Friday, December 04, 2009

ForeSee-able Consequences

We've long advocated increased consumer involvement in health care. When folks have "skin in the game," they tend to be more careful and discerning shoppers, which in turn can help drive down costs. A vital part of this "consumer empowerment," though, is the availability of certain tools. And one of the most important, and effective, tools is the internet. Over the past few years, we've seen various players in the health care game make increased use of the 'net, often to great effect.

For example, a lot of (perhaps most) insurance carriers have numerous features on their websites for their insureds to track claims, check availability of providers, get cost estimates, that kind of thing. But how does one measure the effectiveness of these tools?

ForeSee Results (FSR) is a company that measures customer satisfaction with vendors' websites. It publishes the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), which includes many different companies across many different sectors. Because health care is such a hot topic right now, they thought it would be interesting, and instructive, to see how different segments of the health care sector stack up. For insurers, the picture isn't pretty:

But what does this graph really mean?

To find out, we recently interviewed the president and CEO of FSR, Larry Freed. Mr Freed was kind enough to share with us the results of the survey, as well as some intriguing insights about it.

InsureBlog: Thanks for speaking with us, and for sharing your findings with our readers. What's the point of the ACSI?

Larry Freed: It's a measure of how satisfied customers, users, are of different companies' websites. We look at 700 to 800 different sites across the specturm, from retail sales to government agencies, and then look to see how they compare with others in their sector.

IB: Okay, so what does "customer satisfaction" really mean in this context?

LF: It's about how the customer perceives the company's technology: is it helpful, easy to navigate, is there adequate help available? We believe that a happy customer is a loyal customer, and this helps our clients determine how well they're doing in that regard.

IB: What do the scores in the chart mean?

LF: Well, we consider an 80 to be a very strong (good) score. As an industry, health care averaged 75, which is very good. But that's an aggregate, and you can see that different segments have different scores.

IB: I see that. I notice, too, that the "worst" aggregate position is taken by health insurers; in fact, there's a pretty big gap between that carriers and - most surprising to me - government sites.

LF: That is interesting; in fact, and I can't tell you the names of the carriers involved, but within that cohort the scores ranged from a high of 86 to a low of 42. By way of comparison, Google and Amazon both scored 86 in their categories, so you can get a sense of what those scores can mean.

IB: So (at least) one carrier scored very high, which is good. I'm still somewhat confused, though: my experience with government sites is that they're often very difficult to navigate, heavily cluttered, just not all that use-friendly. It just seems counter-intuitive that they'd score so much higher than carriers. We're certainly no shills for the companies [ed: I mentioned our "Stupid Carrier Tricks" series], but at least in this regard, I've been fairly impressed with their sites.

LF: Well, ease of use, navigability, that kind of thing is important, but it's not the only measurement. There's also what we call the "trust factor" that plays a big part; how much credibility do you give the site, what are your expectations. Often, customers look at, say, the CDC site as very credible, which more than offsets whatever problems that might have with the mechanics of the site itself.

It's really a perception and expectation issue: if the customer goes to a site where their expectations aren't that great, the bar is pretty low so it's easy to jump. Contrasted with another site that may have a great reputation, one's expectations are higher.

IB: Like eating at Frisch's versus Ruth's Chris...

LF: Exactly. You're expecting great service at one, maybe you're pleasantly surprised by the service at the other.

IB: So what does this bode for the carriers? What do they have to do to close that gap? And is it important that they try?

LF: I think it's very important. They're sort of at a crossroads, there's health care reform legislation that's going to directly affect them, they need to be trying to improve their credibility and the value of their online presence.

I'm actually a big fan of the "42" company; they really have nowhere to go but up, and every incentive to make that happen. And these kinds of surveys are helpful in that effort. We believe very strongly that "you cannot change what you do not measure." If you don't know where you are, how do you where to go?

IB: Thanks so much for your time, Larry, and for sharing your insights.

Readers who'd like to know more about ForeSee Results should click over to their site; please feel free to leave your own thoughts and questions in the comments, and I'll forward them on.

[Special Thanks to Brandon Fibbs!]

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