chain, and suddenly the company's online strategy merited a second look.

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What Is The State Of Play Between Buyers And Sellers In 2012?

The world of buyers and sellers has changed — vendor CEOs enter 2012 with growth strategies that favor deeper relationships with customers and that push sales to do more cross-selling at higher levels. In this new world, however, buyers are telling us there is a gap. Of the executive buyers Forrester surveyed, a mere 13% believe that a typical salesperson can demonstrate an understanding of their business issues and articulate how to solve them. Enter the VP of "broken things": the leader who is helping shape an emerging discipline into a strategic function: sales enablement. 

During a webinar this coming Wednesday February 15th, I will share Forrester's latest insight into: 

  • What is the state of the gap today between what buyers expect and what sales is communicating?
  • What successful frameworks and approaches are sales enablement leaders using in 2012?
  • How can you engage with Forrester and your peers to advance your company's sales enablement practices and elevate your own role?

Webinar attendees will also receive an exclusive discount off an event ticket to Forrester's Technology Sales Enablement Forum 2012 in San Francisco!

I hope you will join. Thanks, Brad

Selecting The Right Services Firm Can Make Or Break Your Project And Your Business

When commerce platform initiatives kick-off the discussion naturally turns to commerce platforms, order management solutions, content management, search, and many, many other point solutions. Often the question of who will help integrate the solution is left for last. This is frequently a mistake.

In fact, selecting the right services firm can make or break your project, and therefore your business. As commerce programs that reach across customer touch-points get more complex and risky, the process of selecting a services provider has become increasingly critical to businesses' success or failure. Yesterday's relatively simple eCommerce projects have become today's customer experience, business, and technology transformation programs.

These programs are not simple, and require an investment in time, money, and resources. It is not a matter of just wiring up the commerce platform, but instead a whole set of business processes, systems, and strategies will also be impacted. And these skills and expertise are very difficult to keep on staff, requiring companies to supplement with external services providers. Companies now require a multi-disciplined vendor partner to guide decisions upon which rest millions of dollars of revenue, brand differentiation, customer satisfaction, and careers.

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