How the best companies build delightful experiences

 

They may not always show up—or pay their bills— but our customers really want to talk to us.

Great customer experiences have become a major contributor to business success, impacting industries from retail to healthcare. But what makes a delightful experience? That’s changing too. Customers still expect their needs to be met…but they want the process to be easier and more human.

That’s why conversations have increasingly become the key to great customer experiences. Just ask Darcy Peters, a customer advocacy lead at Buffer, which helps individuals and companies connect with their followers over social media. “You build this rapport,” she said. “It increases that fondness on both sides.” And Buffer practices what it preaches, maintaining an active social media presence, a Buffer community Slack account, and regular Q&As with the company’s CEO. “We try to have as many genuine, authentic, and valuable conversations as possible,” Peters said.

Many of the most successful companies have invested in building genuine relationships with their customers, and we’ve been lucky enough to experience a few of them here at WELL. We recently started using TripActions, which differentiates itself by providing round-the-clock access to support staff through its app. TripActions employees will let you know if your flight is canceled or delayed, and they’ll sort out the details for you. Investing in communication is clearly paying off: the company just successfully raised $154 million in Series C funding. And I recently traveled to a Kimpton hotel, where they messaged me to let me know my room was ready, then graciously agreed to give the key to a friend waiting in the lounge. All via text. No wonder IHG, which owns the Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group, has snapped up 16% of global market share.

And these conversations have to take place where your customers are most comfortable. Much has been made of Gallop’s finding that texting is the most common form of communication for people under the age of 50. But customers want to reach out in many ways. A 2016 Radicati report tells us that email is still alive and kicking: by 2020, it will be used by 3 billion people worldwide. Zendesk found that customers were more likely to be satisfied by live-chat support than any other medium.

At WELL, we know how important it is to have great conversations with patients. That’s why we’ve just added two-way email functionality. From the beginning, we’ve had a simple mission: to connect patients directly to medical staff, revolutionizing the way people communicate with their doctors’ offices. WELL’s platform already allows patients and staff members to text back and forth, and that’s a great first step. But until now, email communications have only been one-way. Now, patients and staff can switch back and forth seamlessly between email and text, all in the same secure channel. In other words, even though it’s happening over multiple mediums, our system will treat it as one long conversation.

This is just the beginning. We’re working on support for many other communication mediums.

Now, let’s get those conversations started.

Messaging systems: from automation to conversation

 

Wherever there are appointments, there are no-shows. In healthcare, they’re a big problem. According to Jamie Gier, chief marketing officer at SCI Solutions, missed healthcare appointments cost the industry a whopping $150 billion per year in the United States alone. A recent review of studies found a no-show rate of 23% across all specialties. And some especially unlucky practices report that their patients miss around 40% of their appointments.

No-shows hurt patients as well as healthcare providers. The biggest problem is that patients are not getting the care they need.

Missed appointments can also cost hospitals and doctors’ offices in hidden ways. No-shows often signal that patients are not properly engaged. We’re potentially losing a patient, from a customer perspective, to another health system.”

The reminder system

Hence the reminder system. At this point, there’s a strong body of evidence that shows that reminder systems really do work. They don’t eliminate no-shows, but they can reduce them significantly. Meta-analyses conducted in both 2016 and 2012 found overwhelming evidence that SMS reminders improved patient attendance in a variety of circumstances.

Despite the effectiveness of text reminders, many offices still call their patients manually. They may be trying to maintain a personal touch, turned off by the cost, or simply wary of automated reminder systems. “The old process is more personal, better in that that you’re forcing yourself to engage in a conversation,” said WELL’s chief strategy officer, Joe Tischler. And the evidence suggests that it’s an effective method: to name just one example, a 2017 study found that only 3% of patients who received a live voice reminder missed their appointments, compared to 24% of patients who only received a voicemail.

But that’s assuming you get a live person on the phone, not an answering machine. And according to Kenneth Hertz, a principal consultant with the Medical Group Management Association’s consulting group, you’re just as likely to end up in an endless game of phone tag. “For those practices that are still relying on person-to-person communication, it’s so asynchronous that it’s impossible,” he said.

Moving to automation

As effective as manual phone calls can potentially be, they consume too much time and labor to make them effective for most practices. Enter first the auto-dialer, then the automated text message. The issue is that neither is bidirectional—a patient who needs to talk to a live human will still need to pick up the phone and call—and they’re primarily intended to keep slots filled, not increase engagement. “It’s more a convenience for the doctor,” Tischler said. “There’s not a lot of value in it for the patient.”

The problem with generic text reminder systems is that they’re just replacing the old telephone-call reminders. What we need is to reimagine the entire process. We have to have a way to securely message back and forth.

Toward conversation

There’s a new generation of platforms, like WELL, that are designed to do precisely that. Rather than being a simple transaction (“Press ‘Y’ to confirm”), WELL’s text reminder is an initial contact that’s designed to open up a conversation between patient and healthcare organization.

“Oftentimes patients forget things; they don’t know what their status is; they have to check up on terms they don’t understand after they come back from the doctor’s office,” said Yifeng Hu, associate professor and chair of Communication Studies at The College of New Jersey and a senior lecturer in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. For patients who need clarification or just want to talk to a live human, the new conversational model is a boon. But it’s also better for medical staff, who can use the opened conversational door to take care of pre-appointment paperwork, insurance clearance, and patient questions.

“If you continue the conversation, you can alleviate more workflow, so that patients have as much of the work done as possible before they come to the doctor’s office,” said Tischler. The conversational platform may also recapture a lot of what’s lost when you pick up a phone and call your patient. As Hu pointed out, there’s evidence that what’s called “computer-mediated communication”—essentially, chatting through an electronic device—can actually be more productive and fulfilling than talking face-to-face.

What conversational chat offers is this continuous blanket method for people to access healthcare at their convenience, at their choosing. Patients feel like they have more access to their care, and it happens on their time.

“There’s got to be an easier and more direct way for us to do it, where if I have a question I can just get it addressed,” said Hertz. “If I could have that kind of dialogue [over text], I’d be thrilled.”♥

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