Despite a down economy, customers are willing to pay for more quality from their health insurance providers, according to a recent survey. In fact, close to 50% of those queried say they are willing to pay more for quality customer service.

This is an issue that U.S. health insurers need to address sooner than later, according to Accenture, which conducted the survey, “Seven Secrets Your Health Insurance Customers Are Not Telling You.”

Accenture polled 1,000 insured individuals between late December 2010 and early January 2011 to assess the impact of customer service on consumer preferences and found that nearly 80% expect customer services to be easier, more convenient.

The survey also finds that 42% of customers have high satisfaction levels while only 7% were dissatisfied, a point that seems to be eluding health insurers hoping to translate customer satisfaction levels into revenue opportunities. According to Accenture, only 7% of survey respondents would consider purchasing additional services.

With the potential for its increasing member rolls health insurers have yet to provide the personalized experience customers crave from health IT investments, according to Accenture. Only 10% of customers surveyed agreed that health insurers “tailor my experience to match my needs/preferences,” while more than twice that amount (22%) strongly disagreed.

“We expect more personalized customer service to emerge as a major source of health care differentiation, much like other industries today,” says Russ Nash, who leads Accenture’s U.S. payer business. “The health insurance industry must use insight-driven health to better understand the expectations of its unique customer segments and how to enhanced customer relationships to impact revenue growth.”

The survey also determines that health insurers are not keeping pace with rising customer expectations. Among all five of the areas customers rate most important, the gap between customer expectations and insurer performance is significant, as much as 50 percentage points in some cases.

Accenture lists the five characteristics that customers rate most important:

• Knowledgeable Representatives — Roughly 85% rate interaction with knowledgeable employees as highly important, yet fewer than 50% were satisfied with current experience.

• Convenient Service Hours — Nearly 80% prefer customer service being extended to weekend and evening hours, while fewer than half currently experience this convenience.

• Wait Time — About 80% rate wait time as important, but more than 60% said they are kept waiting too long by current health plan providers.

• Single Contact — More than 80% says dealing with one contact to resolve issues is important, but 60% are currently transferred to multiple contacts to resolve issues.

Pat Speer writes for Insurance Networking News, a SourceMedia publication.

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