There’s no doubt that today’s consumers place a high value on the experience they receive from the organizations they interact with. Salesforce’s latest State of the Connected Customer research proves it: 80% of customers say their experience with a company is as important as its products.

The retail sector is at the forefront of responding to this shift in consumer mindset. Retail is in the midst of a major transformation from brick-and-mortar and event-based shopping to personalized and always connected online experiences. By becoming more relevant, proactive, and engaging, leading retailers secure big gains in customer loyalty. They also want to redefine consumers’ expectations when it comes to convenience, communication, and more.

Healthcare is a different story. In the retail world, a person could walk down the street and remember they need new grips for their golf clubs. By the time they reach the end of the block, they’ve viewed recommendations on related items, found a preferred retailer and purchased the grips — all without breaking their stride! Compare that to the average person’s experience with the healthcare system, where it might take months (and multiple phone calls) to just get an appointment with their preferred physician.

Yes, there are material differences between the retail and healthcare sectors. But there are also many ways in which healthcare can learn a lot from retail by following its playbook -- while still ensuring patients’ and members safety. 

As consumerism becomes a bigger factor in healthcare, finding new ways to reinvent the patient experience is a business imperative, especially as retail giants Amazon and Walmart enter the fray.


So, what can healthcare learn from retail?

We believe these are at four key areas healthcare organizations should focus on first.


Put patients and members at the center

The first step is for payers and providers to look at their services through the eyes of the patient and member and to consider the journey a person takes — not only when using their services, but also before and after. From the moment an individual searches Google for a specialist, through to paying a claim or picking up a prescription, healthcare payers and providers must connect all touchpoints in order to increase engagement, drive loyalty, and improve health outcomes.


Go omnichannel

Healthcare organizations should take advantage of technology to tailor interactions with individuals through different channels, such as communicating via the web, video chat, or telephone. This will enable healthcare professionals to be more available where and when people can and want to interact. Retailers have shown the way in this area by becoming genuinely ‘omnichannel.’ Most now deliver a consistent, convenient, and personalized shopping or service experience to customers through stores, websites, phones, video chat services, mobile apps, and other avenues.


Connect systems

Healthcare payers and providers continue to focus on interoperability — the ability to connect disparate information systems, devices, and applications, across various departments and organizations, to share data and improve health outcomes. Achieving interoperability will provide healthcare professionals with a single lens into a person’s up-to-date health record, enabling them to quickly and more efficiently provide better care and tailored services and communications to each person.

Sound familiar? Companies across the retail sector pull customer data from social, digital, and traditional channels in order to build a 360-view of the customer. Oftentimes a retailer knows when a woman is pregnant even before her provider knows. Why? Because the retailer knows she purchased a pregnancy test, looked at trending baby names and is now shopping for maternity clothes.

Take a look at Williams-Sonoma Inc. The American retailer has built a comprehensive database of approximately 60 million households across its eight brands (including Pottery Barn and West Elm), which enable it to deliver personalized relevant messaging to its customers. Explains Sameer Hassan, SVP of Digital Technology for William-Sonoma Inc., “By leveraging our shared household files, we are able to identify cross-brand reference points to better service our customers across life stages, increasing relevance and loyalty,” (as quoted in Diginomica).


Make better use of data

Once systems are better connected and payers and providers can support patients as individuals, the magic can really start. One reason sites like and services such as Netflix and Uber are so easy and enjoyable to use is that they employ artificial intelligence (AI) to better predict what customers want. They also draw on peripheral data sources — from social media insights to weather reports – to better understand customers’ needs. Healthcare payers and providers can follow suit by using AI to better predict patients’ needs and even prevent them from getting sick in the first place. They might also draw on data about socioeconomic and environmental factors such as housing and employment trends — so-called social determinants of health.

With the healthcare sector making up an extraordinary 18% of the American economy, any improvements that can be made on these fronts will not only transform the patient experience but the efficiency of the industry itself. That’s potentially good news for everyone as a consumer and for a nation grappling with the rising costs of healthcare.

Learn more about Salesforce and Health Cloud and how we help healthcare payers and providers connect the patient journey.