Last December, I took my wife to an urgent care clinic. After recovering from COVID-19, she started showing symptoms of pneumonia and we thought she might need antibiotics. Given that it was the holidays and omicron was raging, neither of us was too keen to visit a medical facility. The last thing we wanted was to be exposed to COVID — and we certainly didn’t want to expose others to pneumonia. We needn’t have worried.
When we arrived, we called the receptionist from the car, as we had been instructed to do. Within a matter of minutes, we were brought to the facility by a staffer, escorted to a private room where we met with a doctor, and then walked out the door — while a prescription was being sent electronically to our local pharmacy. We never touched a piece of paper, and the whole process took less than 10 minutes.
Back at the car, I stopped for a second and thought about how we didn’t fill out any paperwork or hand over an insurance card. I felt like I had robbed the place and wondered if we were supposed to just walk out.
Then I started piecing the puzzle together and realized, because we had been to that clinic before, they had our information in the system. But I found out later that if my wife hadn’t been in the system, she would have filled out a form on her phone and submitted it with a screenshot of her insurance card. She still would not have touched a piece of paper or had to sit in a waiting room with other people. Since the last time I had been there, which was before the pandemic, they had modified their process drastically. Using a workflow behind the scenes, they were able to create a completely automated and contactless check-in process.
It was a great experience, and you can bet the next time my wife or I need to see a doctor, we’ll be going back to that urgent care. Obviously, the pandemic has accelerated the move to paperless interactions, particularly among healthcare facilities, but our urgent care visit is a good example of how companies in vertical markets, such as healthcare, can use process automation to differentiate themselves through the user experience (UX) — long after the pandemic is over.
Go niche or go home
Vertical markets are often characterized by deep market penetration from a handful of long-established companies, so barriers to entry can be pretty steep. For upstarts and entrenched players alike, verticals can provide huge opportunities — but those opportunities also come with challenges.
For example, you may have the ability to operate in multiple verticals, but by definition, you’re catering to a very specific niche market and this requires a high level of expertise. It’s not enough for your product or service to fulfill a specific need; to be successful, everyone in the company — from design to sales to marketing — must have in-depth knowledge of that market. One mistake I see is companies spreading themselves too thin, trying to focus on too many verticals without the necessary market expertise throughout the organization. I see many organizations where the salespeople may have that knowledge, but operations or marketing doesn’t and this won’t work.
You have to inject yourself into the industry, not only to raise awareness of your product or service, but to keep up to date with the particular needs and standards of the vertical. For example, if you’re in banking, you have to know the regulations because they are constantly changing.
As mentioned, another challenge is differentiating yourself from the competition, especially if you operate in multiple vertical markets. You have to be an extremely good storyteller in order to paint the picture of why your product or service is the best one to fulfill a need. If you don’t have exact solutions that speak the language of your customer, they may not be able to see the value. This is particularly true for new entrants who don’t have the benefit of name recognition or a history with their market.
The flip side is that there are common pain points in any vertical market, so anyone who solves those pain points can show their value quickly. Because players are so deeply entrenched, there usually isn’t a lot of innovation happening, so a new player that’s coming into that market can really provide some disruption, make some space for themselves, and get some penetration by being a little different and providing a unique solution.
Again, you need to gain a deep understanding of the vertical — the relevant pain points — and inject yourself into that market. This includes getting to know the industry partners as well as the associations and keeping abreast of industry standards and regulatory requirements.
How can workflows help?
Workflows can give players in a vertical market a competitive edge. The key is to create a low-code solution that’s vertical agnostic, meaning it can be taken from one vertical to the next and across multiple industries.
When workflows are flexible, they can be configured to meet very specific needs inside of a particular vertical and adjusted by the users as their internal needs change; you just have to change the story behind it so that it makes sense to the individuals using it.
To create an advantage, the workflow needs to immediately add value. In this rapidly changing environment, your solution needs to be able to adapt and add value as that environment changes, as new requests, regulations and circumstances come up.
This is particularly true when it comes to customer service. The pandemic has taught us that we need to have the ability to pivot and adapt our workflows and processes in real time. A workflow that works one day may need to be drastically changed the next; that’s why configurable (versus customizable) solutions are so important.
A good workflow combined with some ingenuity can be instrumental in providing a superior customer experience — which can set apart a company in a crowded vertical from its competitors. For instance, instead of thinking about how to improve certain steps in a process, think about whether the steps are necessary. When looking at a problem, ask yourself if you can eliminate a manual step in favor of automation. Sometimes it’s just a matter of looking at some of those problems in a different light.
Let’s go back to that urgent care clinic. Pre-pandemic, my wife might have been handed a clipboard to fill out or update her information. Or the clinic could have taken that paper form and put it on an iPad, thinking they were improving the customer experience. But why does she need to fill out the form at all? If she’s in the system, wouldn’t it make sense for her information to automatically populate throughout a digital process?
Of course, it would and that’s the kind of thinking that takes you straight to the top.