There's no rest for weary healthcare insurance marketers. In a mere six months, the Open Enrollment Period will once again be upon us. Whether consumers purchase their insurance through a public or commercial exchange, tens of millions of Americans will once again need to select their health plan for the coming year.

Let's be honest: Despite the well-documented desire for consumers to be more involved in their healthcare decisions, most do not look forward to the process of choosing health insurance. Whether it's an inexperienced Millennial selecting a plan for the first time, a current member reconsidering his or her options, or a new mother seeking family coverage, evaluating plans, understanding benefits, and getting enrolled can be daunting. Meanwhile, headlines are filled with the national debate surrounding all things healthcare, creating even more confusion and uncertainty around an already complex topic.

To meet key metrics around acquisition and retention, now is the time for insurance marketers to emulate the customer experience tactics of other industries such as retailers and financial services companies. Consider these recent survey findings:

  • According to Temkin Group, which grades companies across industries based on the quality of customer experience, healthcare payers rank dead last of all 20 industries evaluated.
  • Research from PwC finds that 51% of consumers are displeased with their health insurance experience.

Perhaps most concerning of all, PWC's Health Research Institute notes the dissatisfaction has caught the attention of companies who long ago mastered the art of customer experience. Behemoths like Target and Walmart are primed to disrupt the health insurance industry, and consumers appear ready and willing to accept the new entrants. In fact, 40% said they'd trust a large retailer for health services, and 38% have faith in digitally enabled companies like Amazon and Google. Meanwhile, only 37% would place trust in traditional insurance companies.

To address these challenges in the highly competitive and fast-changing market, health insurance payers must rethink their approach to direct-to-consumer marketing. Payers must go beyond open enrollment and guide members along their entire journey throughout the year. Only by delivering the personalized, relevant, and timely experiences that today's consumers have come to expect in all aspects of their lives can healthcare payers meet critical KPIs related to acquisition, onboarding, engagement, and retention.

1. Unify data across the organization.

Data drives relevancy. As a first step, health insurers must unite data from sales, service, and marketing. Combining all available data sources into individual contact records that are constantly evolving fills the member engagement tank with the fuel to power highly personalized and relevant 1-to-1 experiences across channels, devices, and business units.

2. Capture and automate journeys.

From prospect through renewal, payers must understand every touchpoint of the customer journey - and use automation to seamlessly guide consumers from one moment to the next. Leverage data such as member preferences and history, and detect and respond to real-time engagement such as website visits, customer service inquiries, ad clicks, and email opens. Deliver the right message, at the right time, on member-preferred channels such as email, SMS, ads, social, and the web.

3. Drive acquisition with advertising.

Traditional print and mass media advertising is expensive, and returns difficult to quantify. Digital advertising on Facebook, Instagram, and targeted sites available from mobile publishers provides immense opportunities to reach your precise audience. Leverage the data you already possess in your CRM system, and continuously add to the resource with email opt-in techniques. With targeted ads, you can reinforce value with existing members, promote additional services, and re-engage members who have churned. For even better results, enhance acquisition with lookalikes who possess attributes similar to your best members.

4. Onboard and engage members with email and mobile.

How payers manage the experience during the application and enrollment process has a profound and lasting effect on member satisfaction. Email - which remains the preferred channel of communication for most customer segments - can guide members each step of the way. Trigger messages based on activity (or inactivity) as members make their way through the onboarding journey. Once enrolled, keep members engaged throughout the year with personalized content such as health and wellness newsletters, benefit updates, adherence programs, and other tips to help them get the most from their healthcare dollars. Remember, this year's engagement initiatives will pay dividends during next year's renewal period.

5. Build loyalty and advocacy with social media.

Engage members - especially Millennials - where they live: on social media. It all starts with social listening to tap into the voice of members and nonmembers alike. Gather insights on specific topics and trends to discover what's being said about your brand, services, and competitors, then use the findings to shape your marketing messages on social media as well as all channels. Extend the value with social customer service to quickly identify and resolve simple issues, and route more complex problems to a customer care representative.

More Customer Experience Tips for Health Insurers

Open enrollment is a key milestone - but premier health insurers orchestrate member journeys throughout the year. Are you ready to rethink your direct-to-consumer strategy? Download our new e-book, "Marketing Cloud for Health Insurers," for more insights on how to acquire and foster member relationships that last.