Member retention is an increasingly important issue for every insurer to address. The cost to acquire a member is high, and if for some reason this member leaves within the first year, the investment is lost. As a result, implementing strategies that focus on member retention, entanglement and loyalty is a necessary part of every business plan.

Customer service, products, and rates all come into play when it comes to keeping your members satisfied, but it is important to remember that your ongoing, periodic communications with your members also strongly influences their loyalty. Each “touch point” between members and their insurance company has the potential to impact the overall perception of their experience. Member confusion or uncertainty when it comes to things like policy changes, explanation of benefits (EOB), or even simple letters can leave the insured wondering if the company they have chosen is really focused on what’s best for them. If the perception is negative, the risk is losing their loyalty. Effective communications play a key role in ensuring customer satisfaction and retention.

Enhancing customer communications right now

Despite the fact that every insurance company has a great deal of information on its customers, both in quantity and quality, it is certainly a fact that insurance companies have a challenge when it comes to delivering more consistent, personalized communications. The problem is that the relevant member data – effectively your corporate memory about a member – may be in different “silos” throughout the company. This makes developing a unified view of the customer relationship difficult, especially if they hold multiple policies. Eliminating the complexity of an abundance of documents, legacy forms, applications and multiple data streams in an effort to effectively execute communications can seem overwhelming.

To tackle these challenges, there is technology readily available on the market today that can take information from disparate systems and work from a single, coordinated platform to create more customer-centric documents and other output. Seeking software that allows for easy integration with existing systems, data and content sources is a critical step in the strategy to create consumer-focused communications. If you have access to the right data, you have the ability to draw information from what you already know about your members to create communications that speak directly to their needs. Every document sent to members needs to show that you remember them, that you understand their needs, and that you are working hard to serve them.

Unlike generic direct mail, policyholder communications are most likely to be opened, read and considered. This provides the perfect opportunity to insert targeted content that can enrich the member’s experience and deepen the relationship. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be messages that up-sell or cross-sell products. It can also be useful health information that helps members engage in preventative care options. Simply providing the ability for members to understand, read, interpret, and then act on this health care information is a huge step in gaining loyalty.

Highly personalized communications deliver many other benefits as well. They have a proven track record when it comes to improving member response–dramatically. Including marketing and informational messaging into statements or EOB documents also makes it possible to reap the benefits of reduced production costs by eliminating the need to produce separate marketing materials, as well as reducing the time required to get the word out. Even the briefest message on the statement can be timed to integrate with a broader campaign, directing members to a website for information on how easy treatment management can be, or alerting them to highly competitive rates on various health plan options.

Several major companies in the industry have already implemented a more personalized, multi-channel approach to keeping policyholders in all segments well-informed of their benefits, and helping members monitor and manage escalating costs. In an effort to increase the health literacy of their members (which has been shown to result in better self-management of health issues and subsequent reduced healthcare costs) they have, for example, redesigned their EOB starting with itemizing benefits, breaking out things like provider visits, lab services, and drug benefit information, and even changing the physical layout to make the document easier to read and understand. Email and mobile SMS notifications of account updates, statement availability and status changes are tied in to the periodic EOB statement workflow, resulting in a personalized and convenient experience for the member. Another example is welcome kits, which can now be printed on demand and delivered via multiple communication channels, using data from the new member’s application, eliminating content that isn’t relevant to their needs, and providing targeted messaging based on other demographics. All of these companies have reported substantial savings both in healthcare and operational costs as a result of these kinds of improvements.

Remembering it’s a two-way street

While developing more member-centric communications is definitely a worthy and necessary goal, we can’t forget that in today’s world it is not only important to communicate your messages to your members, but it is also just as important (if not more) to listen to what they have to say back to you. Implementing two-way communication management functionality means being ready to use all of the available and emerging communication channels – email, web, social, and mobile – and being ready to capture the feedback that your members give you across these channels. Every member has preferences, and being able to capture and respond to them is the real value of multi-channel communication. Preferences can mean many things, from where to send a member’s information to how they want to see their documents to paying attention to concerns they may have expressed. Knowing these preferences, and responding to them, allows each document output cycle to be more and more targeted, making the member feel like you are having a compelling two-way conversation with them, and providing one more avenue to a deeper relationship.

Addressing members’ individual needs and interests, and making them active and supportive partners in their relationship with you, will support both your business initiatives and your members’ quality of life. Effective communication is the key to every healthy, productive relationship, and the best possible route to ensure retention.

Doug Cox is the Director of North America Enterprise Business for GMC Software Technology, a provider of document output for customer communication management. GMC Software Technology offers a seamless, easy-to-use, and powerful solution that enables business users to reduce the complexity and costs of customer communication management across business silos. The company’s secure, scalable, and reliable solution produces personalized and regulatory compliant communications that can be delivered to members via the channel of choice. He can be reached at d.cox@gmc.net.