The importance of social media and the web in medical tourism
More than most other industries, medical tourism agencies and international patient departments rely heavily on the patients and business that come to them from from their websites and internet related activity.
Ian Youngman from IMTJ considers the lessons that the medical tourism sector can learn from a recent survey of online behavior and the use of social media.
A recent market research survey on the behaviour of British people online has important lessons for medical tourism. (The behavior of the British online is similar to internet users in many other nations).
The good news from the survey is that consumers are increasingly relying on the internet for information and purchasing goods and services. The warning is that they are increasingly intolerant of problems arising when using a website, and will quickly take their business elsewhere. Companies are frequently complacent that their websites have few if any problems, on the basis that they get few customer complaints. The message from the survey is that consumers now rarely complain to the company but just go to a competitor. Many do not stop there; they rarely contact the company but instead publish their dissatisfaction on social networking sites, giving any business with an allegedly poorly performing website a rush of poor publicity. Any concept of fair and balanced reporting, with the right of reply, that conventional media is obliged to operate within, is totally ignored on self-published social network sites. The stark reality is that medical tourism companies who are getting it badly wrong on their website get no second chance or opportunity to put their side of the story.
The survey is an established annual survey by one of the most reputable market research groups in the world.
Consumers share experiences online
The 2009 Survey of Online Consumer Behaviour, conducted by Harris Interactive, commissioned by Tealeaf, reveals 53% of British online adults say that they are now conducting more transactions online than they did in the past, with the ability to compare products and prices cited by 74% of these as the main reason. It finds businesses are failing to fully capitalise on this, with 77% of online adults who have conducted an online transaction in the past year saying they have experienced problems when doing so. 46% of these advised they would abandon the transaction as a result, with 40% saying they would switch to an online or offline competitor.
Consumers, empowered by social media, are increasingly likely to share experiences and opinions about companies, rather than with them. The survey results show that online adults are increasingly turning to social media to broadcast their online experiences to others, rather than directly with companies. 13% of online adults who encountered problems conducting online transactions said they shared those experiences on a blog or social networking site, nearly twice as many as in 2008. Direct communication with a company declined, with 25% of online adults who experience problems conducting online transactions then posting a complaint on a company website (down from 29% in 2008) and 35% contact a companyâ€™s call centre after encountering problems using the website in 2009 (down from 42% in 2008).
This shift in consumer behaviour extends the business impact of customer experience issues beyond any single transaction to an overall long-lasting negative impact on brand reputation, with 74% of online adults saying negative comments they read online influence their likelihood to do business with a company. The survey reveals that social networking sites can be highly influential, with 51% of online adults saying social media content had directly influenced how they conduct online transactions and 75% of those saying it had affected their choice of vendor.
But it is not all bad news as the survey also finds that online adults whose transactions have been influenced by social media content actually respond to positive reviews (35%) more so than negative ones (26%), so good online transaction experiences are amplified online just as much, if not more, than bad.
Take a look at Medical Tourism Ratings and Reviews, for an insight to how patients rate their medical travel exoperiences.
While too many businesses are still ill-equipped to deal with web enquiries, the percentage of consumers who have experienced problems (77%) when conducting online transactions has actually improved compared to the last two years (89% in 2008 and 86% in 2007), with many companies realising the benefits of becoming more customer-centric and investing in usability or customer experience management solutions.
Companies fail to deal with web site enquiries
But customer service teams are still unable to efficiently deal with website enquiries: 51% of those who contacted a call centre after encountering a website problem were unable to have their issue resolved, and 77% report that the agent was not knowledgeable about the website or about their particular online problem.
Rebecca Ward of Tealeaf says, â€œOver the past few years, companies have increasingly focused on the online customer experience as the impact of that experience on their business results has become apparent. The focus on the online customer experience accelerated in 2009 as the economy drove more transactions online and the web became an increasingly critical channel for organisations.â€
A recent Forrester Research report, "Best Practices: Five Strategies For Customer Service Social Media Excellence,â€ stated that â€œwhen companies blatantly ignore product or service issues, customers now can use the Internet as a medium to broadcast, very publicly, their frustration to millions. This has switched the balance of power from corporations to customers. The risk of corporate reputations being ruined by poor customer service interactions has greatly increased as consumers have gained the ability to share their opinions directly with each other.â€œ
Many medical tourism websites fail to impress
For my reports, features and news reporting, I visit hundreds of medical tourism websites every week. Some are excellent and easy to navigate with clear information. Others are confusing, slow to load, poorly translated, and give very little clear information on price or service. Worrying are the array of sites that appear to offer straightforward information, but are merely poorly conceived advertorial with dubious or out of date information. Most irritating are those that claim to have a news section that is not news but a reprint of publications they have been in, often many years old. Frightening are those sites that give no information as to who owns them, their address or even a phone number.
If anyone doubts the growth of social networking sites, you only have to look at the increasing number of medical tourism companies and organizations that have launched on Twitter. Some may come to regret this, as while you can control comments made to your website, you cannot control comments made about you on social media sites.
Survey Methodology The 2009 Survey of Online Consumer Behaviour was conducted online between July 29 and August 4 2009 among 2223 British adults aged 16 and over.
Tealeaf provides online customer experience management services and the Survey of Online Consumer Behaviour is available to download from http://www.tealeaf.com/harris-uk
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