Case Study: How Alpha enables teams to make smarter product decisions more cost-effectively

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Case study: How Alpha enables Aetna to make smarter business decisions and innovate faster

by Joe Bayley

The company revolutionizing the American healthcare industry uses Alpha to gain empathy for consumers and bring desperately-needed products to market.

Background

Amidst skyrocketing healthcare costs, one of the nation’s oldest and largest insurers decided to take bold action. In 2016, Aetna announced its commitment to transparency. With the mission to enable employers to help their employees make more informed decisions, Aetna set out to provide access to information about benefits, estimate costs, drug prices, and recommendations.

But the market is constantly changing due to the political environment and the daily emergence of new health technologies. To stay aligned to the wants and needs of consumers, the 165-year-old giant needs to reinvent itself and embrace a more forward-thinking approach to bringing products to market.

“Aetna had challenges in terms of understanding its brand value outside of just being an insurance company,” explains Etugo Nwokah, Chief Product Officer at WellMatch, an Aetna business unit. “Most people think about their insurance company as the company they have to deal with when it comes to claims after receiving care. We want to change that paradigm and be a partner – that’s what drives truly differentiated value to our members.”

That’s why Nwokah’s team leverages Alpha’s on-demand insights platform to close the gap between product managers and both benefits managers and consumers, drive engagement on its app, and continually identify opportunities for breakthrough innovation. According to Nwokah, Alpha has enabled the WellMatch team to run 100+ experiments per year, prioritize their roadmap, and drastically improve their product’s user experience.

Becoming a consumer-insight-driven organization

Consumer expectations are always on the rise, keeping innovators on their toes and wrecking havoc for organizations used to resting on their laurels.

“You see this consumerism focus across multiple sectors,” says Nwokah. “Where consumers are realizing all that’s available and should be available to them online – that’s a coming-of-age that’s seeping into other sectors, particularly healthcare.”

Whereas some companies try to extend the status quo for as long as possible, Nwokah is excited about stepping up to the plate. “We’re making that shift – making information available. WellMatch is really focused on handling situations where [people] need care right now and can find the appropriate place to go based on cost, quality, and other factors.”

As part of that shift, Nwokah champions experimentation. With Alpha, Aetna gained a powerful capability and adopted a better decision-making workflow and faster time-to-market. Leveraging Alpha’s on-demand insights platform, Nwokah’s team tests hypotheses throughout the product lifecycle, from initial concept to optimizing usability.

 

“Before Alpha, we had to think about ways we could collect this consumer data so that it’s not design-by-committee, it’s not making decisions by opinion, it’s making decisions by data,” Nwokah says. “In order to do that, we need Alpha at our fingertips.”

For an organization as big and traditional as Aetna, experimentation is more than just a tool – it’s an aspirational new operating system for the organization.

“The focus for me is moving toward a data-driven organization, with the product team being the catalyst,” Nwokah proclaims.

Prioritizing and shipping high-impact features

Building healthcare solutions involves overcoming a number of challenges. First, gaining access to consumers can be a regulatory nightmare, if not downright impossible. On top of that, innovators must delicately balance the needs of all the other stakeholder groups – from benefits managers to doctors. And then of course every product update has to undergo a lengthy compliance review, so pivoting is a last resort.

Alpha is designed specifically for organizations in these environments. The platform’s on-demand access to 100m users worldwide and a network of designers to create prototypes enables teams in regulated industries to test and iterate in a fully compliant way, without roadblocks.

“As product managers and the user experience team comes up with new hypotheses about different desired behaviors, we use Alpha to do rapid prototype testing and get feedback right away,” Nwokah says. “It helps us make decisions about whether we we move forward with that feature and give it to the engineering team, or kill it, dead in its tracks.”

 

WellMatch targets more than 35 niche audiences with Alpha, including Aetna members with specific healthcare plans and prescriptions, healthcare providers, and benefits managers.

“Having this data really drives everything that we do from a feature standpoint. We can test and align ourselves with consumer expectations,” Nwokah says, pointing to a recent example involving a web portal.

“We had a lot of over-grazing because of all the stakeholders who want their opinion and their content to surface when users log in. So we tested the content in a bento box style, believing that it would be digestible and bite sized. What we found with Alpha is that only 25% of users understood what was going on. Most users were going to the search bar because they didn’t get it,” Nwokah says. “So we had to go back to the drawing board to make it more action-oriented, rather than surfacing content that we believed would be relevant.”

Gaining empathy enables Aetna to simplify some of the most complicated aspects of healthcare for consumers. The product team also uses data to settle debates and align stakeholders internally.

“As we look at our quarterly planning, [user insight] helps us justify what we do beyond our product group.,” Nwokah explains. “Whether it’s sales or account management, they can understand why we made the decisions that we made, and everyone can be on the same page.”

Taking part in the product management renaissance

Nwokah has been building products for more than a decade and pushes Aetna to take a more progressive approach than in the past.

“The evolution has been really interesting for me. When you think about the dot com age, I don’t feel like product management was a formal discipline that people really focused on. The decisions that were made and the skills that were needed lived within a number of different executives…you didn’t hear a lot about CPOs,” he reflects. “As you got into 2000, [the discipline] started to formalize with lean and agile. Now it’s really exciting. It feels like a renaissance period.”

According to Nwokah, Alpha is the next evolution.

“Alpha really represents a unified product management approach given that they work with so many different organizations. They bring a way to easily start the conversation and start the cultural change. All of those lessons learned and best practices come with the product itself. I think that’s incredibly important for this day and age.”

 

With Alpha, Aetna’s digital teams are optimizing various product Key Performance Indicators, such usability and usage. More importantly for the future of the organization, Nwokah’s team partners with Alpha to set the standard for a better way to work and meet the needs of consumers and accelerate innovation.

Joe Bayley

Joe partners with complex product organizations at UnitedHealth, Aetna, and Liberty Mutual to provide them meaningful insights and actionable data, throughout the product development cycle.

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