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Designing the Customer Experience for the #1 Ranked Private Healthcare Plan

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care is dedicated to its members, as their partner in health. Unfortunately, its member website — Harvard Pilgrim’s most prominent member touchpoint — wasn’t living up to the promise.

Usability studies and member services complaints provided evidence that the site was confusing and difficult to use, with poor accessibility and language options. Plus, it was nearly unusable on mobile.

Harvard Pilgrim recognized the opportunity to tackle a larger initiative: revolutionizing the member experience.

That’s where Mad*Pow came in. With their help, Harvard Pilgrim proposed to simplify the process of selecting and using health insurance. They wanted to prove themselves a reliable and constant partner throughout the healthcare journey—not just providing solutions to problems, but proactively offering resources and contextual information to help members control and improve their health.

Limitations, Opportunities, and Goals
Mad*Pow knew that developing a website for the diverse Harvard Pilgrim audience would mean beginning with a firm understanding of its member base. With this in mind, and tasked with the twin goals of simplicity and contextual value, Mad*Pow focused on learning about members’ online goals. A site strategy based around accomplishing top tasks and providing sought-after content would result in a site that was easier to understand, simpler to use, and better for building trust.

Mad*Pow’s discovery plan involved a succession of stakeholder and user interviews, a survey of more than 1,100 members, and usefulness testing to discover member needs. Of particular note, Mad*Pow worked with the Carroll Center for the Blind to develop an understanding of accessibility needs. They also visited the Harvard Pilgrim Member Services call center to observe more than 50 inbound member calls. These activities helped them to understand what members needed most — and what they weren’t finding or couldn’t access on the site.

From this discovery work, they identified members’ top goals as:
  • Help me get to information quickly, through accurate navigation, and faster load times
  • Let me use any device, anywhere
  • Make the site inclusive and accessible
  • Help me simplify and understand complex concepts 
  • Above all, give me the information I need at the exact time I need it

These aligned nicely with Harvard Pilgrim’s business drivers:

  • Make the site a tool to retain and grown membership
  • Make the site a resource for questions, thereby reducing administrative costs
  • Support the brand position as a trusted health care partner for its members

But it wasn’t all good news. Harvard Pilgrim faced significant constraints: an internal development team struggling to unify multiple data streams, a migration to a new CMS with a strict timeline, and (as with any large organization) internal politics and legal needs to consider. The team looked to Mad*Pow to not only solve members’ online challenges, but also apply a governance model that would set the site up for future success.

The Build Begins

With external research and a guiding strategy in hand, Mad*Pow began connecting member needs to Harvard Pilgrim’s content assets. Content on the current site was evaluated for accessibility, judging how well it met WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines, and what updates were required. In addition, content was evaluated for findability, readability, and how closely it connected to top member-requested tasks.


As design progressed, Mad*Pow and Harvard Pilgrim followed a participatory design process. Seeking feedback right away, Mad*Pow invited the Harvard Pilgrim team to full-day workshops, where they mapped out key user journeys, developed prospective site maps, and discussed initial designs and concepts. Client participation in the design process isn’t yet common in the UX industry, but Mad*Pow knows that the insight a client can offer into their audience’s world immeasurably improves the final product.

Over a three-month period, Mad*Pow designed, developed, tested, and iterated on a working prototype. The final deliverable was a visual representation of the project requirements: it showcased a visual refresh, a uniquely Harvard Pilgrim voice and tone, simple and clear navigation, a clean, accessible user interface, and the CSS code required to implement it. Mad*Pow also provided documentation to support the prototype, including governance documents based on research and observation of Harvard Pilgrim’s internal processes, brand guidelines, and analytics tracking recommendations and conversion strategies for future use.

The Results

During usability testing of the final prototype, members were wowed. Exploring the new design, they reported, “This is a much more member-friendly interface” and “[it has] information that I’ve never seen from a health insurance website before…GREAT.” Similarly, another member said, “I use your site but had no idea you had all this. I’d use this more [than the old one].”


Regarding the improved mobile capabilities, members said, “This is great. I would love to do this on my phone” and “I really liked the new mobile [version]…This one is really easy to use. And I like that the desktop version looks enough like the mobile one so you don’t feel you have a brand new app.”

The reviews were glowing: “I like the theme and effort towards [a] simple and clean and graphically appealing interface” and “Overall it’s a big improvement. I’m excited about what changes are coming.”

Health care organizations will always be able to improve upon their member sites. But Harvard Pilgrim Health Care took an amazing step with the new design prototype. They are truly acting as members’ trusted and reliable partner in health.

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Harvard Pilgrim Health Care
Designing the Customer Experience for the #1 Ranked Private Healthcare Plan

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James Christie Director, Experience Design   Contact James

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