The consumer-brand relationship has evolved, thanks to a marketing sea change called liquid expectations. The term emerged as consumers’ experiences in industries like retail and travel spilled over into industries previously thought to be unrelated, such as healthcare. Remember when we called airlines and booked flights? How about when phones rang “busy" and you had to wait to talk to the person you were calling? No longer. Now we click to book and text to talk. As a result, consumers shopping for healthcare providers and services expect — and will change doctors and hospitals to find — digital experiences on par with those delivered by the most customer-centric companies in the world.

Consider SITA, an autonomous roving robot that checks you in at the airport — no waiting in lines; Warby Parker, revolutionizing eyewear with a prescription test app that lets customers check for changes in their eyesight at home to determine if an in-person exam is warranted; and the 2017 collaboration between PlayStation and Burger King in Spain that lets gamers order their dinner in the midst of a game — addicts need never disconnect…well, at least not until the food arrives.

Consumers Are Tired of Healthcare’s Excuses
The tough news for healthcare marketers, if I’m being brutally honest, is that the healthcare consumer experience at most organization’s today remains rather archaic by comparison. According to a joint survey by Strategy& and PWC, there is a yawning chasm between what healthcare consumers want and what they’re getting. Some 80% of consumers are looking for more choice, better engagement through the channels they prefer, and healthcare experiences tailored to their individual needs.

Rising to Match Consumer Expectations
Based on our work with hundreds of hospitals and health systems across the country, I’d argue that there are plenty of opportunities remaining for most health systems and medical practices to advance their consumer experience initiatives. Self-identifying which of the following three categories best describes your organization’s starting position today can be helpful in understanding what will be required to get started.

In Denial: It is sometimes said that, “denial ain’t just a river in Egypt,” and that is certainly true for some organizations when it comes to re-imagining the consumer experience. Ignoring the fact that consumers are seeking medical expertise and making healthcare choices in new ways, the folks at these organizations have been reluctant to invest, or to rock the proverbial physician satisfaction boat, to move their digital CX strategies forward.

Tip-Toeing In: People in this group are trying to slowly acclimate to rising waters and changing temperatures. They’re making some steps forward, often with long pauses in between, testing the waters and trying to see how deep is “deep enough” to satisfy consumers before getting in over their heads. They have made progress but need to accelerate their pace.

Head First: These are the health systems willing to dive right in and push the limits. They have been the first to adopt data-driven marketing approaches and test out new technologies, like Amazon Alexa. These systems have made the commitment to meet individual consumers where they are, on the consumer’s terms.

The good news is, regardless of the category your organization falls into today, there are plenty of things you can do to help advance its strategy and see greater loyalty than ever before.

Breaking Through the Barriers
Innovating the consumer experience comes down to reducing the time, effort, steps, and attention required of consumers. Solving problems and making multi-tasking effortless is key. It’s no longer alright to force consumers to make endless phone calls or navigate through a complex website to find the best doctor or to figure out if their insurance is accepted.

Many consumer “tasks" should ultimately go the way of the dinosaur with problem solving and innovation on the rise. Healthcare organizations that don’t live up to expectations, streamline processes, and reward the consumer experience with unique products and services may go the way of the dinosaur, too, eaten up by competitors who get it right.

No doubt, innovation inevitably requires you to break down political barriers and substantiate the ROI that consumer experience investments can deliver. If you’re successful, you’re guaranteed to reach new heights of personal and career success. While not every innovation may resonate with every consumer, there are certainly plenty of wins to be had!

1. Make it personal. Invest in advancing your organization’s personalization strategy, which means catering to consumers like the discriminating, paying customers they are. Don’t bombard them with offers, but do present relevant, time-saving options that respect the fact they’re leading busy lives and have choices when it comes to healthcare. Put CRM technology in place that allows you to refine your messaging based on individual consumers’ wants, needs, behavior, habits, and lifestyle. Once CRM is established, evolve beyond collecting data into assessing individuals’ emotions and empathizing on a level comparable to bedside manner. Organizations who provide the best empathy and support to reflect their consumer's emotion will rise above the competition.

2. Optimize web experiences. Ensure your hospital website(s) adopt the look, feel, and functionality of online pioneers such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook. Static content is dead. Online appointment requests that go into a queue for a call back the following business day? Also, dead. Focus on finding a CMS that can deliver targeted content to consumers based on multiple dimensions of data including geolocation, behavioral, and CRM-integrated data. Optimize pages with dynamic content and calls to action to guide consumers quickly towards conversion. Provide convenient self-service features like direct scheduling, event registration, online bill payment, and live chat.

3. Don’t skimp on mobile. Deliver a mobile experience on par with industry-leaders like Starbucks, wherein the buying experience is simplified, and recommendations are made based upon past purchases (in healthcare this means office visits, diagnoses, and procedures). You might even consider implementing a loyalty program that offers discounts for parking, dining, or the gift shop, for patients and family members who come to your facility frequently.

4. Fine tune for local, mobile, and social search. Finally, new search and social media strategies are needed to intercept consumers asking health-related questions, in their moment of truth, and provide valuable answers in the form of multimedia content. You can’t win the consumer experience war without a comprehensive plan of attack for local, social, and mobile search. Period.

Get Ready for the Next Wave
Experts are predicting extraordinary improvements to the consumer experience by way of voice search, chatbots and robotic automation (AI) tools. These sci-fi like technologies will quickly become commonplace across the healthcare industry in both marketing and services.

As nearly 40% of Americans own (and actually use) a voice-enabled digital assistant, according to eMarketer, we’re quickly approaching a time when consumers won’t look at their phone to navigate to a doctor’s office or even open Google to find an urgent care near them. What they will do is verbalize their request out loud.

As that tsunami hits, machine learning will have a hand in everything from dealing with insurance questions to diagnosing an illness. Chatbots and AI will step to the foreground and become commonplace, as healthcare consumers are highly likely to accept these technologies so long as they know when they are interacting with systems, devices, or people powered by AI.

Healthcare organizations and medical practices that effectively navigate these time-saving, one-of-a-kind innovations to reinvent the way things used to be done and improve consumers’ lives will gain their trust and ensure brand loyalty.

Want to learn more about creating engaging healthcare consumer experiences today? Download our white paper.