Is your self-pay strategy ready to capitalise?

 

Over the course of 2020 I have shared my opinion and expertise in HealthcareMarkets UK on how operators can best set themselves up to meet the growing demand from consumers willing and able to pay for their own healthcare.

It is widely accepted that there is currently a supply-side deficit, which has driven suppressed growth at a time when demand has never been higher, both in terms of opportunities being generated and by market conditions. Tactically, there is little time or scope for change at this moment when supply is significantly restricted by capacity, but as the situation normalises over the next year, operators will need to ensure their self-pay strategy is ready to capitalise. It’s a perfect time to re-think and put right the fundamental weaknesses in how operators set up for retail business. A good starting point is to recap on the key issues I raised during the year.

In February, I discussed the danger that hospital culture can be a blocker to stronger self-pay growth. Articulating and adopting a customer centric philosophy, empowering staff to deliver it by any means and taking note of, and action on, continual feedback will not only pave the way for self-pay growth but greatly improve the hospital environment and experience for customers generally. This requires strong leadership from the top and is the starting point.

In March, I discussed the key imperative of the self-pay customer journey – personalisation. Research into service expectations point to some key interpersonal criteria – communication, responsiveness, reliability, information, customer-centric and courtesy. Service delivery must therefore be wholly designed around satisfying these expectations and carried out accordingly. So, recognise where you have service gaps and put them right.

In April, I expounded upon the importance of adopting a simple sales pipeline. In its simplest form the self-pay journey travels from enquiry to outpatient appointment to diagnostics to treatment quote and then to treatment booked – five key stages. To improve conversion, attention and focus should be paid to what happens at each and how effective the teams are in guiding a maximum number of customers through to the next stage and thus improving the sub-conversion rates from stage to stage. Self-pay teams must spend time debating the quality of service at each stage and identifying why customers may leak out alongside ways to counter this. This process really does instil effective teamwork and an unerring focus on quality.

People was the focus of my article in May. I asked whether your self-pay lead needs a background in selling and sales techniques and suggested that I would always favour someone from the service industry with customer service experience as opposed to an out and out salesperson. Successful self-pay is ‘selling through good service’. The art of accompanying a customer through the self-pay journey is a strong means to an end. I did also emphasise that the person must be comfortable with targets. It is vital to set out monthly self-pay revenue and caseload targets and incentivise accordingly. The second part of my article focussed on ensuring the person was set up to succeed – dedicated resource, valued, known to all stakeholders, empowered to make decisions and in an office where customers can be welcomed.

In July, I talked about how operators, in order to meet affordability demands, should address the value of their proposition and ensure their service is delivered at a price deemed fair by the consumer. Consumers are increasingly interested in a price, which is fixed and transparent for a service which is clearly articulated and with post-treatment guarantees commensurate with the value and seriousness of the product. How should operators therefore address value-based pricing going forwards? Simplifying and fixing published self-pay prices, providing extensive after-care and systematically offering patient point-of-sale finance will help provide the value that consumers are prepared to pay for.

The role of finance is vital and I therefore focussed on this in detail in August. It is well established among retailers that flexible point of sale finance is extremely important to consumers when buying a product. If we accept that offering payment plans extends choice to a healthcare consumer, then how best can they be deployed to make self-pay more accessible and to provide sufficient education and support for consumers within the digital and offline environment to ensure a frictionless experience? Successful deployment means firstly, presenting price in instalments and having an online loan calculator; secondly, adopt early eligibility checks so a consumer knows they will qualify for finance upfront; thirdly, train staff to make sure they’re comfortable with the offer; and lastly, embed the loan application process into your CRM software.

There is no question that the industry as a whole needs to sharpen up its self-pay act – and fast. My view is that the next two years, when pent-up demand will be driven by the significant backlogs in NHS provision, will be make or break for self-pay. If this period is used as a launching pad for a new self-pay growth strategy then one can imagine its contribution to total revenues breaking through to more than 30% and continuing upwards. If not, it will remain stagnant.

A final thought – concentrate on the ‘5 Ps’ – People, Pricing and Product, Process and Personalisation.

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