I lasted two days with my New Year's resolution to never lose my temper again with a customer service agent. 

It wasn't the agent's fault, it was the technology that failed. How can an industry as advanced as health technology fall so far behind in customer experience?

This Is Not Brain Surgery

The health technology industry is a leader in innovation. It was the most profitable sector in 2015. Awesome advances are being made like the exoskeleton technology that lets paralyzed people walk again using their own brain waves, and the Google smart contact lens with embedded sensors that interact with tear fluid to determine diabetics’ blood glucose levels. 

Health technology is projected to be the most profitable segment again in 2016, with a 21.6 percent net profit margin. So it should not be at all difficult for this awesome technology sector to deliver solutions that provide a good experience for their average customers. That is why I was shocked when I recently discovered a major lack of customer-focused design in the apps that serve healthcare consumers. 

I Am A Person, Not an Invoice Number

Have you tried to pay a laboratory bill lately? I recently tried on my healthcare provider's website that offers bill paying online. I was already rather upset because my insurance had said it would cover this bill but then didn’t (a long story). The web app informed me this provider did not accept online payment from its site. Rather than just sending a check, I called to see if a discount was possible since there was no insurance coverage.

A helpful agent told me a discount was possible under the circumstances, but then asked for the invoice number, because they didn’t organize by customer but only by transaction. Really? OK then. I eventually found the invoice number and got my discount. I successfully kept my cool (and my New Year resolution) with the service agent, but clearly this design flaw should be corrected. A basic concept of good customer experience design is to ensure that all elements relating to a given customer can be associated with that customer. 

I might well have overlooked this one incident, but it became a harbinger of even more frustrating experiences with health technology.

I Approved This Message

My family recently switched to an insurance provider with a pricing model that encourages use of its online pharmacy. I like this approach because it not only offers some financial advantages but also convenience. What could be simpler than an app that tracks your medications and allows easy refills of a 90 day supply straight to your mailbox? Or so I thought. Unfortunately I soon discovered that the rules instantiated in the pharmacy software were totally inconsistent when it came to approvals.

Here’s what happened:

When we switched to our new online pharmacy late last year, we waited two weeks for our first shipment of medication only to learn when we called the provider’s customer service that we were supposed to go online and approve the prescription. That sounded prudent, but of course it would have been good to alert us to the required approval. We went online and couldn’t find a way to do the approval. We called back to customer services and were told then that the mobile version didn’t include that feature, but the customer service rep would be glad to do that for us. He would also be glad to expedite the shipping at no cost to us to ensure we got the prescription in time.

Soon after, we needed our next new prescription delivered to our vacation address. Our doctor sent in the prescription electronically and we called customer service after to approve the new prescription and find out how to ship it to a different address. Surprise! The agent told us we did not need to approve the prescription and it had already shipped (to where we weren’t). She would be glad to send out a duplicate prescription expedited to our vacation address. 

There was no explanation and clearly no understanding by the agent of the random approval rules. She did however happily explain that we could make the change in shipping address ourselves in the future, but each time we changed it we would need to reenter the current ship-to address, as there were no multiple address selections.

Symptoms: Delayed or incorrect product delivered requiring return and expedited shipping to correct. Diagnosis: Bad design!

For Auld Lang Syne

It's a new year. Sure, switching over prescriptions for the first time last year or mailing to a different address was a rocky road, but refills in 2016 would certainly go much more smoothly (and we could all drink a cup of kindness). 

It started well, with an email signaling that prescriptions were eligible for refill. Now we’re talking. Just click through and a refill could be on its way. I clicked on the email from my mobile and was taken directly the web where a message let me know ALL my available refills had been refilled. I only needed one refilled. Unlike every retail website in existence, this site offered no step to review or change the order before approving. 

The web app showed my status as “in process,” but with no way to adjust or reach out to chat with an agent for help. I called. A cheery customer service rep told me that it wasn't possible to change or cancel the order (inadvertently placed less than two minutes prior), since the pharmacist would be refilling it. I explained that there must be a way since the refill was in process for less than a few minutes and couldn’t possibly be completed yet. She explained that the good news was that there was no charge to me (for the pills that I did not need) and when I received them I could call back to customer service again and they would send me a return envelope.

Third Time is NOT the Charm

That did it — goodbye New Year's resolution. I explained to the customer service agent that this situation was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard and proceeded to recount the previous two interactions I had with them. Then I rehashed this third unsatisfactory experience. I told her this must be one of the major reasons that healthcare was so expensive in this country, and all she had to do was sign on to PayPal, drugstore.com or Amazon to see that things could operate properly. At which point she said she might be able to contact the pharmacist and ask to cancel the order. Sigh.

All of this ridiculousness and needless expense could have been avoided by a simple proactive customer-focused design implementation with:

  • Organized information from the customer perspective
  • Multiple choice option and fields for bill to and ship to information
  • Timely review and approval steps for all orders
  • Alerts to customers of actions pending
  • Consistent omnichannel capabilities, including mobile app and IVR, and
  • An ability to effect orders that are “in process”

Prognosis Favorable

The outlook for health tech should be favorable. In many ways, like with wearables, this industry is leading the way to provide a better life experience. However, the industry is lagging far behind other segments in providing a satisfactory customer experience with basic apps that support both the business of care and its daily operation. 

There is no excuse. The industry has no lack of profit to apply for improvements. The techniques are readily available today and implemented in countless financial customer service apps, retail commerce sites and social communities. For many years, business process and case management technology has implemented all of these design features quite elegantly by allowing a case to represent a customer, enabling cases within cases, and multiple processes and transactions associated with cases. It provides multiple choice information fields, rules or guidelines for consistent software and service support behavior, plus alerts and cross-channel abilities. 

If case management is not your thing, there is still a host of other ways using ECM or CEM technology to ensure information about the customer is properly linked and accessible as required, and actions can be performed against a current in process transaction or activity. Retail shopping and social media apps have proven that this is not only possible, but ubiquitous. 

I write this as a public service of a sort and I’m hopeful that health apps will catch up soon with their counterparts in other industries. In the meantime, I am in search of a new resolution for 2016 and some effective high blood pressure medication.