“Customer orientation has to be proactively exemplified.”

Text: Roberto Stefàno | Photos: Marc Wetli | Magazine: Customer focus – January 2019

For Philomena Colatrella, the customer is at the centre of all her entrepreneurial activities. In order to feel the pulse of the premium payers, the Head of CSS Health Insurance regularly responds to customer enquiries herself. She wants to get a grip on today’s rising health costs through a balanced interrelationship between solidarity and self-responsibility.

“The customer is king” is an important precept in business life. Do you also see it that way?

Customer needs are central to CSS. Wherever possible, we try to involve our policyholders. To this end, we evaluate the feedback from them as well as conduct customer surveys and market research. For me, customers are the point of departure for all activities of a company.

How does this customer orientation become noticeable?

Customer concerns are regularly addressed by the Executive Committee and Board of Directors. In addition, we’ve formed inter-disciplinary teams which, as a network throughout the company, attend to specific customer concerns and consequently find solutions quickly and efficiently. But customer orientation also has to be proactively exemplified. That’s why I, too, regularly answer enquiries myself.

“I regularly answer customer enquiries myself.”

Customers actually get through to you directly?

I continually get feedback from policyholders, and I feel it’s my personal responsibility to address their troubles. For me, those enquiries are an indicator of the issues that bother customers.

What’s at the top of their wish list?

Affordable premiums, naturally. But also optimal insurance coverage and good service.

The needs of your customers vary greatly: the healthy policyholders want low premiums, those with ailments want comprehensive benefits. How do you deal with this?

We try to cover the differing customer needs by means of our multi-product strategy. Our online insurance platform Sanagate is aimed more at a young, digital-savvy audience, whilst CSS is more likely to appeal to the older generation. Our subsidiaries Arcosana and Intras are also geared to specific target groups.

But there’s still the conflict between the objectives of healthy people and ailing customers.

That’s the basic happenstance for health insurers. We try to address the healthy customers with prevention and health maintenance offers, and in case of illness see to the optimal therapy. However, the scope is limited: the law prescribes which procedures we’re allowed to cover. If we can’t compensate a specific treatment, we need to explain the decision to the customers in the best possible way and discuss with them the various options for supplementary insurance.

When it comes to prevention, we have the myStep programme where policyholders receive compensation for the number of steps they’ve taken per day. I’m really enthusiastic about this programme. In future, we want to offer even more opportunities in this area.

What are you thinking of?

Nutrition is certainly an important issue, just as much as physical activity and relaxation.

Philomena Colatrella (50) has been Managing Director and Chairwoman of CSS Health Insurance since 2016. She’s worked for the company in various capacities ever since 1999. This modern-day insurance aficionada originally studied law at the University of Fribourg and was admitted to the bar of the canton of Lucerne. Philomena Colatrella is married and a native of Lucerne.

How relevant are these digital services for CSS?

They’re important because more and more customers want to take a digital path through the insurance process. At the same time, however, we’re trying to achieve a balance between digital and analogue offerings.

Why is that?

With our omnichannel strategy, we’re striving to reach out to our customers via a wide array of channels, whereas the digital route is naturally of central importance. But we also have a dense agency network that we’re also investing in. Our credo: we accompany our customers through the various episodes of “being healthy, getting healthy and living with an ailment”. And we make it easy for them to navigate through our digital and analogue offerings.

“Our credo: we accompany our customers through the various episodes of ‘being healthy, getting healthy and living with an ailment’. And we make it easy for them to navigate through our digital and analogue offerings.”

To what extent do you use these digital offerings to attract new customers – especially young ones?

We’re very active in promoting our digital channels and using them to reach new customers. We feel that both younger and older health insurance customers have a need for digital services, as well as for uncomplicated, efficient support.

You were recently awarded a prize for your QualiCheck hospital comparison service. What’s the idea behind it?

Comparisons in the healthcare field are necessary because they heighten transparency. Our goal is to show customers what a hospital can accomplish. In future, we want to go one step further and develop the portal into a kind of TripAdvisor.

Should your customers write their own critiques?

Yes, we want to take their opinions into account.

When you see how the critiques of hotels turn out, this doesn’t seem to be – how should I say? – unproblematic . . .

We’ll certainly give careful consideration to how we involve the insured commentators. Customer guidance is crucial, as it’s often difficult for policyholders to judge whether an orthopaedist is doing his job well or not. That’s why we have to offer assistance in this regard.

Will this have an influence on the list of accredited hospitals?

This aspect is specified in the basic insurance policy. But when it comes to supplementary insurance cover, we can make the choice ourselves. This control mechanism is very promising in terms of the cost debate. And policyholders could save premiums by accepting a restriction on the choice of hospital – similar to the alternative models for basic insurance. It’s also conceivable that we would offer an incentive if their decision is based on the recommendations of QualiCheck.

You once said that you invest a lot in the effort to understand customer data, structure it and then use it for the benefit of customers. What’s to be understood with that?

It relates on one hand to billing and cost control. Here, we want to heighten the degree of automation so we can focus more on the complex cases. Over the past three years, we’ve succeeded in doing this quite well. On the other hand, with the help of data analysis, we try to identify customer preferences in order to offer people new products and services. Data protection is a top priority here. We’re in regular contact with the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner, to whom we submit all our plans. Only if we handle customer data very prudently, can we expect our policyholders to grant us the necessary trust.

Many insured people fear that they’ll become a “glass customer” as a result.

It’s crucial that we educate our customers and show them what’s being done with their data. If you can explain the benefits to them, then their willingness to share that data is much greater.

The CSS Group, headquartered in Lucerne, is Switzerland’s largest basic health insurer with 1.38 million customers. In total, the company insures 1.7 million policyholders and earns premium revenues of around CHF 6.27 billion. CSS has 110 agencies throughout Switzerland and employs 2,700 people. The Group encompasses health insurers CSS, Sanagate, Arcosana and Intras.


How do you protect against cyber-criminality?

We’ve taken appropriate organisational and technical measures and are sensitising our employees to the seriousness of this issue. They’re repeatedly confronted with phishing and social engineering attacks. Our training sessions and simulations are therefore absolutely essential.

How will customer needs change in the coming years?

Customers want more and more comfort. Other decisive factors of course are good service, support and information. But ultimately, the issue of the entire health insurance ecosystem can be expected to gain in importance. We want to accompany our customers in terms of health maintenance throughout their various phases of life and offer them comprehensive services in the areas of health promotion, disease prevention and therapy, but also when it comes to chronic illness. To this end, we’re planning to network with specialised partners. And in light of the relentless progress in medical treatment, we’re also having to deal with the ramifications of longevity. So the question arises as to what overall coverage we can offer patients under basic health insurance going forward.

How do you envision this ecosystem? For example, will you operate your own fitness centres in the future?

It’s rather a matter of networking with other service providers. Aside from that, we want to identify new business models in healthcare-related areas.

How will our domestic healthcare system change?

Measures are needed to curb the increase in costs, as the budgets of middle-class households are heavily strained these days. The sustainable financing of the healthcare system is of major concern to us. We’re committed to ensuring that premiums remain affordable and that the interrelationship between solidarity and self-responsibility is balanced. If we extrapolate the current annual healthcare-related costs of CHF 82 billion linearly into the future, they’ll increase to CHF 114 billion in two to three years’ time. Nobody can afford that anymore.


Philomena Colatrella – up close and personal

What personal goal have you set yourself for 2019?
I’d like to take more time for “needy things” and relaxation – like playing the piano.

How do you tank up on energy?
Regaining balance through sport is important to me. But I recharge my batteries most when I can spend an evening with friends and have interesting conversations. I’m a sociable, impassioned person.

What guiding principle do you adhere to in business life?
Stay true to yourself.

Are you a meadowlark or a night owl?
Both. I read a lot from 4 to 6 in the morning. Six hours of sleep is enough for me. I benefit from the fact that my regeneration time is relatively short; my fuel cells fill up quickly.

If you could do magic, which product or service would you like to conjure up in the future?
Well, that would be a digital advisor who could supply answers to all the questions I’m confronted with 24 hours a day – from health matters, to what’s for dinner.

What’s at the top of your shopping list for 2019?
A new upright piano. My old one now lives in my parents’ vacation house. And I don’t have room for a grand.