Salesforce Connections 2019 - How Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan is changing customer relationships with personalized marketing

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed June 20, 2019
After the Salesforce Connections keynotes, I went looking for customer proof points and project lessons. I found some good ones via Angela Dunbar of Blue Cross Blue Shield, Michigan, who could speak to results - and the challenges in pursuit of granular marketing.


In my Salesforce Connections day one/Service Cloud review, I wrapped the discussion of CX hype versus reality by saying "time to talk to more customers." Well, how about a marketing team that made a significant contribution to their company's overall performance, while representing only five percent of the constituents? Yes, sign me up for that one.

Soon I was getting the low down from Angela Dunbar, Marketing Manager with Blue Cross Blue Shield, Michigan. Blue Cross Blue Shield is a big player in Michigan health care, with more than $30 billion in annual revenue. The largest health care provider in Michigan, "BCBSM" supports a network of 152 hospitals, 33,000 doctors and more than six million members.

Like all health care providers, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Michigan is contending with the rising costs of health care, alongside the rising "CX" expectations of mobile-savvy patients.

Dunbar's team has a pretty unique role in the BCBSM mix. Her business unit is IBU, the individual business unit of BCBSM - a dedicated team that develops, markets, and sells health insurance plans to individuals who do not have coverage from their employer. IBU insures about 183,000 people, and represents about five percent of the overall BCBSM membership. And yet they are making a big contribution to Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan as a whole. I went for the obvious question: why?

"It's a cultural shift - it causes some upheaval"

Dunbar credits "a lot" of their advances to investments in technology which moved the business forward. But she was quick to add: the tech isn't a magical quick fix. If anything, using the tech properly pushes the need for deeper change. Dunbar:

Definitely it's a cultural shift. It causes some upheaval. It's a disruptor, especially within the healthcare industry.

Tech adoption is an industry-wide problem:

I'm not going to say health providers, but the health insurance industry, the payers, have been very slow to adopt some of this technology.

And does she see her organization is making progress?

I think we're making progress. I feel that we have matured in our use of Salesforce and Marketing Cloud. I have a chart that I use at a number of presentations that shows the evolution of our marketing efforts. 

Health care's daunting challenge: stack up to the retail customer experience.

I just was on a panel just a few moments ago. One of the things I failed to mention was that customers are increasingly viewing their interactions with businesses across a wide array of industries through a retail lens. They expect that all of their interactions with businesses are to be done with relative ease. That extends to health insurance.

That's a tough standard for a historically bureaucratic industry.

Health insurance can be a bit complicated to enroll, to understand, and don't get me started on selecting a provider and who's in network, and who's out of network, and the whole education component behind it.

Dunbar's end state is ambitious:

Our ultimate goal is to get to this level that I call, this green space, which is on par with the Amazons and some of those customer experiences that are really tailored and customized. They just know when you're going to the site - they have all this information on you. They're ready for you.

Her team isn't there yet, but the next steps are clear:

We're on the second or third tier in terms of designing programs that are, again, triggered off of personal need. We want to be need-driven, as opposed to us pushing out content that we think is relevant. Let's say we want to promote flu shots this year. Well, maybe customers don't want to hear about flu shots.

Emailing your database with your own agenda is a classic marketing misstep. Dunbar wants to act smarter, with better data:

Did they reach out to us? Or is there something in the data that indicates that they need that information? Again, it's a cultural shift, but it's one I feel that the IBU especially has embraced and adopted.

From push to personalization

That's because the IBU team is dealing with individuals directly. As Dunbar says, they have to learn to think (and act) like modern retailers. If that sounds daunting to some organizations, Dunbar's team didn't get there overnight either:

We stood up our instance of Salesforce and Marketing Cloud about four years ago. We started out with what we call a crawl, walk, run approach. I can definitely say we're in a slight jog right now, which is pretty awesome.

Their individualized marketing vision kept them on track:

We've really embraced marketing automation and the capabilities that it afforded us, in terms of increased targeting and tracking capabilities. The ability to personalize a lot more of our programs and our content to members to meet their needs, and also to deliver those communications, those messages, those experiences at the moment that they need them. That's what we're working towards.

There's still more "push marketing" than Dunbar ultimately wants:

Right now it's more of a push approach. We would like to get it more to where it's more balanced and it's definitely a pull, based on what member behaviors are taking place at that time, and based on certain triggers that we can recognize.

And yes, Salesforce's Einstein-based marketing advancements fit in here:

We're definitely looking to use more AI, and more predictive analytics to inform the types of messaging and the types of programs that we promote to our members.

The wrap - in pursuit of granular marketing

So how does Dunbar know they've done their jobs well?

We measure success, of course, like every organization. We're in this to make money. So, of course, our goal is to make sure that our segment is meeting its goals. But in terms of how we are looking to ultimately approach the marketing aspect of our business, we're looking to have more of a customer-centric approach, because we feel that that's ultimately what's going to drive the success.

Dunbar acknowledged the change part hasn't been easy.

Last year I spoke at Connections, and I spoke at Dreamforce, and I equated Salesforce and Marketing Cloud as a Ferrari. But like any car, it all depends on the fuel that you put in it. It's only as good as the data that you put into it. It's only as good as the people that can operate it.

She warns that adopting the tech too quickly, and assuming your people will eventually adapt and accept, probably won't work:

You've got to make sure you get buy-in from your people, that you have the process in place, that it's going to be able to fully leverage your technology.

Executive buy-in also matters.

I definitely feel this requires a champion at the executive level. I've been fortunate enough to work for a leader, a VP, who went all-in on Salesforce. It's not anything that you can do halfway. You have to be fully committed to it, and you have to have a culture that embraces it. I've been very fortunate in that I work in an area of the company that has done that.

As of now, Dunbar grades their personalization progress on the intermediate level of the scale. They are able to segment, but not as narrowly as she'd like:

They're personalized to a degree, in that we're asking them to perform certain calls to action. As they complete those calls to action, we can remove them out of a particular journey and sit them out - but yet we can still keep serving up communications to those groups of people who haven't taken those actions.

She sees more granular possibilities:

We want to get down to, "Okay, Joe Smith just got into an accident. We can pull in some claims data. And he got into some sort of accident, and he's seeing an orthopedic doctor. Is there some messaging we can send out to him that addresses that, or can help him with his recovery?"

Of course, getting that granular also means eradicating data silos - an ongoing project.

I don't think there's an organization in this world that doesn't have data that's siloed and very hard to get to, and we're no exception.

So how do you overcome that? Dunbar's team is looking at the potential of Mulesoft to bring together disparate data sources. Salesforce Datorama is also an option:

We're considering a Datorama purchase to be able to, again, pull together some of that data from the various sources and be able to use some sort of interface so that the marketing team can be a lot closer to the data.

That was probably the biggest theme of Salesforce Connections: you're not getting anywhere on customer experience, or "AI-powered" anything, without grappling with data integration first. That's where Dunbar and Blue Cross Blue Shield, Michigan are headed:

Being able to get timely data, real-time data, is an issue. And then being able to get it into a format where you can really analyze it, so you can pull out insights that's going to help you improve your programs - that's something that is badly needed. And we're moving in that direction.

Image credit - Angela Dunbar of Blue Cross Blue Shield, Michigan by Jon Reed.

Disclosure - Salesforce paid the bulk of my travel expenses to attend Salesforce Connections 2019. Salesforce is a diginomica premier partner.