Blue Shield of California’s Executive Vice President of Markets, Todd Walthall, is transforming customers’ experience at the not-for-profit health care company. Since joining the company five years ago, he’s led the products and services, sales and marketing teams for more than 4 million members and more than $22 billion in annual revenue.
In a recent interview, Walthall told TNJ.com that Blue Shield is unique in that they serve the communities they care for by giving back in many ways, setting a high bar for transparency and working with their Blue Shield of California Foundation to build long-lasting relationships. “On top of that,” he says, “we’re committed to making only 2 percent profit, with the rest going back to our customers and the community.”
A recipient of the 2016 Multicultural Leaders of California award from the National Diversity Council, Walthall has served in leadership positions at American Express and Victoria’s Secret, and is an executive sponsor of Blue Shield’s “End the Silence About Domestic Violence” campaign.
Here, Walthall tells us about some of the challenges and trends surrounding healthcare, and how Blue Shield fares when it comes to customer satisfaction.
TNJ.com: In your prior role as director of Client Contract Centers at Victoria’s Secret, you helped to elevate the company from an analog business into a digital marketing leader. How did you and your team achieve that? Tell me about that process.
T.W.: When I was director of client contact centers at Victoria Secret in the early 2000s, we would listen to our customers by analyzing what they were calling about, their questions and what they were buying. However, the phone calls started to slow down and purchasing shifted online.
We knew online shopping was the way of the future, however, we got surprised by how quickly it happened. We pulled a team together and started with visioning sessions – what can the future look like for our customers, what will be simple and engaging. Back then we called it pilots. Today, we call it innovation. It’s about being innovative in your daily job. Ask yourself, “where is your industry going?” Then, anticipate and build toward it.
I still use visioning sessions throughout my career. I remember a conversation in one of these sessions where we thought it would be great if a customer was in a mall, walked past our store and we then sent them the sales for the day. That was before the iPhone was invented, so it was harder to pull off on a Motorola Razor. However, it’s much closer to what happens today so we weren’t too far off way back then.
One of the things I learned in retail that is still relevant today is that you have to adapt quickly. Throughout my career, I had to take the time to think about the future to build a strong foundation that allowed me to proactively think about the customer’s needs and pivot when necessary. We did it at Victoria’s Secret, and I took that with me to USAA when we were helping our members move from mailing checks to taking a picture of it and having it go straight to their bank account with mobile deposits.
Undoubtedly, we took the same approach at Blue Shield when we launched our mobile app, which gives our members access to the information they need. And I plan to use this approach for all the work in front of me. You quickly find out that some of these so called far-fetched ideas are truly possible.
TNJ.com: In what way have you been able to utilize your experience at Victoria’s Secret to move the needle in health care in your role at Blue Shield?
T.W.: My experience in retail watching the sales volume move from the call center to online was the first lesson in terms of our customers driving the business. No matter which business you’re in, we need to always look at it from the customer’s view, and in our case at Blue Shield, our members perspective. And we have so many ways to listen to our members – through industry benchmarks such as Net Promoter Score or listening to a compliment or a complaint. Every interaction with a member is an opportunity to learn about how we can improve or fix an issue.
With Blue Shield of California, we design around what our members need while infusing innovation. Before we launched the app here at Blue Shield, we asked members to look at an early prototype and tell us if they would use it and how it can be improved. We were purposeful in building steps within the process that included our members’ feedback and combining it with things we know they need.
We put our members at the center of everything we do.
TNJ.com: What are some of the current challenges and/or trends in the health care space?
T.W.: The biggest challenge in health care is cost. In California, the average cost for a family is the same as buying a new car every year and this is not acceptable. We have a product called Trio, which is the one of the lowest cost products right now in California and everyone is thrilled about it because of the way we modeled it through our unique working relationships with both physicians and hospitals.
As far as general trends go, we’re taking action to make health care more digital. Not only does this give members a better experience that matches every other part of their life, it helps reduce their frustration with the overall health care system. Most people want the intuitive Apple or Amazon experience for all their needs and that is what we’re after and that is what we want to deliver to our members.
We’re also working to leverage health information exchange data provided by Manifest MedEx. This gives members access to all their digital health records from both providers and insurers all in one place. This is a huge undertaking, but when we get this implemented, it will change the experience for members and make it easier for them to engage in their health.
On the other hand, we know some of our members need help with basic needs to keep them healthy. Do they have food and shelter? Are they in need of stress reduction, sleep health, fitness training, weight loss, healthy eating and more?
We know we can’t continue to do the same things and expect different results in health care. So, we have to change and we have to innovate.
TNJ.com: Why do you think some insurance companies often experience negative feedback from their insureds?
T.W.: Health care is personal and it’s emotional. We’ve all had experiences with health care either ourselves or with our family and friends. In those greatest times of need, we only want the best care possible and we want it quickly. Sometimes that doesn’t happen. Today’s health care system is highly complicated – you have so many institutions involved to take care of one member – physicians, hospitals, insurers, etc. You also have many people who do not have the option for health care because it’s too expensive. Everyone should have access to the same level of care.
TNJ.com: Are there any short to long term goals in the works that will provide better outcomes for people insured by Blue Shield of California?
T.W.: Today’s health care system is broken. We are reimagining and rebuilding the health care system to create a better tomorrow. We’re not waiting for change to come to us. We’re carving our own path into the future of health by designing the way it works and delivering the plan, service and support that’s best for our members based on their preferences and evidence-based research.
We’re also simplifying every member experience by using the latest technology. Finally, we want to help members understand the factors that contribute to their health and wellbeing – be it physically, emotionally or financially.