The Engagement Welcome Mat

The impact of a first impression is inescapable. Reams of research confirm that a first impression can be both lasting and hard to reverse, with one study presented by Psychological Science finding a tenth of a second is all it takes to start determining traits like trustworthiness. Meanwhile, quickly securing the confidence and trust of new plan members is an increasing concern for insurers. As our recent article, The Medicare Advantage Switch Hit demonstrates, the number of members who shop around and ultimately switch plans during the newly extended enrollment periods is growing.

While the lowering of hurdles to switching is raising eyebrows for health plans, any investment in shoring up member retention has a big potential payoff. According to Bain & Company, a 5% increase in customer retention produces more than a 25% increase in profit.

With such potential gains at stake, promptly establishing and then continually reinforcing a good impression with new enrollees is more crucial than ever.


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Ride the Engagement/Retention Cycle

The current focus on member engagement is a positive step toward building relationships that promote retention. Recent research from McKinsey on healthcare consumerism found that, “Consumer engagement has become increasingly important for all healthcare industry stakeholders. Both payers and providers are now evaluated through rating systems that incorporate customer satisfaction, giving them a strong incentive to enhance the consumer experience.”

Engagement and retention work together as a self-reinforcing cycle. Satisfying experiences that increase plan trust and loyalty encourage reenrollment, which provides more opportunities for positive experiences, and round and round. But before this cycle can begin, a first enrollment must be successfully accomplished. That requires thoughtful and personalized member onboarding.

All Aboard

Once the selection of a plan has been made, and enrollment accomplished, the first contacts between a health plan and the new member will set the tone for the rest of the relationship—positively or negatively. Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) calls this the “golden hour” of onboarding; “One of the most powerful lessons health plans have learned is that the ability to engage quickly and effectively with new members is a critical factor for a plan’s success. There is a crucial window of opportunity when new members join a plan.”

Customer engagement company, Relay, says “When a member enrolls in a new healthcare plan, they are naturally the most engaged and open to learning about their coverage. It’s the most opportune moment for health plans to set a standard of communication, drive adoption of digital tools, and make a great first impression.”

Support software company, Groove HQ says, “Onboarding isn’t just about your product or service. It’s about the entire experience of doing business with you.” The company also sees these first plan-to-member contacts as the launching point for a successful relationship:

“For most businesses, there are two key milestones that need to be reached before a customer can reach their full value potential:

  • The moment they sign up for your product, and…
  • The moment they achieve their first “success” with your product”

Health Insurance ID CardFor most payers, the health insurance ID card is their first ambassador through the door. Even a 2×3 inch card and accompanying letter offers plans an opportunity to make that positive first impression and deliver a first success for the member. One of the keys to accomplishing that first success is personalization.

Members Take it Personally

Have you ever received a piece of mail addressed to “Occupant?” That’s the definition of a message that lacks personalization. When you’re talking about healthcare, the importance of relevance multiplies, e.g., just having lungs doesn’t make you a candidate for asthma treatment.

Receiving irrelevant or overly general information from any healthcare stakeholder is a red flag to many consumers. As McKinsey advises, “Both payers and providers should consider how they can better meet the needs of specific consumer segments through personalized information, delivered when, how, and where consumers need it.”

Even minor personalizations can make a big difference. Dale Carnegie famously said in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Since Carnegie’s time, his belief has been backed up with proof across disciplines.

Marketers are applying this maxim and consumers are taking notice. Statistica reports that 42% of consumers surveyed in 2020 see personalized content such as recommendations, offers or experiences as very or somewhat important to them. Gartner research revealed that of all the different types of personalized messages received by customers, messages that are fundamentally perceived to be “helpful” are the most impactful, and Accenture found that 83% of consumers are willing to share their data to enable a personalized experience.

Personalization can even shift a member’s attitude about the role health plans play in their care. The Healthcare Financial Management Association advises that “Personalized outreach helps a health plan build a deeper bond by positioning itself as a true partner in improving the member’s health.”

The ability to introduce your plan and brand via a full-color health insurance ID card affixed with stickers, labels or interactive QR codes that speak to the member’s specific needs, and that are accompanied by a personalized letter or welcome guide, immediately communicates that you know who they are, and are already interested in working with them one-on-one as a health partner.


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Keep It Simple

When most people think about their experiences with health plans, the first words that come to mind are typically not easy, friendly, or straightforward. Establishing your plan as being committed to helping the member navigate the complexities of healthcare will boost their satisfaction, loyalty and ultimately, retention.

Even in the first mailing of the health insurance ID card, plans can showcase the benefits of the plan and how easy it is to do business with the company. You can provide mobile delivery of ID cards and plan benefit information through a mobile app so that even if the member doesn’t have the card in hand, they can receive services and review health plan information anytime and anywhere.

Offering personalized versions of health plan communications can even help members with plan benefit comprehension. This is important because Forbes reports that “Two-thirds of Americans can’t correctly define concepts such as healthcare insurance premiums, co-payments and deductibles.

According to the study published by Hubspot “another reason we prefer personalized experiences is because they help reduce information overload. Or, more precisely, personalization can help reduce our perception of information overload…you aren’t presented with thousands of resources to sort through and consume. Instead, you are — ideally — presented with exactly the information you were looking for. Hence, you never feel “overloaded” with information.”

State Your Preference

Another opportunity plans have to secure future retention during onboarding is to identify the member’s communication preferences. Managed Care Magazine notes, “Some prefer an email or a phone call. Others respond better to a traditional mailing. Knowing the communication preferences of members is akin to speaking to them in a language they understand and can be crucial to making a genuine connection and facilitating the desired clinical outcome.”

Alerting the member to the availability of a plan health portal during onboarding can delight the growing percentage of enrollees that prefer to communicate digitally. According to digital customer experience intelligence company Fullstory, “40% of customers won’t do business with a company if they can’t use their preferred channels” and “55% of customers (68% of Millennials / Gen Z) prefer digital channels over traditional channels.”

Most importantly, member satisfaction and retention is tied to having a choice of channel to use. A Keypoint study “Annual State of Transactional Communications,” found that 74% of customers want to be able to choose the channel that a brand uses to communicate with them. When companies ask for, and then honor channel preferences it improves customer loyalty.

Most importantly, member satisfaction is improved when they are given a choice of channel to use. According to an IDC survey on customer channel expectations and preferences, 71% of respondents indicated that it is important to communicate with a company using their preferred channel.


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Retention Starts Early

Putting in the effort upfront to ensure plan loyalty for a renewal decision a year away is a solid strategy. Accenture’s 2020 Payer Consumer Experience Benchmark Survey revealed that 70% of consumers left their healthcare payer based on their experience. Relay found that members who went through a personalized onboarding experience are 30% more engaged and 21% less costly than those who did not.

Optum sums it up, “As health plan competition heats up, so too are consumers’ demands for convenience and value. Innovative health plans are therefore focusing on the consumer experience to keep costs low and differentiate themselves in the marketplace with these types of strategies.” If your focus is on improving member retention, putting out the engagement welcome mat during onboarding with an enhanced health insurance ID card is the smart play.