From the June 2011 issue of Benefits Selling Magazine •Subscribe!

Technology changes customers' expectations

Your customers and prospects are vastly different today than they were just 10 years ago. The Internet allows them to easily research almost any topic, social media enables them to instantly find opinions about a product or service, and smart phones keep them connected no matter where they are.

As technology brings changes to every aspect of your customers’ lives, it also is changing expectations for customer service in the pharmacy benefits arena. And, an improved customer experience creates the opportunity for increased sales. For many customers, buying pharmacy benefits has traditionally been a challenging and confusing process.

Trying to understand and compare offerings, costs, trade-offs, and the impact of various decisions has often driven even the most knowledgeable benefits manager to despair. As a result, many landed by default in a one-size-fits-all pharmacy benefits plan, which didn’t necessarily match up with the specific needs of the company’s workforce.

And if that weren’t bad enough, a recently released study done for Prudential by the Center for Strategy Research, “The Importance of Employee Benefits Enrollment and Diversity Communications Strategies,” indicated plan sponsors are now more focused on cost reduction and containment, and put low priority on other important goals.

Just 28 percent of respondents felt that it was highly important to “address the diverse needs of the employee population,” while only 35 percent felt that “helping employees make better benefit decisions,” was highly important. Plan sponsors ranked these goals among the bottom three of a list of employee benefit objectives.

Interestingly, the study also indicates that 44 percent of plan sponsors rated “increasing employee satisfaction with the value of the overall benefits package” as highly important. Even in this economic downturn, with the constant pressure to reduce health care related costs, companies know the value of offering a benefits package that meets employee needs.

But, until now, finding out exactly what those needs are – and then relaying that information to brokers and consultants – was complicated, time consuming, and not necessarily accurate. The introduction of advanced preference technology, however, provides the ability to cut through that confusion. This new application makes it possible for brokers and consultants to discover exactly what clients and their employees want in a pharmacy benefit plan and, just as valuable, for those clients to understand it themselves.

Preference technology provides invaluable insight. Preference measurement is the field dedicated to collecting, measuring, and analyzing employee and company preferences on a wide range of topics. As technology has evolved, data collection has gotten easier. New technology has made it possible to gather information via interactive, online programs that use rating/ranking scales and “slider bars” to pinpoint respondents’ preferences.

Responses are then electronically compiled into usable data, and provided to company management and sales professionals for a variety of uses. Many large corporations regularly use these types of programs to create and strengthen client relationships, as well as become more responsive to the needs of their market. Advanced preference technology enables them to maintain a constant feedback loop with customers, and use the information gathered to guide decision making, pricing, marketing strategy, product planning and much more.

The introduction of preference technology for the pharmacy benefit management industry is a big step forward in helping customers understand, and take control of, their pharmacy benefit needs. Using an online program, respondents are guided through the decision-making process, identifying preferences for various options, such as benefit structure, formulary, co-pay tiers, provider network access, mail service, generic drug usage, clinical programs, increasing member compliance, reducing overall drug costs, and many others.

Additionally, quantifying these tradeoffs to create the optimal solution is pivotal. When such technology is utilized by a company’s employees, it enables them to confidentially communicate their priorities to company management, thereby providing a true gauge of employee opinion. This information can then be used by brokers, consultants, and company management during the development or revision of the company’s pharmacy benefit plan.

As a result, a plan that more closely aligns with workforce wants and needs. New tools create a better client experience and member satisfaction. The positive impact of this new technology can be felt by everyone involved in the benefits process. Imagine a client or prospect who has identified – before beginning either the pharmacy contract renewal process or embarking on finding a new plan – exactly the benefits most desired by company employees.

Imagine that this client has already used an online program to weigh those wants and needs against costs. Now imagine how collaborative and stress-free the subsequent discussions could be. For pharmacy consultants and brokers, these new, predictive online tools deliver the ability to provide an improved experience for themselves and their constituents, more productive sales opportunities, a customer experience that has definitely changed for the better and mostly, to create and execute on the best pharmacy plan to serve member needs to enable healthier lives.

Patrick Stroh is senior vice president of Business and Product Strategy within Prescription Solutions.

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