Why Healthcare Must View Customer Experience as a Product

Drugs and devices matter less. Today’s patients look at care as an experience.

Leading organizations are no longer viewing customer experience as an add-on, but instead as a core product, and the healthcare industry has been slow to adapt. In an earlier article, I introduced execution-based barriers in delivering a winning customer experience. The first of those barriers are not viewing experience for any customer – B2B, patient, consumer, etc. – as a core product. Most companies that are not digitally native are guilty of this. They have locked themselves into how they operate or what they manufacture.

“They have gone beyond customer-centric and are customer-experience-centric.

If you ask the CEOs of pharmaceutical companies, health insurers, or health systems what their core products are, they will tell you drugs, plans, and care delivery, respectively. This is reinforced by their categorical descriptors, and that’s what their customers, investors, and the larger healthcare community want from them; pharma = drugs, payers = plans, providers = care. Now step outside of healthcare and consider everyone’s favorite “best company” for example, Amazon. Are they in the retail, logistics, or media business? The answer: it doesn’t matter. They build products around experiences. They have gone beyond customer-centric and are customer-experience-centric.

This Isn’t Another Sloppy Amazon Reference.

No one wants to read another naïve article about what healthcare can learn from Amazon, Uber, or Netflix. I want to make sure I bring this down into a very specific insight that all healthcare organizations can act upon: manage customer experiences as core products. The reason everyone raves about the experiences with the winning, digitally native brands is that each micro-moment is a product. Micro-experiences such as sign-up, sign-on, payment, and search are managed as discrete products with product teams of these famed digital brands.

Healthcare Organizations Are Already Skilled in This.

Most healthcare organizations have developed well-structured businesses around what they view as their core product. Insurers have a head of Medicare Advantage plans.  Health systems have a head of neurosciences. Life sciences companies have a head of Diabetes Care. And they also have multiple product managers that report up to these leaders. While easier-said-than-done, these organizations need to deploy that same model to experiences, and declare experiences and supporting micro-experiences as products.

Equally important is how healthcare companies deploy product management teams. As new products become mature, scaled products, the product management teams behind them need to adjust.  For healthcare leaders that haven’t kept tabs on modern product development, it has changed dramatically in recent years, as my colleague Tony Fross summarized.

Blending New Products With Legacy Products Is the Trick

Value from legacy products isn’t going away. Hospitals always need to treat sick people, pharma companies always need to invest in the next life-changing drug, and the opportunity to create new payment products seems endless. However, there is a difference between creating value and winning. All things equal, companies that focus on delivering great customer experiences within their competitive sets will be winners in the future.

Let’s take a quick look at the following three examples of healthcare organizations that are treating the customer experience as a core product:

  1. Pill Pack: It’s not the world’s first pharmacy, nor the first one to leverage digital. What has accelerated its success is that the entire operation is centered around customer experience. Yes, the drugs themselves and logistics are critical, but they are wrapped-around an experience-first “product”.
  2. Oscar Health: It’s nearly impossible to separate legal and regulatory policy from an insurance company’s performance. That said, Oscar Health has gone from 15,000 members in 2014 to 257,000 members in 2019 – even though its plan pricing and network coverage are nearly the same as established players, and even has fewer insurance products to pick from. Oscar’s rapid growth and continued expansion is based primarily around being “a health insurance company centered around the patient.” They even jokingly claim, “We didn’t create Oscar because we liked health insurance.”
  3. Geisinger Medical Center: Not all best-in-class examples are start-ups. Geisinger’s money-back guarantee is a great example of putting the customer experience first. Over the past three years, the organization has refunded between $200,000 to $400,000. Roughly the cost of three billboards for a year. Yet, it rallies employees to ensure they are putting the patient experience first. Patients feel like they are treated as people,     not objectives, and are more empowered and less anxious, which is unfortunately often the opposite in most hospitals.  The “money-back guarantee” is one of many examples where Geisinger is treating customer experience as a core product, and why it’s one of the most admired health systems in the US.


When it comes to executing a customer experience strategy, healthcare organizations need to acquire new skills and expertise. Most health organizations have proven product management teams, sometimes called service lines or brand teams, but still maintain a highly focused approach to innovating and managing products. The critical shift is recognizing that customer experience is a product and should receive the same treatment, structure, and incentives as a legacy core product. Just as it’s being done in the companies transforming the world of healthcare as we know it today.

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