What Health Care Can Learn from Retail #4: Manage the Customer Life Cycle

September 22, 2021

By Toni J. EberhardtHere’s #4 the final best practice health care can borrow from retail to help connect with consumers (patients).Manage the customer life cycle.Customer life cycle management marks one of the highlights of my marketing career. In marketing, the focus is often on customer acquisition, and customer retention is a distant, secondary concern. In fact, a key error some retailers make in quantifying the cost of acquisition of a customer is not calculating if new customer is incremental or replacing a lost customer; if replacing a lost customer, did we break even on that customer yet? If not, that loss needs to be added to the cost of acquisition. I spearheaded this effort as a marketing analyst at AT&T Wireless, and the results paid for the customer retention program’s costs and more.In health care, when I asked what the cost of acquisition of a customer was and/or what our customer churn rate was, I was met with blank stares. So, while the marketing analyst in me found it absurd not to arm ourselves with these numbers and make marketing decisions based on them, I turned to other data- clinic and provider review scores; patient satisfaction surveys and feedback by topic; the number of patients returning to the provider within a year, etc.With this information, our medical group, which was comprised of more than 65 medical specialties and 1200 providers, could begin to identify unique ways to manage the patient- or customer- life cycle. For example, patient satisfaction survey feedback from women showed that OB patients expected more- a more personal experience, more information and education, and more access to their physician and care team. The same was true for parents of newborn and young pediatric patients. To address this patient segment-specific need, we developed two “Welcome Kits”- one for OB patients and one for pediatric patients. These booklets provided basic education and a place to put pertinent medical information; the booklets were also designed to be a keepsake, with places to insert pictures throughout the pregnancy or childhood.This information helped us determine how to communicate with specific age groups. Older patients, for example, wanted reminder cards mailed to them a week before an upcoming appointment. Millennials preferred to be notified via text, email or a message through the patient portal.Retailers know that there is no “one size fits all” in customer life cycle management, and data is power in developing the best strategy by customer segment. Health care needs to catch up and harness the plethora of data they have in a HIPAA-compliant way to make informed, sophisticated maps of their patients’ life cycles with the health care system. Communicating in a way that meets your patient’s needs generates increased loyalty.Toni, thank you so much for this very informative series. We’ve received many emails of appreciation for the wealth of information you’re shared.Toni J. Eberhardt is the founder and president of Prescriptive Communications, LLC. Ms. Eberhardt has nearly 25 years’ experience in marketing strategy and communications, public relations, crisis communications and public affairs in more than five industries with Fortune 500 companies. Ms. Eberhardt has worked in health care for ten years as a marketing and public relations executive with McKesson, Banner Health and FastMed Urgent Care. She can be reached at teberhardt@prescriptivecomm.com

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