February 06, 2015

From Managed Healthcare Executive
By Tracey Walker

Healthcare plans are beginning to recognize the enormous synergy that exists between an insurer and their clients through innovative customer loyalty programs. Case in point: Medical Mutual of Ohio’s (MMO) Mutual Appreciation Program.

Mutual Appreciation is a loyalty program that “harnesses the buying power of our 2,300 employees and encourages them to 'buy local' from our customers,” explains Rick Chiricosta, chairman, president and chief executive officer at Medical Mutual of Ohio, Cleveland. “An important part of the value proposition we make to our customers is our commitment to them and the communities where they do business.”

This incentive program rewards employees for their loyalty to MMO customers and reinforces the long-term goodwill that it can produce, says Chiricosta. It's also is an example to other Ohio businesses about the value of buying local. In just over three years, employees have spent more than $40 million with customer businesses, notes.

“Mutual Appreciation demonstrates the value of going beyond ‘the plan’ and humanizes the health insurance company,” Chiricosta says. “It involves our employees in the process of going beyond providing excellent products and services by finding a way to help have a positive impact on the customer’s business. The employees of the auto dealership, restaurant group, drugstore chain, etc. get extra bang for their buck because our employees are spending money with their companies and giving back in a positive way.”

MMO’s unique engagement with Ohioans and deep roots make the program tick, according to Chiricosta. “It works well for us because our service area is the state of Ohio, where our employees live and work,” he says. “Thus, we can take advantage of their buying power and effectively communicate the results and benefits of Mutual Appreciation directly to our customers. It also puts a face on Medical Mutual, because our employees actively let customers know they are doing business with them because they are a [Medical Mutual] customer.”

Mutual Appreciation applies existing technology in a way to make the program easy and convenient to use:

  • A searchable database enables employees to easily find customers from among 66 product and service categories, no matter where they are in the state. Nearby customers can be identified when searching by city or zip code. Mapping technology instantly provides turn-by-turn directions to the customer of their choice;
  • A mobile app provides employees a portable shopping resource, integrating all of the convenient program elements into an easy-to-use mobile device.

Employees also can earn cash incentives simply by patronizing MMO customers and recording their purchases in the system. Participants earn points for every purchase they record. They can earn $250 or more by reaching defined point thresholds.

In addition, every participating employee is eligible to win one of 12, $50 gift cards that are given away each month. Special events and contests have been created through which employees can earn or win gift cards from MMO customers.