4 Steps to Charting an Empathetic Experience
By Srikanth Lakshminarayanan
Imagine you are in the hospital after an emergency appendectomy, and you have a simple but urgent question about the payment of this just-delivered health service. Your physical and mental stress is a load made only heavier with that pending insurance coverage conversation. You are in no mood to struggle with an exasperating app or digital exchange, you want a straightforward reassuring dialogue—one delivered with good, old-fashioned empathy.
From another perspective, the expectations are higher for your engagement team. The right customer service agent must deliver on several levels as an empathetic advocate who can listen, relate, and resolve the issue at hand. Simply put, with all the renewed digital efforts toward optimized customer experience (CX), healthcare customer service remains highly challenging.
The recent COVID-19 surge exposed CX teams to an all-new type of issue, one which no bot or digital channel had ever dealt with. What’s needed is a fresh approach to empathy-based engagement as part of the healthcare customer experience.
Now is the time for healthcare to learn a few lessons from technology-retail elites like Apple, which is renowned for its low-tech empathy focus. Apple aims for Geniuses to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and recognize the emotions their customers feel and change those, to make them feel better. The Apple manual advises the “Three F’s: feel, felt, and found.” This means connecting, relating from personal experience, and consoling with issue resolution. Healthcare would do well to borrow from this model and reduce friction points to result in more effortless, empathetic problem-solving.
Ultimately, there is still a solid foundation for every contact in healthcare to chart a basic blueprint for compassionate issue resolution. An optimized experience, delivered by an agent empowered to provide empathetic customer satisfaction, should comprise this flow.
Empathy begins with active listening. From the first word spoken by the customer, the agent must focus 100 percent on the communication. This point in the conversation is critical as an opening to bond and win immediate customer trust. Agents shouldn’t make notes while listening. Unless they listen properly, they cannot react to the situation of the customer.
Reduce any miscommunication with follow-up questions.
Acknowledge the Customer
Address the caller with a member or patient name and personalize the communication with a concierge touch to earn trust and loyalty. By using unified desktop and disparate systems, today’s agents can preemptively acknowledge the issue without spending time on a longer intake process. There are also opportunities to track prior visits to eliminate abrasion with unnecessary restating by the member or patient.
Show understanding. Remain calm. The adage is that you never truly know what a person is going through, but with healthcare, it’s even more critical. This is because one thing is clear with healthcare customer calls, and this is that a health issue affects the member or patient’s life. Empathy at this stage might mean a reassuring tone with, “I understand this is difficult. I’m here to help.”
Do not interrupt the customer, instead show attentiveness.
Demonstrate intent to resolve the issue, with the understanding that it won’t necessarily be the case, since not everything is within our control. At this stage, it’s key to let members and patients know that empathetic customer care means trying their best to help, with the understanding that some conditions or procedures may not be covered. Aim for authentic communication, with an added personalized touch, and “thank you” or expression of gratitude for patience.
Over the past fifteen years clients have evolved their metrics focus from a quality, first call resolution and call center customer satisfaction (CSAT) to net promoter score (NPS). One emphasis that has remained the same, however, is empathy, as the leading attribute in every single interaction that drives all these metrics. And while empathy is required for all customer service, in healthcare, even more so, the mission is to address the critical, personal impact related to health, finance, and often-raw emotions.
Helping customers resolve their issues is a delicate balance of all three of these things. That’s what makes healthcare customer service as uniquely fulfilling as it is challenging.
Srikanth “Sri” Lakshminarayanan is vice president, center of excellence for healthcare engagement services. Sri is a domain expert supporting the deployment, stabilization, and growth of capabilities in voice and related services in HGS’s healthcare programs.