How HBF is transforming its customer communications

WA-based health insurance brand shares how it's working to communicate with members on their terms and through their channels of choice with the help of a new platform

A dual ambition to more effectively communicate with members through their channel of choice and become one of Australia’s top three health providers has seen HBF embark on a transformation of its customer communications approach.

The 75-year old Western Australian health insurer has more than 1 million members nationally and 900 staff. As well as health insurance products, HBF provides home and contents cover, life and travel insurance.

HBF executive general manager of member relationships, Sasha Pendal, told CMO the group prides itself on its customer experience emphasis, and helping members live healthy and active lives. To this end, it offers a range of events such as the annual ‘run for a reason’ event, plus outdoor fitness classes and community initiatives.

The long-term vision is to become the third biggest private health fund in the country and meeting the likes of Medibank and Bupa head-to-head.

In order to achieve such growth and provide increasingly high-quality and relevant services to members, HBF communicates regularly both for service as well as marketing purposes. The decision to invest in a new customer communications platform from GMC Software last year was driven by the need to gain a more strategic view of member communications to better support their journey, Pendal said.

“We had a solid set of systems prior to investing in GMC but came to the understanding that some were antiquated, and some that were adequate but not leading edge,”she explained. “To grow and deliver the quality services members expect in a fairly competitive market, we reached the view that those systems wouldn’t take us into the future.”

Off the back of that, HBF went through a tender process and chose GMC’s customer communications management platform, GMC Inspire. Pendal said the vendor’s solution stood out for its efficiency, adaptability and intuitive features for frontline end users. The solution is also being fully integrated with existing infrastructure and applications.

As executive GM of member relations, Pendal has ultimate responsibility for ensuring frontline services are of high quality and meet financial metrics. However, she said HBF took a multi-disciplinary approach right from the get go, seeking guidance from client subject matter experts through to senior commercial analysts, and the Information Technology Services team.

“Every one of our project team was selected partly for their technical capability, but also their belief in member-focused solutions,” she said. “That approach has served as well. What was also critical was to have a partner with the right capability from the vendor side, leadership and technician level.”

HBF is currently about half-way through implementation and expects to be fully operational in six months. Importantly, taking a phased approach has allowed the insurer to commence rollout of its new capabilities for initial phases of member communications.

“A lot of organisations talk about agile, and in my mind, that means understanding your minimal viable product, taking that to your membership, testing it, learning and where you need to, adjusting,” Pendal said. “That model has underpinned our approach.”

While reluctant to disclose specific types of communications being delivered, Pendal said HBF worked pre-implementation to build a clear and common view of its annual member communications calendar, focusing on the sensitivity of communications from a commercial and member privacy perspective, and areas members could immediately benefit from communication enhancements.

“One we evaluated those requirements, that led our project team to make recommendations around the order we’d test and learn then implement different communications,” she said.

Pendal said early response to the platform has been positive from teams servicing HBF’s membership base, and she highlighted agility and efficiency as key benefits. “Over time, we expect to gain more efficiencies, specifically through an alternate model for production, printing, postage and licensing,” she continued.

Another important decision made early on was to recognise rolling out GMC Inspire wasn’t just about one system replacing another. “We took a view that this is a strategic decision to take a systematic approach to member needs, therefore we were talking about true change behaviour management within the organisation,” Pendal said.

“Our project leaders truly are change champions, and have spent as much time working directly with our frontline teams, outlining the systems and taking them through examples of the functionality, to have built up a very strong and committed frontline that believes this is the way forward for HBF.”

Bringing on these new sorts of customer communication management platforms isn’t just about skilling up technically, they also require an attitudinal change, Pendal claimed.

“We have a team committed to member-centric decision making and activity,” she said. “As a team, we can see clearly how this tool will benefit members, it’s easy to leverage our tech skillsets if they’re harnessed around the member.”

Ultimately, Pendal expected the new platform would see HBF more effectively communicating with every member through their preferred channel of choice, providing personalised content and interactions and increasingly improving its digital communications approach.

“There’s an element of member control and ownership around this, which we know members will value,” she said. “Also it’s timeliness of communications, which is very important to members. Changes have been made this year to frequency of traditional mail services across Australia. We now have the ability to communicate in a more timely way and that’s become more important to us because of the mail changes.

“The more we can personalise with members, the more effective and loyal relationship we can form.”

Then there’s the importance of efficient administration. Pendal said the new solution will enable HBF to direct more funds to its core health partner business.

At this stage, HBF’s communications are largely conducted through the frontline branch network and dedicated call centre for members. However, Pendal said it’s on the cusp of embracing a new strategic view of its digital capabilities.

“By 2020, we will execute more business through an omnichannel lens,” she added. “That means providing members, wherever they reside, with 24/7 access to services based on their channel of choice. That’s the real prize of which this becomes a critical enabler.”

GM Software general manager, Nick Dempsey, said a vital step in implementing the new platform was understanding HBF’s vision and values. “Once we knew that, it was easy to put forward a solution that helps that journey,”he said.

His advice to other organisations looking at how to improve the way they communicate with customers through similar technology-led transformation is to get the buy-in of teams across the organisation.

“One of the most important things in any implementation like this is executive sponsorship,” he said. “Sasha and the team have been with us through the whole journey.”

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