Why Healthcare Companies Still Send So Much Mail
I cannot make it out of a meeting or newsfeed scan without a mention of AI, behavior change, robotics, wearables, or engagement. Despite all these communication-related technology advances, I am unable to rid my USPS mailbox of these dot matrix letters and statements. I should be thankful I am not the Maine woman who received over 500 pieces of mail from her health insurance company in five days.
It is 2019. Why do I need communications on paper?
Perhaps companies are nostalgic.
My money is on other reasons or barriers, otherwise known as excuses dressed in elaborate packaging.
After two decades in healthcare and a nearly equal amount of years focused on increasing digital adoption, I find these barriers usually come in 3 flavors. Good news. There is something you can do about it, and you can come out like an expense-saving rock star in the process.
Does that word give you the chills? What about when they throw federal, state, or CMS in front of it? Even more frightening, right?
Citing regulations is the preferred, low-calorie tactic for saying “no” or “go away” in any regulated business.
Counter this tactic by asking to see the regulations being referenced or by researching them yourself. Usually, people have not read them or have not examined how other companies may be interpreting the language. Like all legal language, it is subject to interpretation. Generally, the regulating bodies want consumers to get information more quickly and in their preferred channel. So, be creative, and partner with your compliance and legal folks to mitigate the risks together.
2. Adoption…and its impact on potential cost savings
This barrier generally sounds something like this: “we don’t have enough email addresses”; “people don’t come to our site that often”; or, “our customers are older and like paper.”
My mother, the Facebook animal video lover, would be offended if she knew what we said about her age group behind closed corporate doors.
I know what I am about to write may surprise you. If your company’s name is not Tesla, Apple, or Google, consumers are not eagerly waiting for your newest upgrade or email. Moreover, they most definitely do not care if you just digitally enabled their claim statements. If you are not one of these beloved consumer companies, it simply means you have to do the work to capture adoption.
Stop believing there is some unicorn-like digital capability or marketing campaign that will get you from 5% digital adoption to 90% in a month.
Run the numbers. Start big and work small.
Find out how many emails you have and how many of those customers have expressed interest in electronic communications. In some instances, a valid email address itself is sufficient to default to electronic delivery. Also, identify how many customers go to your website (per day, week, or month will do) or call into the call center. If you require a signup or bill payment, get those stats as well. Any significant touchpoint will be necessary for meaningful improvements in digital adoption.
If you can get mobile numbers and preferences, that’s great. If they aren’t available, don’t worry about it. There is a lot of talk, and related misuse of SMS, for non-urgent communications. Chances are your customers don’t want your SMS nudges just yet.
Round up any print and postage costs you can quickly identify. Usually, most companies can identify the expenses related to their highest volume of printed materials: statements, welcome communications, bills, and reminder letters. These expenses make up your total market of opportunity.
Let’s look at an oversimplified example.
A company with 1 million customers:
Annual print and postage spend for statements = $5,000,000 ($5 customer/year)
Customer email addresses available = 600,000 emails (60% of customers)
Potential electronic adoption savings = $3,000,000 ($5,000,000 total postage spend x 60% customer email rate)
This annoyingly simple illustration is meant to be a starting point to look at the opportunity for savings. Chances are you have enough implied adoption and viable email addresses to begin drafting a compelling business case.
If you are not sure if the email addresses are current or valid, decrease that number by 5% to 10%. You will, undoubtedly, need to cover any vendor electronic presentment costs and small IT development expenses, but it should be a fraction of the postage spend…if you negotiate properly.
You will also need to work collaboratively with your legal and compliance departments to leverage those email addresses for adoption. There are cases where you will need to capture explicit consent for a particular document. However, an outbound email with a 1-click electronic adoption link can often do the trick with or without an established preference center.
Technology limitations are the moose tracks of all excuses. It is a mashup of money, politics, and legacy systems.
Research and document your technology reality. Your communications will fall into three buckets: digitally-enabled (with or without print suppression enabled), paper only, and the unknowns. The unknowns are often ad hoc printed communications, marketing materials, and communications from a sub-division of the company that leverages different systems.
Talk to your technology partners to understand the barriers involved in converting them to a digital format. Start the conversation by sharing the print and postage savings you are trying to achieve and help them understand the end goal. My technology partners and legal partners would much rather be part of the problem-solving process than act as project order takers.
You may need to buy someone a few baked goods, but you need to understand everything you can about what is currently happening with your communications today. Is it online already? Can you send a triggered email notification to let the customer know it is available online? Do you have secure email capabilities you may be able to use instead of any printed communication? Is the online version a PDF online or a Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliant HTML page? What vendor partners are you already using for digital delivery?
Also, begin researching vendors and solutions for digital presentment. This path is well paved. Even the government has adopted electronic communications for business filings and other communications.
Each of these barriers requires a customized care and attention strategy based on your company’s situation. By taking these investigative steps, you can identify the most compelling place to start to help get your customer communications out of the stone age. You will be surprised how quickly a persuasive business case comes together.
This article may appear to be a cost savings article.
However, any grown-up company must have a solid handle on all the communications they are sending to their customers to improve the overall experience. All great companies know what they send to their customers.
Only then can you start this much talked about AI-powered personalized, journey-based customer communication experience. My take away is to now give myself ten lashings for my highly offensive use of buzz words in a single sentence.