You Say You Want a Digital Transformation?


(For the record, I promise this is the first, last, and only time I will paraphrase Beatles’ lyrics in a CMI post title. OK, moving on …)

Staying on top of new consumer learnings, expectations, and preferences is essential for companies to remain competitive and responsive in a fast-changing digital landscape. Transformation is not an easy task for any business, but the barriers can seem almost herculean to large enterprises in industries like insurance, finance, and health care. Not only do these organizations create communication under strict regulatory, legal, and privacy restrictions, they often face a deep-seated, institution-wide reluctance to tampering with what’s always worked.

But one company rising to the occasion in this respect is Aetna. It has begun a significant initiative to streamline its customer communication while enhancing its ability to deliver valuable, frictionless content experiences across its digital platforms.

In addition to her keynote presentation at ContentTECH Summit 2019, Aetna’s vice president of marketing technology and digital experience, Shiva Mirhosseini, spoke with me about what Aetna’s digital-first vision entails and how it’s being put it into practice.

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Transformations begin at the foundation

Before beginning its transformation, Aetna recognized that the complexity of working in a highly regulated industry made it difficult to plan and execute new initiatives across the enterprise, let alone regularly measure and optimize them. Like many enterprise organizations, the company’s business units and product categories each had distinct content strategies, priorities, and governance practices. They resulted in fragmented, fatiguing experiences for Aetna’s customers – and missed opportunities for the company to effect healthy behavior.

Fragmented digital experiences can mean missed opportunities to affect your customers. @shivamirhoseini #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

To improve outcomes on both fronts, Shiva’s team implemented its Customer Communication Transformation program, aimed at enabling omnichannel experiences that could be developed more efficiently and scaled more effectively across the company’s print and digital touchpoints.

Aetna’s top-line goal was to simplify things for the customer as best as it could. “If (consumers) have to go through five or six different websites to gather the information they need, it’s defeating our purpose as a valued service provider,” Shiva says.

Streamlining the company’s content experience became a top strategic priority. Shiva explains, “Building frictionless experience starts by putting the customer at the center, right? So, to that end, we are re-examining, refactoring, and reimagining quite a few of our content experiences –– to keep their needs top of mind.”

These sweeping strategic shifts require an ongoing commitment to doing whatever it takes – including from a content strategy standpoint – to best serve the customers’ needs. In Aetna’s case, before a single content decision could be made, the team addressed foundational constraints that stood in the way of efficient omnichannel content management, including an unwieldy and poorly coordinated communication footprint.

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Creating scalability by scaling down

Streamlining Aetna’s customer experience involves hard decisions, including the shutdown of a significant number of its digital properties. To date, Shiva’s team has made progress: “Close to 50% of the websites that we initially targeted for transformation across the entire enterprise have been ‘sunset’ or eliminated entirely. And the ones that remain are in the process of being consolidated or completely reimagined,” she says.

To streamline the customer experience, @Aetna shut down a number of its digital properties, says @shivamirhoseini. Click To Tweet

From here, Shiva’s team has taken a two-pronged approach to rebuilding its communication infrastructure. First, it established a formal digital governance process that, according to Shiva, included:

  • Implementing new, tech-enabled communication intake forms.
  • Developing standardized asset templates.
  • Creating a unified taxonomy to identify and document the content inventory across the enterprise.

The governance process also involved establishing a set of “customer-obsessed digital guidelines.” Every business unit needs to understand and comply with it before receiving access to marketing resources for future content creation and distribution. By standardizing its governance practices across all functional areas, Aetna anticipates accelerating and enhancing its customer experience with better tools, processes, and reporting structures.

The second component of the approach focused on company-wide training and education to promote ongoing support for the new operations. For example, Shiva’s team developed a playbook to outline its multichannel customer requirements across marketing, transactional, and interactive communications. The aim is to align their content strategies under a unified vision of value.

“We painted the overall objective and the goal and proved that it would not only improve the customer experience, but it also would be beneficial for everyone involved in our process. That definitely reduced the resistance. As a result, it created more of a positive and meaningful movement that people could actually be quite proud to be part of. That helped us build a lot more momentum to continue the work,” Shiva says. 

Shifting focus from alignment to empowerment

While securing executive and staff acceptance of a new initiative is valuable, Shiva and her team recognized that a successful transformation ultimately hinged on more practical, public-facing considerations, like how well the new experiences drive desired behavioral and financial outcomes – such as reduced medical costs, reductions in call center traffic, and increased use of online tools and services.

To get a clearer view, Shiva’s team turned its focus to the customers – how different types of users might navigate and engage with Aetna’s communication experiences across digital, print, and email channels; what goals did they want to accomplish; and how could Aetna’s content empower their success and provide increased efficiency.

For example, Aetna recently produced a self-assessment tool to help users navigate its Medicare-focused site. As Shiva describes, customers who answered a brief questionnaire were put on the fast track to the section that directly targets the customer’s stated purpose. The customers circumvent a long menu of informational products that might have been irrelevant to their needs. “It demystified the process, providing a much cleaner, simpler experience for them,” she says.

Beyond content creation, this renewed focus on the customer journey extends to Aetna’s plans for evaluating content performance. Moving forward, all communication needs to be measured against the final desired outcome, not just points of interaction in a specific campaign. While Shiva acknowledges that the team still looks closely at things like net promoter scores, content engagement metrics, and behavioral patterns across their sites, a conversion is the most definitive indicator of a customer’s satisfaction with the communication experience. “The ultimate compliment is if they don’t drop you and go somewhere else,” she says.

Moving forward with conviction – and increased conversions

Embarking on a program of this magnitude is a herculean task that requires discipline, commitment, and accountability across the enterprise. Even the most dedicated organizations are bound to encounter their share of teachable moments for which they go back and adjust: “When we launched that (assessment) tool, it didn’t have very high traffic going to it. (We discovered) it takes a certain type of person who wants to connect and go through a guided selling experience,” Shiva says.

But Aetna’s willingness to experiment is paying off in terms of valuable consumer insights and outcomes: For example, under the new program, the team quickly determined that customers who made it through the assessment tool experience converted at an exponentially higher level than the ones who didn’t – positive reinforcement that the efforts were on the right track.

As this ambitious, multifaceted program progresses, Shiva is confident it will enable Aetna to accelerate the development of communication initiatives and equip them with vital tools, processes, and opportunities to increase their efficiency, mitigate risk, and be more responsive to business needs. But perhaps even more importantly, it’s the start of the company’s ongoing journey toward delivering more informative, accessible, and satisfying health care experiences to its customers.

Don’t miss the keynotes and dozens of other presenters at Content Marketing World this September in Cleveland, Ohio. Use the code CMIBLOG100 to save $100. Register today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute






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