As I explained in my last blog post, my team and I recently spent an amazing day listening and learning at American Express headquarters in New York. With the health care landscape dramatically changing, consumers taking a much more active role in their health care choices and directly managing their health care spending dollars, we now find ourselves operating – for the first time – as a retail business. This means directly marketing our services to consumers. Given our new position, we need to reach outside of our sector to learn directly from those at the forefront of consumerism.

While we gained a large amount of knowledge and came back with ideas that we can implement right away as well as information that will help us develop long-term plans, the biggest take-away for me was the critical need to understand our consumer’s decision-making journey when it comes to health care spending. More specifically, how can we identify all the points of engagement between us and our consumers that influence their health care purchasing decisions? And then based on that, how do we develop a relationship based on high levels of satisfaction that motivate them to choose our services over a competitor? As with any consumer purchase – from banking to food – understanding what consumers are looking for and how we speak to them is critical in order to convert them into customers.

American Express has been quite successful at building a large and loyal customer base by putting this into practice and delivering quality experiences from the first moment of consumer engagement and throughout every interaction down the line. I saw this up close when I recently applied for a credit card. They were able to engage me at the right time while online, and they led me through a process so simple and swift that I called them directly to make sure that everything was actually legitimate. Since that time, they have followed up and provided opportunities to better understand my purchase habits and marketed benefits that they knew would speak to me based on where I was at in my consumer journey. Through all of this, they personalized the content (without seeming invasive), kept the whole experience user friendly and made sure they added value along the way. To say they are succeeding in their consumer marketing strategy would simply be an understatement.

And while the purchase of health services is different than the acquisition of a credit card, the need to understand consumer behavior and consumer decision-making still applies. Health care is an emotionally charged transactional process. By this I mean, people are rightfully emotional when it comes to decisions about their health or the health of their family members. Therefore, we must work to understand these feelings and how they influence the decision making process. People want to feel that they can trust a provider to care for them and their family when they are most vulnerable. Given that health care is a business highly influenced by referrals and reviews, the opinions of friends, family and other consumers play heavily in a consumer’s purchasing decision.

Keeping these things in mind and as we look to operate in this retail space, we have begun the process of developing our own consumer journey map. This will allow us to do two things: the first is to identify and catalog all of the points where we interact with potential customers and the second is to lay out both the channels and content of our communications. We are doing all of this while continuing to provide the highest quality experience that we possibly can.

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