Thoughtful Automation in the Patient Experience; Lessons from Other Industries

What has your customer experience been like lately? Good customer service was once a consumer’s basic expectation across virtually every industry. Fast forward to today, and we find there is no shortage of horror stories between trying to deposit a check at the local bank to simply filling a prescription at your local pharmacy. Don’t get us started on the airline industry. 

According to many accounts, today’s customer experience (CX) is suffering across most industries. In McKinsey and Company’s State of Customer Care in 2022, 160 industry leaders reported that customer care has reached an inflection point.  Organizations are facing higher and more complex call volumes than prior, software designed to handle that increased volume is underdelivering, supply chain issues have either exacerbated the issue or have become a great excuse, price increases fuel consumer angst, and constant turnover in their customer service teams has led to trained and skilled labor shortages. It’s no wonder that few organizations are delivering on good customer service. 

In healthcare, the situation is more dire. Hospitals continue to financially struggle post-covid; the median Kaufman Hall YTD Operating Margin Index reports at -0.98% through July 2022. The ‘great resignation’ has yet to wane, hitting the healthcare industry especially hard. The Advisory Board places labor shortages as the top challenge for healthcare going into 2023, where hospitals are being forced to cut services in an attempt to get by. 

Yet, some hospitals and organizations have pivoted and are thriving. These organizations do not find solace and complacency knowing that their competitors are facing the same challenges. Instead, they are using this disruption to differentiate their approach, win new patients and gain a competitive advantage. What are they doing differently?

Balancing technology and the 'human touch

To compensate for labor shortages, turnover and rising costs, automating customer service tasks and roles seems poised as  a promising solution. In many ways, it has a lot to offer where chatbots can easily answer the FAQs, automated phone systems can accomplish rudimentary tasks and online forms can replace pen and paper processes, saving an administrator from manually re-entering data. Taking a lesson from manufacturing, repetitive standardized processes may be especially appropriate for automation. In the right place at the right time automation can improve coordination of care, patient access, patient experience and can support health professionals, reducing burnout and turnover.

On the other hand, automation and self-service in the wrong place at the wrong time can be a disaster. While using automated tools, patients and their families often find a need for human guidance and support. So while self-service and integrated technologies are introducing efficiencies it is critical to be thoughtful about their design and when to leverage these tools, ensuring that patients are not lost in the mix.

User experience (UX) designers often consider cognitive overload when creating a framework for delivering tasks and information in a way where it does not overwhelm the user. Enabling off ramps where patients can choose whether to return to the familiar - like making  a phone call to speak to a human can help the patient choose an experience they are comfortable navigating. As you might imagine, age often plays a large part in which path patients prefer. Self-service platforms that are supplemented with a well trained and readily available human support team can also optimize efficiencies while providing patients with the comfort of a human voice to coach them through the process. Testing, closely monitoring, and measuring actual patient experience is key to ensuring technology is enhancing rather than inhibiting the customer’s experience. 

The cost of getting it wrong

According to a 2019 survey by PwC, ‘59% of consumers will walk away after several bad experiences, and 17% after just one bad experience.’  A recent 2022 PwC survey reported that more than 25% of respondents walked entirely away from businesses after bad experiences this past year, citing poor customer service as the overwhelming reason. The same report warns not to ignore online experiences altogether, where more than half of respondents said they’re less likely to be loyal to a brand if its online experience is not as easy as the in-person experience. 

Telehealth programs, for example, are making it easier for patients to choose where they want to receive non-emergency care, like elective surgeries. Based upon our experience, it is  no surprise when a patient ends up at a different hospital after enduring poor customer service at their original choice. 

The competitive advantage

On the other hand, several top ranked healthcare institutions continue to set themselves apart by providing the very best experience to their patients, designing the patient journey to be seamless from online - to over the phone - to in–person. They work hard to retain employees who are well-trained and empathetic, providing supporting tools so they can easily stay connected to the patient’s journey, while when possible, relying on automation.

Done well, automation coupled with empathetic human touches can be the differentiation that sets your organization apart.




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