One by one, every industry is coming to terms with the pressing need to rethink their fundamental business processes in light of two undeniable facts. The first is that customer expectations for responsiveness, personalization, and an overall satisfying experience have grown exponentially.

Technology has empowered consumers with every tool they need to compare alternatives when making spending decisions. If their needs aren’t being met and their patronage isn’t being adequately acknowledged, better options are always only a Google search away.

The second fact driving progress across industries is an awareness that the only way to cultivate new business and provide such a high level of personal attention at scale is through the use of advanced data analytics and marketing automation.

Your Patient is on a Journey

The healthcare sector, owing to its unique regulatory challenges and the high stakes of its mission, typically moves slower than most others in making changes to how it operates. But, even the most conservative healthcare concern today is waking to the reality that the time to adapt is well at hand.

The tools and practices for enabling a robust customer, or in their case, patient experience, are no longer risky prototypes suitable for only the boldest early adopter. Rather, they are becoming standard practice, and they are all but required to assure continued growth—especially when the competition is already using them.

The first step is to stop thinking of patients as temporary customers that seek out health services when they need them and then disappear for good once they’ve been treated. Healthcare consumers, like all consumers, exist along the stages of a customer journey. Understanding where they are on that path is essential to connecting with them in a manner that is mutually beneficial to all.

For healthcare providers, the end goal of Customer Journey Mapping (CJM) is to find the right patients, meet their needs by providing rewarding experiences, stay connected to them through helpful and relevant communications, and convert them into advocates that will happily recruit more patients and potentially become supportive donors as well. The entire process, in the healthcare context, is called the Consumer-Patient-Constituent Lifecycle.

Optimizing for Every Touchpoint

The key to this approach is a laser focus on the patient, which requires measuring and analyzing their behavior at every touchpoint: from an initial referral, to their visits, to your digital channels (e.g. website, app, or social media) through appointments and treatment, and ultimately into follow-up care and communications.

Each touchpoint and each stage of their journey requires a different manner of interaction. Detailed mapping informs the style, timing, and place of the outreach that will best serve their needs.

In 2017 alone, the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries spent over $2.5 billion on digital advertising. What separated those that netted a positive return on their marketing investment from companies that merely threw money at the problem without getting much back was disciplined implementation of analytical tools and studious examination of the entire patient journey.

“Paying and spraying” is yesteryear’s marketing. Leaders in today narrowly target the ideal patients for their facilities, segment those groups by demographic markers (e.g. age, gender, income level, and geographic location) and psychographic characteristics (e.g. tastes, values, and attitudes) to certify that every interaction is tuned to their unique wants and needs.

Research by consulting firm Accenture found that over 80 percent of consumers want brands to understand them meaningfully enough to know when and how to approach them. And yet, only slightly more than half of marketers report using customer feedback and data analytics to personalize their outreach.

Omnichannel Lifecycle Management

In addition to not knowing when or how to optimally connect with patients, many healthcare providers are failing to maintain continuous interactions throughout the entire Consumer-Patient-Constituent Lifecycle.

In general terms, the process should look like this:

  1. Study the resources of the healthcare facility to determine where a new patient funnel is appropriate and will generate enough revenue to justify the marketing investment.
  2. Target high-value patients who would benefit from the services being promoted.
  3. Continue contact after services have been rendered through specific post-care follow-ups as well as general health and wellness reminders.
  4. Measure feedback and retarget satisfied patients to determine which might be willing to take part in a Grateful Patient program and potentially become a recurring donor and/or brand advocate.

The next big development in healthcare marketing is a movement away from reactive programs to anticipatory outreach. Rather than casting a wide net and responding to everyone it covers, leading hospitals, pharmacies, outpatient facilities, and other care providers are using online resources to collect data that facilitates identifying potential high-value patients before that person has even begun their decision making process.

For example, an expectant mother will eventually need a place to deliver her child, a serious athlete is almost inevitably going to require palliative care for a sports-related condition, and patients with chronic ailments will have ongoing needs that will change and potentially progress over time.

Being the first to reach out to these individuals, before their needs become pressing, gives a healthcare provider a first-mover advantage over the competition. It also displays an awareness of the potential patient’s unique needs. That goes a long way towards creating lasting and engaged relationships and fostering brand loyalty.

The modern healthcare experience is multichannel, it’s personalized, and a premium is placed on firms that create gratifying interactions. In short, it’s a lot like every other winning brand experience today.

Management consultants at McKinsey and Co. found that as far back as 2014 a majority of patients expected to use digital channels when searching for and using healthcare services. What’s more, contrary to conventional wisdom about older patients, demand was high regardless of age.

Consumer Expectations Don’t Disappear at the Hospital

Whether they are shopping on Amazon, searching out a local plumber on Angie’s List, checking out restaurant reviews on Yelp, or polling their social networks for a recommendation, the modern consumer is awash with informational resources. That level of transparency compounds customer experience failures.

Inconsistent interactions, support that isn’t anticipatory or too slow to react, systems that are difficult to navigate, lack of personalization, and communications that don’t take into account where they are on their journey all add up to negative word of mouth, empty new customer funnels, and a dearth of brand advocates—negatively impacting revenue streams.

By contrast, when a pharmacy has easy to use digital tools to check prescriptions, send automated refill notifications, and reach out with promotions and health and wellness initiatives tailored to specific needs, patients feel understood and appreciated, have to do less work, report greater satisfaction, and are easier to convert into loyalists.

Likewise, hospitals that are optimizing their Consumer-Patient-Constituent Lifecycle and focusing on outstanding experiences are creating value for both themselves and their patients. Winning patient experiences translate into fewer missed appointments, better outcomes, higher retention rates, and increased referrals. To top it all off, their best patients become committed advocates, donating their time, money, and voice.

Conclusion

Patients aren’t traditional consumers, but make no mistake they are consumers, and they are increasingly demanding the same quality of experience from healthcare providers that they get from other industries.

Top healthcare brands are pulling patients away from the competition by creating sustained engagement, providing better care, and building out an active pool of donors and loyalists. They are devoting their resources to building a robust and growing lifecycle that anticipates patient needs, maps their journey, and communicates to them effectively.