With health-care reform looming, the industry will soon encounter millions of new customers–Americans who, with subsidy from the government, will be purchasing health care for the first time.
But unlike buying shampoo or even a new insurance policy, shopping for a health-care provider has little to do with brand awareness. Instead, these consumers look to friends and family for recommendations, a situation that requires marketers in this space to use completely different tactics for customer acquisition. It also places additional weight on the importance of customer experience.
As customer experience officer (CXO) of Prime Therapeutics, a pharmacy benefits manager, Ingrid Lindberg sits squarely in the middle of this new challenge. In this exclusive interview with CMO.com editor-in-chief Tim Moran, Lindberg discusses brand transparency, strategies for shaping the complex customer experience, and creating long-term customer loyalty.
CMO.com: Give me a little background on Prime Therapeutics—how you got there and what the role of the CXO looks like at a “big pharma” company?
Ingrid: We are a pharmacy benefits manager—we don’t produce medicine or drugs as, say, Pfizer does. Prime Therapeutics is about 20 years old now, and we have over 21 million customers in the United States. We provide the pharmacy benefits primarily for, or in partnership with, Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans. If you think about health care, you have national players and more regional players. We are the pharmacy benefits manager behind several Blue Plan partners across the country. And we are owned—owned fully—in a venture with the Blue Plans. So, although we are not-for-profit, we are not a not-for-profit--we are owned by a not-for-profit.
CMO.com: Your official title is CXO. How does that play in with the marketing side of the business, and how does it connect to the different customers you have?
Ingrid: My model is probably the most fascinating I’ve ever seen because I'm actually B2B2B2C. My distribution engine is the Blue Plan, and then the Blue Plan sells to the employer. And the customer, in my mind’s eye, is that actual person who’s receiving our benefits. So the responsibility that I have at Prime is to define what the customer experience should be for that end user across all of our products, services, and solutions.
It’s up to a lot of different people to get that person into our virtual door. I’ve got salespeople who sell to Blue Plans; I have salespeople who sell to employers through the Blue Plans. My matrix is outstanding when you start to draw it out. Once we’ve done that acquisition, I can also start it one-to-one, acquiring people in the digital market. I can now get people as a result of the health-care bill. If you take out that employer lever, then I become a B2B2C instead of that extra B. So within the realm of my responsibility, I have most of the traditional marketing functions: communications, agency relations, creative services, all of the digital and social marketing, and market research around consumer insights, which we call voice of the customer.
CMO.com: How much of the insight for voice of the customer is coming through social media?
Ingrid: If you Google “Prime Therapeutic sucks,” you won’t find us. I think we have two complaints out there because most people see us as the pharmacy benefit attached to the Blue Plan. We don’t have that many direct relationships in social, although we are starting to build them. People interact with their health-care plan 1.4 times a year. There aren’t many opportunities to create long-term loyalty. On the pharmacy side, we interact with the consumer 11.7 times a year on average. We’re starting to get much cleaner around the identification and standalone interactions. We know that we win because of that fantastic Blue friend, but we know we have the ability to really keep people based on what experience we offer them at every touch.
CMO.com: How does the concept of your brand slant to that? Is the Prime Therapeutics brand something that you think about or concern with?
Ingrid: Whenever I start a customer experience journey at a firm, we always start with that re-dentification of what our DNA, mission, and brand is. Once we tie those things together and bring the employee population in, we can start talking about what we’re doing. The work that we started as soon as I got here was really around our new purpose statement, which is to help people get the medicine they need to feel better and live well. Everything that we do, every decision that we make, every conversation that we have, has to support that purpose.
CMO.com: That’s internal. What about external brand exposure?
Ingrid: We have a pretty limited brand. We’ve done some work about how we would like to present ourselves. We don’t do much advertising. If we do, then it’s very community-oriented because that’s very much how the Blues run their brand as well. They’re very local. The purchase decision in health care is all word of mouth. People don’t buy you based on brand awareness. They buy you based on what their neighbor has. Brand awareness is literally after the top 10 in consideration. Health care is not something people like to think about.
CMO.com: What about brand awareness through the pharmacy side of the business?
Ingrid: The pharmacy perspective is a little different. If you’re someone who’s taking medication regularly, you for sure know our name. The boxes come from us. If you're looking up medication you took, you're coming to my digital property. If something shows up and it’s broken, you're complaining about us on Twitter. We’ve started to make a move to become more transparent about who we are.
CMO.com: Right now the majority of companies claiming they focus on customer experience are actually doing old-school customer service. What role does customer service play in customer experience for you?
Ingrid: This is probably one of my biggest frustrations with being an early practitioner in this space. Customer service is about 5 percent of my customer experience. So when people use those two terms interchangeably, I still get to the point where the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and I think to myself, "Really? Come on guys." If you're talking customer experience, it is everything from that first interaction you have with a brand, to what you chose to purchase, to your propensity to add more to that basket, to every interaction you have across the full life cycle with that company. And service generally comes into play when something has gone wrong somewhere else.
CMO.com: What keeps you up at night?
Ingrid: Year one in the customer experience journey is all about setting that path and getting people excited about it. Year two is where you roll up your sleeves and really start to do the hard work. Year two is when we started to talk externally about what we’re doing. If we don’t execute cleanly on what we’re promising, you know exactly where we end up. So that’s what always keeps me up at night. The other thing that keeps me up at night, honestly, is the fast pace of change in our industry. What happens if every employer drops health care tomorrow and we are purely in a B2C market?