I have heard that convenience is the new quality when building insurance products and delivering healthcare services. I remember thinking about that statement when I first heard Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini talk about his vision around this very notion in 2011. I heard this idea again when sitting next to the CEO of a very prominent Indian technology organization as he was beginning his long journey from Seattle back home from a Microsoft customer conference last year. I have even brought forth this idea in a few sessions where I was speaking to a broader audience.

On the surface, stating that convenience is one of  (if not) the most important screens that health insurance and healthcare companies should be thinking through as they are building their strategies for the post-ACA world sounds fine. But, should it really be the most important area of focus? We don’t think so. We actually think just being relatively easy to work with is a table stake–not a defining strategy.

Like all modern strategies, this is a tenet that is important but useless if not fully integrated with what your organization is really trying to accomplish. Being considered a convenient company to work with is an outcome derived from a lot of multi-functional work completed before the moment when a consumer comes to this conclusion. And, if your product or solution stinks in the eyes of your target consumers, or if you are targeting the wrong consumers all together, then it doesn’t really matter how convenient your solutions are. McDonalds is learning this lesson from Chipotle with millennial consumers in the fast food segment (which is an industry that has long been a staple for convenience at the expense of quality). Chipotle doesn’t even always win with quality, but they win because they forge a connection (despite their worts) with consumers in ways that the legacy fast food players struggle with. 

What is more true than ever is that the consumer is omnipotent in the purchasing process. They are vocal in the buying and servicing process, especially when something doesn’t go to “their” plan. Most importantly, learning about how to build strategy and align the organization around these realities (goodbye B-to-B, health insurers will miss you) is tough sledding. We feel the lack of alignment during this pivot will only exacerbate the issues for insurers, which is not great news because health insurers already consistently rank near the very bottom with players like TV service providers in consumer surveys put together by firms like the Temkin Group.

There are opportunities to turn the tide. One is to partner with retailers to build a more personalized set of benefits in the years ahead. Retailers already live in this competitive consumer world, and they can bring insights on consumer behavior that will help insurers and healthcare providers alike. Hospitals and some clinics are also already innovating in this area. Health insurers have an enormous amount of data that can be leveraged working with the insights provided by retail partners to chip away at the obstacles currently in the product design, shopping and consumer engagement experiences.

The other is to realize the benefit of these new shopping and enrollment technologies that can help insurers re-write the types of products that can be offered and when to consumers to meet their specific lifestyle needs. The reality for medical service providers is that these technologies may put pressure on them as they attempt to turn them into products that consumers can better digest. Understanding network access is a complex issue with consumers today, and all medical services are not created (or priced) equally. These technologies, if leveraged correctly, can help turn the tide here. We have been researching a lot of ideas on this topic lately, with some surprising findings being validated by our team.

We don’t see these technology platforms helping healthcare organizations win the “we’re more convenient” category (again, a table stake), but they can help with specific merchandizing and engagement opportunities going forward. Convenience matters, but not on its own as a strategy. These platforms are not the reason for transformation, but they do make transformation more convenient because of the newfound power and obligation put in the hands of consumers. At the end of the day, what matters more is the strategy surrounding the emergence of these platforms (stemming from market targeting, product strategy, channel strategy, service strategy, engagement approach, etc.).

There are opportunities in front of the players in healthcare. To seize them, it requires a good understanding of who you want to be and then strong alignment to get there. Being convenient is important in the eyes of consumers, but that should be an outcome of a coherent and totally aligned strategy focused on your target consumer.