Applying 6 Laws of Customer Experience to Healthcare.Gov

We have not done our own analysis on the customer experience of Healthcare.gov, but there are widespread accounts of its “user unfriendliness.” The situation is so bad that the White House has hired a new consultant to triage the problems.

6LawsofCXHealthcareGovThis isn’t surprising. It’s not easy to create a great customer experience, while it’s pretty simple to make a poor one. And the government especially is not known as being customer-centric (or citizen-centric). To understand what might have gone wrong, let’s examine Healthcare.gov through the lens of our Six Laws of Customer Experience. These laws define the  realities about how organizations, including governments, treat their customers:

  1. Every interaction creates a personal reaction. Or put another way, an experience that is built for everyone satisfies no one. Every customer experience has three components: functional (can customers do what you want to do?), accessible (is it easy for customers to do what they want to do?), emotional (how does the experience make them feel?). While I’m pretty sure the Healthcare.gov project had functional requirements (which can be very consistent across different customer groups), it probably did not have any accessible or emotional requirements, which demand a deeper understanding of the needs of target customers.
  2. People are instinctively self-centered. Human beings operate from their individual frames of reference, and employees often have a deeper understanding of products, organization, and subject matter than customers do. This means that if employees are not able to look at a product from the point of view of a customer, they will create experiences with overly complex processes, terminology, and user flows. Healthcare.org leaders must acknowledge this bias and work diligently to neutralize its effects.
  3. Customer familiarity breeds alignment. If everyone shared a vivid view of the target customers and had access to customer feedback, then there would be more agreement about what to do for them. Hopefully the Healthcare.gov effort (at least going forward) will use design personas to create a clear and compelling image of target customers. The development of Healthcare.gov would have been better if it had been developed using an iterative design approach that incorporated ongoing feedback from these target users.
  4. Unengaged employees don’t create engaged customers. One of the most important ingredients for good customer experience is a highly engaged workforce. Our research shows that engaged employees are more than twice as likely to stay late at work if something needs to be done, help someone at work even if they’re not asked, and do something that is good for the company even if it’s not expected of them. In addition, they are almost three times as likely to make recommendations about an improvement. I don’t have any insight into the people who were working on the Healthcare.gov site, but I would guess that they were not fully engaged.
  5. Employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated. You may ask why the people working on Healthcare.gov website did what they did. Well, I like to use this urban quote, “don’t hate the playa, hate the game.” People tend to conform to the environment that they are put into: the metrics that are tracked, the activities that are rewarded, and the actions that are celebrated. It’s likely that there were not a lot of measurements, incentives, or celebrations around good customer experience.
  6. You can’t fake it. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” While it’s possible to come up with a long list of priorities, there’s no way that many of them will receive much attention. A good rule of thumb: Anything below your 3rd priority is not a priority at all. For a project like Healthcare.com to provide a good experience, it has to be a “true” top priority from the top of the organization. I had not heard any discussion about the experience of Healthcare.gov until there were problems when it went live.

The bottom line: All Healthcare.org leaders should read the Six Laws of Customer Experience.

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

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