6 Strategies for Medicare AEP Marketing Success

What makes for a successful AEP goes beyond strategy, beyond creative and goes beyond media. It delves deep into an effective team, working well together. Collaboration toward a common goal doesn’t happen by accident.

The leaves have changed into radiant hues and have begun to drop, football season is in full swing, and we’re already deep into Fall. Over dozens of Medicare Marketing AEP seasons, healthcare marketers have come to view Fall from a different lens. And now we’re in the middle of the Medicare Annual Election Period.

What makes for a successful AEP goes beyond strategy,  beyond creative and goes beyond media. It delves deep into an effective team, working well together. Collaboration toward a common goal doesn’t happen by accident.

In our experience, working with many clients, AEP success comes from a combination of at least six dynamics. Simply stated:

1.) Planning — There. I said it. While this may sound basic, every year as the Medicare Marketing landscape changes, it slows down even the fastest among us. Time and again we’ve seen how rallying EARLY around the metrics you’ve achieved for the AEP and marrying them with strategic trends in the market can be crucial to success. Why?

After the planning comes the real work. Timing is everything is a cliché for good reason. So much happens early in the season. We know that Medicare beneficiaries who are open to switching made up their minds months ago that would do so. And as of Oct. 1, they were flush with opportunities to do so. Backing into that timing and making “early” your priority is easier than it sounds. But you can do it.

2.) Collaboration — Boiled down, direct marketing equals sales! When AEP sales and marketing teams work closely together, fireworks can happen. Information sharing is a two-way street.

Based on their first-hand knowledge of the competitive landscape, sales teams have a unique perspective that can benefit creative. Face it, when themes persist in their work on the front line — they translate well into messaging.

The same cohesion is required to ensure that sales makes the most out of the opportunities that are generated by your marketing team. Sharing information early and often with materials and other resource will help to prepare the call center for the work you’ve invested so much in.

3.) Reporting — Determining what metrics matter for your AEP is the first step. Then put in the plan to make sure you can do it. In all of our years of AEP campaigns, I can confidently say that this can happen. But also, that it doesn’t always happen by flipping a switch. Be sure to ask for what you want while there is still time to figure it out!

4.) Optimization — CMS rules and timing don’t really allow much in the way of creative flexibility “on the fly”. But once you are underway there is still much magic to be spun through optimization. Regular analysis of your media  and a mechanism for acting on it can make or break your performance. Don’t just “set it and forget it”.

5.) Embrace the Details — As I read this blog and compare it with the hard work of the season it makes me realize that so often success is in the details. The every single day details that we chase down to get right.

6.) Partnership — Partnering with the right agency can make all the difference. Look for follow-through. Look for energy. Look for experts!

Finally, remember that your goals are not met by AEP alone. Let’s get busy on making the most of the rest of the year.

Tesla, the Tornado … and CX, a Tale From the Chargeless Road

CX, particularly for a brand such as Tesla, needs to catch up with the user experience of operating these art-and-science vehicles.

CX lesson for Chet Dalzell
Photo: Chet Dalzell Gets a CX Lesson in Tesla Power Infrastructure, 2018. | Credit: Chet Dalzell

This is a CX tale. Summer goings-on took me to the highway this past week; and with it, concerns from a friend who is planning to drive her Tesla from Denver to Chicago over the coming weekend.

Tesla is an electronic vehicle, and its cars’ “fuel stations” are charging stations, spaced along the highways of America. Without a charge in a car’s battery, the vehicle cannot be operated. Tesla supercharging stations enable a battery to be fully powered in a matter of many minutes, rather than several hours via a conventional plug.

I love all things sustainable, And with it, the beautiful, sleek and very tech-savvy Tesla Model S she owns, with a desktop-size flat screen navigator, spacious sky roof and plentiful horsepower, among many other attributes, satisfies that love. She also owns a Ford 350 pick-up and a Toyota Prius hybrid. We happened to be driving in her pickup truck from western Nebraska (where we had attended a high school reunion in Ogallala) back to her home in metro Denver.

We’re racing along Interstate 76 at an undisclosed speed, when suddenly we see evidence of what had transpired merely hours before. We slow down.

As we approached Brush, Colo. — about 90 miles northeast of Denver — the uncharacteristic late July landscape of green suddenly turned brown, as if every scrub of grass had just been torn from the earth. The sage reduced to lonely stalks. Then, we see the power line poles snapped in two in the field alongside the highway. Even an exit sign is bent over and mangled. We were driving inside the aftermath of a tornado. (Thankfully, this storm injured no one.)

Then we arrived at the Brush exit ramp. A growing army of power vehicles were parked at the Shell station at the foot of the ramp, a sort of power restoration staging area. The gas station itself was damaged heavily — its roof ripped off the main building or caved in (or both), and the gas pumps stripped of their casing. It was surreal. Police tape and pylons restricted access to the one reason we took this very exit: to see if the Tesla supercharge station adjacent to the Shell station was online. Clearly, it was not.

Thankfully, we were in a pickup truck — and not the Tesla, which would have been in need of an immediate charge. My friend was planning her drive two days later to Chicago — and Brush, Colo., is the “first” supercharging station outside of Denver — a full two hours from the next charging station in Ogallala, across Colorado’s northeast border. She told me, with the downhill elevation from Denver to Ogallala, and all non-essentials (air conditioning, et al) turned off — she should be able to make it all of the way to Ogallala, without a charging stop in Brush. For her sake, I hope she’s right.

When ‘Real-Time’ Is Not Real-Time

With Tesla ownership comes a “community” of support for both the brand and electric automotive, in general. This was an introduction to me. All I own for transport is a Citibike key and a New York City MetroCard. Tesla has a branded app, and the e-car community has a non-branded app and site called PlugShare. The Tesla app is supposed to have real-time information on the online status of all stations — and if plugs are available within each station. PlugShare seeks to provide much the same.

At the time of our tornado discovery and aftermath, both apps still showed current power availability in Brush. But a look at the comments section from helpful Tesla and other electric car owners regarding Brush told the real, other story. There’s no power, and no indication of when it may be restored. Tesla owners also commented that they had reported the outage to Tesla by telephone, as early as 90 minutes after the storm. We attempted to call Tesla (some 20 hours after the storm) to inquire about expected restoration, but our call was put on a call-in-queue cycle, and after 15 minutes – with no hold notice on expected wait time — we gave up and hung up.

It wasn’t until the next day when we checked did we find that the Tesla in-car navigation, with charging station status information, had caught up to the Brush station’s still-offline status. Unfortunately, no further information on when the station may be restored was made available there.

In This Case: Why CX Needs to Be State-of-the-Art

Customer experience — particularly for a status brand, such as Tesla — needs to catch up to the user experience of operating these art-and-science vehicles. Especially for a network infrastructure so vital to electronic vehicle operation across distances. In this case, CX is also important to the entire user category. Plugshare helped augment these shortcomings, but Tesla’s CX might be a lot more urgent.

If Citibike can tell me via its app in real-time that docking stations have available bicycles or not, or which docking stations are offline, then why shouldn’t Tesla’s app at least be able to do the same regarding its network of charging stations, in real time? Even if a widespread or localized power outage might interfere with a real-time signal of status, why couldn’t Tesla at least post an in-app notice on its awareness of the incident, or respond to posted comments elsewhere? It might even offer a link to the local utility’s power restoration status, so Tesla drivers can plan their journeys safely and accordingly.

In this outage, it was Tesla owners themselves giving the status updates — via user-facilitated, third-party in-app content.

PlugShare, a third-party app with many more users, seemed to have more user comments about the Brush station status, with myriad reports from Tesla owners regarding the situation. It’s not unusual for non-branded community apps in any given category to be filled with such user information, typically reliable. In this case, brands and their apps should make a point to monitor these go-to third-party communities to react to comments and to keep their own customers informed and engaged there.

There may be extenuating circumstances in play here. Perhaps Tesla does all of the right things — but seeks to verify and validate before posting such information, I’m not sure. But gee, what a beautiful car, with beautiful performance. As an extension of the brand, the customer service experience needs to be equally on-point. For Tesla owners, it’s also a matter of not finding themselves powerless in Brush, Colo.

Stalking Your Business Prey: 5 Ways to Fail at Follow-up

I could feel his eyes on me, watching my every move.

I opened his email, scanned the content, clicked on the link and arrived at the landing page. I carefully filled out the registration form, clicked on the download button … and BOOM! The phone rang with his follow-up call.

I gasped, picked up the phone and without even identifying myself said, in utter disbelief, “Don’t tell me you’re following up on the paper I downloaded TWO SECONDS ago?”

I could hear him chuckle before he said “I just wanted to see if you had any questions.”

“How could I have any questions?” I exclaimed. “I haven’t had a second to even open the PDF!”

Have we moved to an era where salespeople are so desperate to meet sales pipeline quotas that they think it’s appropriate to contact a potential lead within seconds or minutes of a download?

Needless to say, he’s tried calling me back again, and again, and again over the last few weeks. But since I enjoy call display, I’m going out of my way to avoid answering. Why? Because his behavior was so creepy, I don’t want to engage in any sort of dialogue with him – ever. In fact, he’s turned me into a “brand evader.

In this pressure-filled business world, using content to lure potential prospects into the sales funnel is an extremely common marketing strategy. But the follow-up needs to be carefully strategized: whether it’s message, timing or contact channel. And I find most marketing and sales people have already picked up a dozen bad habits.

The Random Connection
I seem to attract lots of interest from others on LinkedIn. I get invitations to Link In with dozens of people each week — most of which I ignore. Why? Because the only note attached to their invitation is the LinkedIn default message “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”

I look at their name, title and the company they represent and think, “No thanks. You’re just going to try and sell me something.”

While LinkedIn is a powerful relationship building tool, it would work harder if you DO NOT use that default language. Instead, just like you test outbound email copy, try testing different introductory email messages. Try making note of the relationship between our two businesses and why it might make sense to connect. Or highlight what it was about my profile that made you want to connect with me. Test, refine and learn. It’s direct marketing 101.

Email Invitations to a Prescheduled Meeting
I don’t know who came up with this strategy, but it’s got to stop. The first time I got one, I thought “Wow. I’m really getting old. I have no memory of talking to this guy, let alone agreeing to a conference call/demo meeting.”

Since the time suggested for the meeting was a conflict on my calendar, I politely declined. But another one arrived about 2 days later – same guy, same company, same meeting invitation strategy.

I declined again. And, placed his name on my SPAM list.

Persistent Personal Email
Lately I’ve been getting a lot of emails that say things like “I’m following up on my previous email, in case you didn’t get it …” Oh, I got it all right. I deleted it. And now, I’m flagging you as a spammer, too.

The Inexperienced Phone Caller
One of my colleagues recently posted this unbelievable inbound phone call to her Facebook page so we could all enjoy the idiocy of this inexperienced sales guy. This is verbatim.

“Hello Denise, this is Enterprise.”
“Hello Enterprise.”
“Yes I’m calling because, like, we see you have an account.”
“Ding Ding Ding correct.”
“So we noticed, like, you’re not renting cars like at all.”
“That’s right.”
“So like why is that?”
“Because I haven’t needed a rental car.”
“Like is that gonna change?”
“Like I don’t know.”
“Because we want to know if you’re gonna lease a car.”
“Well I will certainly let you know. Can I get a free ride sometime?”
“Like I don’t think so but I can check.”

Come on. Who hired this guy? Who trained him? Who had the bright idea to give him a list of past customers and set him loose?

I get it. Selling is hard. But I can guarantee that NONE of these strategies will be successful.

Oh, and by the way, let me download and read my business article in peace. Then try emailing me with similar articles that I might like. Keep doing that and I’ll soon become familiar with your brand and, perhaps, engage in a conversation. But I warn you. More likely than not, I’m merely doing research on behalf of a client and I have no influence over purchase whatsoever.

Hello, Complaint Department? My Friends Are Listening

If it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep one, why do brands continue to try and ignore customer complaints? For as long as there have been businesses selling goods and services, there have been complaint departments. And I’m guessing that as the number of sales increased, so did the number of complaints. So why did it take until the creation of the Internet and the popularity of social media for so many businesses to really start to address customer satisfaction issues?

If it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep one, why do brands continue to try and ignore customer complaints?

For as long as there have been businesses selling goods and services, there have been complaint departments. And I’m guessing that as the number of sales increased, so did the number of complaints. So why did it take until the creation of the Internet and the popularity of social media for so many businesses to really start to address customer satisfaction issues?

In the early 1970’s, interactive voice response (IVR) technology came into vogue. While it was designed to service high call volumes, reduce costs and improve the customer experience, we all know it was a great way to avoid actually talking to customers—especially those with complaints.

As companies got bigger, somebody decided that titles like “customer service rep” weren’t friendly enough, or didn’t accurately describe the importance of the position. (Perhaps because they didn’t actually provide service? Well, that’s a topic for another day.)

That said, titles changed to be things like “Customer Relationship Specialist” or “Customer Interaction Management Specialist” (I kid you not). But it didn’t change the job function … nor the attitude or behavior of the rep who was supposedly resolving your complaint.

As complaints soared, so did the many ways businesses tried to avoid a direct dialogue with those harboring a complaint. Once consumers discovered that pressing “0” usually connected one with a live body, businesses changed that option. I recently called one financial institution to complain that the ATM had eaten my card (yes, I was standing in front of the machine reading the teeny-tiny 800 number posted to the machine in the least obvious location). I probably went through five or six different “menu” options before I finally got someone live on the phone who told me that he had never heard of an ATM eating a card before. So I guess he felt it was helpful to call me a liar. Hmmm …

Next came the Web—and with it the “Contact Us” page. But once again, businesses became overwhelmed with the number of consumers who wanted to have a dialogue with them. Now when you visit “Contact Us,” there’s a form to fill out or worse—no email or phone number, but just a link to “Commonly Asked Questions & Answers” or “Popular Topics” or, one of my favorites, “Where’s My Stuff?”

Have you ever tried to call Amazon? Yeah. Good luck finding a phone number. I will say that I had a problem with my Kindle and, after quite a bit of scouring around the website, found a phone number from a dialogue in a Kindle forum. I called it and got GREAT customer service (I think it was Bob’s first call all day because he actually sounded happy to help me).

Now the Web has created a whole new business complaint system—and it’s for all the world to see. From the formalized review process of Yelp and Angie’s List to sites that let you rate your experience with a product/service like OpenTable.com or Hotels.com, you can whine all you want and it’s very difficult for the brands to respond/resolve (even if they wanted to).

It’s easy to go to a company’s Facebook page and post a rant (I’ve seen some really ugly comments posted on some of the biggest brands’ Facebook pages).

I know these public forums can be an extremely unfair system—especially to smaller businesses who live and die from customer reviews. And I know that not everyone is reasonable with their expectation about a product/service, nor do all consumers have legitimate complaints (although they may feel otherwise).

So here’s my suggestion: If you want to build a positive image of your brand, create a culture that allows for customer feedback and conflict resolution. Make it easy for customers to find a phone number, call you and speak to a live person and/or email you and get a fast response. Empower your reps to resolve issues quickly and fairly—perhaps invest in training them how to listen with empathy, and how to make a decision to do “the right thing.” Spend less time and money on “satisfaction surveys” (which I personally dislike) and more time on “creating satisfaction.”

Net-net, treat every customer as if they were your most valuable asset—because they are. It will return a bigger ROI than any marketing campaign investment.

Is Your Customer Service Killing Customer Loyalty?

As marketers, we spend a lot of time, money, energy and brain power designing and building programs that will drive inquiries, close sales or increase brand engagement. And once a sale is secured, we move into loyalty mode—lovingly nurturing that customer to buy more and buy more often in order to derive a long term revenue stream and ROI for the marketing investment. … So what the hell is wrong with the customer service folks?

As marketers, we spend a lot of time, money, energy and brain power designing and building programs that will drive inquiries, close sales or increase brand engagement.

And once a sale is secured, we move into loyalty mode, lovingly nurturing that customer to buy more and buy more often in order to derive a long term revenue stream and ROI for the marketing investment.

So what the hell is wrong with the customer service folks?

Didn’t they get the memo that says, “Our customers are those people who make sure you get your paycheck. So let’s treat them with respect, concern and understanding. Because if we do, they’ll keep buying from us again, and again and again.”?

Apparently, the customer service folks at Dell never got the memo—and shame on them, because they’ve now lost my business for life.

Granted, I run a smaller agency and my lack of future purchases will not put Dell out of business. But I think there’s a big lesson that many companies can learn from my experience, and that’s to take a moment to really examine what goes on inside these departments.

For the record, we’ve been purchasing Dell products for well over 10 years now. Laptops, towers, printers, screens … you name it. My IT guy likes the ease of ordering online and the ability to carefully customize each of our purchases for the user.

So when we recently did a little expansion by hiring a new employee, we turned once again to Dell for a new desktop PC. Little did we know it would be the last transaction we’d ever make with them—and all because of how we were treated when something went wrong with the order. Here’s a quick factual summary:

  • Friday, Aug. 24: Order placed online.
  • Monday, Aug. 27: Order ships.
  • Tuesday, Sept. 4: According to the FedEx tracking number, the order was delivered and signed for—unfortunately, FedEx delivered it to the wrong company at the wrong address!
  • Thursday, Sept. 6: FedEx reroutes package to us. It arrives and appears to have been opened and resealed. Since this is a PC, I don’t want an opened box, so we try to refuse the delivery. FedEx persists and requires us to contact their customer service to arrange a return to sender.
  • Monday, Sept 10: FedEx picks up tower.
  • Monday, Sept 10: Alert Dell; they promise to “expedite” a replacement order.
  • Friday, Sept 14: Dell informs us the PC is still “being built.”

I must interrupt the facts to say “Wha–?” When we ordered the first time, it took them 2 days to build it. But when we ordered our replacement, it’s now taking more than 5 days to build the same computer? It only gets better …

  • Monday, Sept. 17: Dells says, “Still building.”

What on earth are they building for us? We try to reach a “customer care” rep. (BTW, I HATE that term. I wish organizations would call a spade a spade— it’s plain old customer service. Or perhaps since “service” doesn’t seem to be part of the equation, that’s why they changed it. So they “care” but they cannot “service”?)

Net-net, phone numbers we are provided don’t work. (Ring, ring, ring… apparently Dell hasn’t heard of that new-fangled technology called voicemail.) Emails go unanswered, emails to the supervisor bounce back as “out of the office.” Did I mention my new employee is twiddling thumbs doing idle work as she can only get so much done on her smart phone?

  • Tuesday, Sept. 18: Dell emails us saying the order will now be “escalated” and we’ll be kept aware of the status.

Okay Dell. It’s been 25 days since I placed my order and there is still no confirmed delivery date is sight. I give up. I cancel the order and buy from a local retailer.

No apologies from Dell to try and retain my business. No offers on a future purchase. Nothing. Nada. Apparently Dell’s customer care folks forgot that those marketing millions spent on driving in leads, nurturing relationships and transacting sales have all been an investment in their job security.

Not only did Dell blow it, but I won’t even attempt to make another purchase from them—ever.

As a customer, I get infuriated just thinking about this incident. As a marketer, I cringe.

If you are responsible for marketing in your organization, do you spend any time at all investigating what goes on in “customer care”? You should—because it may be the reason you’re not making your marketing and sales goals.

How Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Saved a Customer

Talk about valuing your customers and providing exceptional customer service! It’s no wonder that GMCR is one of the fastest growing brands out there today, with 11 consecutive quarters of better than 40 percent net sales growth.

I wanted to make public a recent experience I had with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR). My wife, Stephanie, an avid coffee drinker (and a shopping nut, who’s probably better suited to be writing a retail blog than yours truly, who looks forward to a trip to the mall with the same enthusiasm as a trip to the dentist), received GMCR’s Keurig brand Special Edition Single-Cup Brewer system nearly 10 months ago as a wedding shower gift.

Excited at the thought of enjoying GMCR’s specialty coffee blends brewed fresh each morning, Stephanie couldn’t have been happier. After the long, harsh winter we had in the Northeast part of the country, I can attest that the brewer was put to good use. All in all, the Keurig brewer was a hit, making just the right amount of coffee for our house. And Stephanie was a loyal customer, restocking her supply of the specialty coffee K-cups with purchases at local retail stores. That is, until this summer.

The complaints were few and far between at first — it wasn’t always brewing a full cup; the coffee splattered out at the end of brewing, leaving a mess on the counter; and sometimes when turning the machine on to “get ready to brew,” it would make a grinding noise and then just shut down — but grew louder as time went on. So Stephanie decided to take action.

Her first step was to go to GMCR’s website for info. on its warrantied products. After learning that we had a one-year warranty from date of purchase, Stephanie called the customer service phone number listed on GMCR’s website (she didn’t see an email address to send a message to). After providing some basic information — name, address, phone number, item purchased — her call was transferred to a GMCR product technician.

Upon confirming the purchase type and date of purchase via serial number, Stephanie was asked to explain the problems she was having with her Keurig Single-Cup Brewer. The technician on the other end of the line walked Stephanie through some “troubleshooting” ideas, but none of them corrected the problems.

Satisfied that the error lay with GMCR, the technician said a replacement would be mailed out to us within seven to 10 business days. Not only that, but in recognition of her troubles, GMCR was throwing in two boxes of its specialty coffee blend K-Cups as well.

Talk about valuing your customers and providing exceptional customer service! Not to mention the fact that Stephanie reported that both women she spoke with on the phone couldn’t have been nicer and more patient. The whole process took less than 20 minutes. She’s now a fan of GMCR for life. It’s no wonder that GMCR is one of the fastest growing brands out there today, with 11 consecutive quarters of better than 40 percent net sales growth.

Editor’s Note: Make sure to check out the Sept. issue of Retail Online Integration, in which GMCR will be featured as the cover story profile (written before my wife’s personal experience with the brand). Take advantage of the opportunity to learn from a brand that’s doing things right.