Do the dead receive mail? The short answer is, of course they do. You know the kind of thing — in the case of my father, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 85, it’s mostly catalogs, copies of Smithsonian magazine and the occasional invitation to subscribe to American Handgunner. I mark it all “deceased” and send it back.

The recent receipt of a six-page mailing from dad’s health insurance company, though, caught my attention. This document is variously called an Explanation of Benefits – we’ve all seen one – and also a Monthly Report.

So what’s in the Monthly Report? After helpfully informing my late father that he’s covered for preventive care services and encouraging him to talk to his doctor to make sure these exams are up to date, the document goes on to list a bunch of activity from October 2011 (yes, almost five years ago).

The “totals” page is a real beauty. I can’t make this math add up: $120,507.69 – $14,670.69 = $14,655.69? It looks like I might get a bill for $15. Hopefully not $120,000. There’s also a reference to a sum of -$3,500. The statement says that it’s not a bill – but then what is it? Am I supposed to do something? Is the hospital really four+ years behind on its billing?


I’m confused by the paper statement, so I decide to go online for some answers. Dad never owned a computer, but when he fell ill, I got him online. I have his member ID and all the information necessary to get the answers I need in real time. And when I log on to the insurance provider’s site, I’m pleased to see a live chat window pop up. Help is at hand. Or is it?


Now here’s a robot that really acts robotic. Having help readily available online is a great idea. But this one leads to a dead end. At this point, I’m stuck in a cul de sac of nonsense. Surely, I’m not the only one. Indeed, the experience and the interactions that drive it are bound to create widespread disengagement rather than the informed 21st century healthcare consumer we’ve all heard about.

So what might this provider do to create a better user experience? Here are a few ideas:

Define a touchpoint strategy. 

It’s time to take a serious look at how people are interacting with your brand at each point in the customer journey. A touchpoint strategy informed by user research will help you set priorities for clarifying key digital and print interactions. Start by identifying messaging missteps and gaps. Then capitalize on opportunities for creating simple interactions that make sense, like offering the user self-service options when applicable and providing ready means for live help if needed.

Analyze processes.

Coupled with a look at the customer journey, an analysis of back-office processes like what happens when someone is hospitalized or what to do when a claim is filed might reveal why a dead man is receiving ostensibly important financial communications. This analysis then becomes the foundation for creating a communications protocol for important life events.

Review brand alignment across all communications channels.

Assessing the brand alignment of all interactions will ensure that the user experience reflects your brand essence — verbally, visually and experientially — in whatever form it’s expressed. Ironically, the tagline of this insurer is, “We want you to know.” (But apparently not too much.)

Addressing the customer experience and untangling this kind of communications mess is a huge business opportunity for providers that are competing for customers in the new healthcare marketplace.

Still, I have a feeling that this story involving my dad’s insurance company is not over. I wonder what will land in the inbox next?

  • Originally published on spring

One Comment

  • Hey Max,
    My deceased mother regularly receives mail here. The one that really made me chuckle was when four thick full sized Viking travel brochures showed up on the same day. Is she now traveling on a riverboat for the first time ever? How come I who have been on a Viking riverboat don’t get these fancy brochures? I get the little flimsy ones. Did something change when Mom passed so she became high end traveler? Puzzled…and oh yes, my postmistress says when you put deceased on the mail, they just throw it out at the post office. So the only option seems to be to call Viking and tell them Mom is deceased…there should be a database somewhere that would allow us to stop mail to the dead!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *