Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Worst Run Industry in America No. 1: Your best customers are your worst customers

Last week I sat down with two people who are leaders in a relatively large Michigan health insurance company. (I won't use their names or the company name.) They sought me out because they were redesigning their website and they liked the one I direct at Zingerman's. They appreciated that it was fun and likeable. They wanted to know the philosophy behind the design to see what they could learn from it.

I told them that the fun and likeable parts of our website are not there because we think it's cool and nice to have. They're not a veneer. They're there to solve a customer problem. The problem is that most people find expensive food they've never heard of kind of intimidating. Our job is to remove that obstacle. We make the food approachable with information, humor and cartoons. My advice to them was to find their customer's problems and solve them on their website. Boiled down, that's essentially my philosophy of website design.

Like most of you I've been a student of health care since the minute I had something serious happen to my health as an adult. It happens to all of us. We start paying attention to health care when we really need health care. If you're like me, what you found when you started to use health care in America was inspiring, terrifying and baffling. On the one hand health care professionals and their gizmos and drugs do a pretty good job of making us well. But the health care industry that they work in is, bar none, the worst run industry I've ever experienced. (I used to reserve that line for the airline industry. But health care is run so atrociously it's not even a contest anymore.) When I say it's the worst run I'm not talking about profits and income statements. A lot of health care is profitable. It's everything else that the health industry does that makes it horribly run.

I think there's a lot that health care can learn from American retailers, who, in my admittedly limited travels in the world, can be the most forward-thinking and creative service companies anywhere. We retailers can also learn from health care. Mainly, we can learn what not to do. Because sometimes we're doing the same things to our customers that the health care industry is doing and we don't even know it. To that end, today I'm beginning a blog series I'll call The Worst Run Industry in America. It's not meant to be a venting session. My intention is to share lessons on what not to do from the industry that seems to figure out all the wrong ways to help people.

As my conversation wrapped up with the health care leaders they said something so shocking I can't shake it. We talked about different ways they could give great service to their insurance customers. At one point one of them said, "You know, there's a problem here. If we give service that's too good then what happens is we attract the really needy patients, the ones who need lots of health care. These customers are bad for our bottom line." 

In other words, their best customers — the ones that need them the most — they consider their worst customers, the ones they don't want. It made my jaw drop. No retailer could ever survive if it felt like that. My hope is that, in time, no health care insurance company will survive that thinks like that either.

1 comment:

JP said...

My number one frustration with our health insurance company as of late (since we have two boys now with broken arms, and we're self-employed having to buy our own insurance which means we have pretty limited coverage and have to pay much of our own expenses until we hit our $10,000 deductible!!!), would be so great if we could just call the E.R. say or the insurance company and be told how much something is going to cost (to determine if we should maybe go to urgent care, where would an x-ray would be less expensive, should we do our pediatrician first??) I've learned to do that with prescriptions now (we pay %100 of our prescriptions!) and discovered that CVS charges $60.00 for the exact, (and I mean EXACT) same drug that Kroger and our local independent village pharmacy sell for $6.00 (YES...SIX DOLL-HAIRS!). As a consumer, I desperately wold like it to be easier to now how much I'm going to be charged for a service BEFORE I have the service and that is nearly impossible! On the "glass-half-full" side, one boy picked a red cast and two weeks later with the second broken arm a green cast was chosen...we're all set for this year's Christmas card!