7 Ways Health Care Companies Can Build Customer Loyalty

NRC Health
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Key Takeaways

​What? Most health care providers aren't doing enough to retain customers and foster loyalty.

So what? Experience is understood to be an important influence on loyalty, but experience extends beyond the doctor's office or emergency room. It is digital and everywhere outside the health care facility as well.

Now what? Understand how patients rate you on the seven elements of loyalty and take action to strengthen your weak areas and leverage your strengths.

​Nov. 21, 2017

To keep patients from leaving, remember why they stay 

What is your organization doing to keep patients coming back? As a recent study conducted by NRC Health Market Insights shows, probably not enough.

The study found that 48% of customers feel frustrated with their current health care providers. One in three would switch providers right now, if they could find an affordable alternative. Even more conservative industry estimates report that 7-10% of customer attrition represents as much as $100 million in lost revenue opportunity per hospital.

Shocking as these figures may be, they are part of a larger trend. The creation and sustainability of loyalty is a problem that has bedeviled the health care industry for years. Solving it will require a new commitment to understanding how consumers approach their care.

The Frugal—and Fickle—Health Care Consumer

A patient is earned by an election of trust. We know that patients don’t return when providers break that trust or fail to live up to their expectations. Two concurrent trends have driven these expectations higher than many organizations are prepared to manage.

1. A surge in out-of-pocket costs

Historically, insurers or government programs assumed a majority of the responsibility for health care costs, and consumers didn’t apply as much scrutiny to their care options. But now that their money is at stake, consumers pay keen attention to the value they receive. They demand high-quality care, ease of access and high-end amenities, all at a reasonable rate.

These high standards put immense pressure on providers to continuously improve their operations. If patients can’t find a good value with their current provider, they’ll look for it somewhere else.

2. Digital empowerment

Technology has permanently transformed the way patients pursue care. Specifically, the internet has allowed for unprecedented levels of transparency and choice. These changes have already revolutionized several industries, and health care is finally following suit. Accustomed to quick and convenient comparisons of hotels and restaurants, consumers have begun to expect the same from health care providers.

Consumers now understand that if their current provider disappoints their expectations, they have a wealth of choices at their disposal. This makes it easy for them to simply walk away from care experiences that present them with difficulties, frustration or confusion.

Are You Missing Loyalty Growth Opportunity?

Health care leaders can be encouraged by another important fact revealed by the Market Insights study: consumers prefer to be loyal.

According to the study, 58% of consumers say they’d prefer to receive all of their care from just one health brand. A comprehensive range of health care services, convenient (if not preferred) access, consistency of experience and seamless personal health information sharing are all elements associated with consumer-friendly health systems.

If consumers actually crave loyalty to health brands, then why do providers fail to create strong bonds with them?

The answer may lie, in part, in misguided marketing analysis.

A holistic view of loyalty resists simple measurement. Retention data does not tell the complete story. Consumer loyalty, after all, is as much about relationships as it is about volumes and revenue.


This subjective emotional side of loyalty has proven difficult for providers to track and quantify. Historically, health care leaders have relied on a proxy that they can measure: the positive patient experience.

Patients will remember—and return to—providers who treat them well. Experience can’t be discounted. It is a key aspect of loyalty in the consumer journey, and it’s critical that organizations get the experience right. But health care’s a unique industry—there can be long gaps between individual episodes of care. Therefore, if an organization is only building loyalty while the patient is in the building, it’s missing many opportunities to engage and influence loyalty in the interim.

Most health care leaders now agree that loyalty is more than the sum of a patient’s positive experiences and that further understanding is necessary to engender it. Loyalty is a construct, built from a wide variety of consumer interactions with a health provider. To nurture loyal feelings, health care organizations need to understand what these interactions are, how they intersect and the impact each individual interaction has on the next; they need to grasp the constituent components of loyalty.

How Loyalty Is Built

Drawing from a national database of more than 300,000 health care consumers across the country, NRC Health’s Market Insights research team has identified seven components of loyalty that health care organizations should consider:

1. Brand score

This is loyalty’s first, most fundamental factor. Consumers must be aware of and think favorably about your organization to choose you for care. Brand score is a cumulative result of marketing efficacy, news events, local/environmental factors and word of mouth.

2. Engagement

Do consumers read and share your brand’s social media posts? Do they visit your local events? Interactions like these strengthen a sense of familiarity and trust with your consumers—whether they’re actively pursuing care or not.

3. Need

Every consumer has unique health issues and needs. Naturally, they will favor those organizations that are best equipped to provide care based on personal need.

4. Access

Barriers to care, confusing bureaucracies or excessive wait times sour a patient’s opinion about an organization. Access, also known as Customer Effort Score (CES), is a critical element to ensuring that those consumers who know, prefer and need your services are actually able to access care on their own terms.

5. Motivation

Most consumers can find multiple providers near where they live who offer a wide variety of similar, if not identical, services. Motivation measures the stated degree of preference a consumer has for any one provider or brand.

6. Experience

This factor comprehends considerations such as: How well does the provider care for the patient? Does the consumer feel delighted with the organization’s service?

7. Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Premised on a single question—“Would you recommend this provider to your friends and family?”—the NPS is a time-tested means to measure and indicate future utilization of your brand.

What Gets Measured Gets Improved

Every step along a consumer’s individual journey provides an opportunity to better understand and engage with those you hope to serve now and into the future.

To help health care leaders understand what matters most to consumers and how this journey is managed, NRC Health has developed the Loyalty Index – the industry’s first holistic measure for loyalty in health care. It captures how patients rate a health brand for each of the above-mentioned aspects of loyalty. These individual aspects of loyalty, trackable and comparable over time individually, are also combined to create a composite score for each brand. This gives health care marketers and administrators the first-ever unified metric capable of assessing strengths, weaknesses and gaps relating to the creation of loyalty among consumers.

The Loyalty Index provides a scientific means to address one of health care’s most enduring challenges and enables health care marketers to prove marketing ROI, demonstrate the value of new programs and gain buy-in from leadership. Ultimately, the Loyalty Index takes the guess work out of generating consumer loyalty.

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Author Bio:

NRC Health
NRC Health helps healthcare organizations better understand the people they care for and design experiences that inspire loyalty.
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