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Digital Transformation

Blue Shield’s Cecilia Sun on Transforming Healthcare During the Pandemic

Cecilia Sun

Founded in 1939, Blue Shield of California is a $20 billion-dollar-a-year nonprofit health plan dedicated to providing Californians with access to high-quality health care at an affordable price.The nonprofit health provider’s 6,808 employees and affiliates provide health, dental, vision, Medicaid and Medicare health care service plans to more than 4.3 million patients across the state.

Blue Shield of California is working to transform care by putting each and every member at the center of everything they do. We sat down with Cecilia Sun, Vice President at Blue Shield of California, to discuss how she’s using Salesforce Marketing Cloud to engage members with personalized, relevant messages to help them with decisions that can drive better health outcomes during the pandemic.

Q. Please tell us about your background. How did you start working in marketing?

My background is in both financial services and healthcare. I started my career at American Express, in a variety of marketing and product development roles. Over the years marketing has become a passion of mine and I think marketing has evolved significantly. I joined Blue Shield five years ago and now lead our Integrated Member Experience team. We work to bring a customer-centric, retail-like marketing mindset for healthcare to help engage consumers in managing their health and managing their wellness. 

Q. What are some of your responsibilities leading customer experience for Blue Shield?

We have three key pillars driving customer experience. The first pillar is building our customer engagement capabilities. We’re working with Salesforce to leverage our customer data and personalize interactions. The second pillar is focused on engaging members with a retail-like experience to drive better health outcomes and increase loyalty. The last pillar is an enterprise-wide approach where we bring our top customer service metrics across the company to drive improvements in Net Promoter Scores. We work with various businesses across the company to improve on some of the great things we’ve done around social marketing and more.

Q. How has the pandemic shaped your digital transformation initiatives? Was there any innovation that surprised you?

I think the pandemic has become a great accelerator of digital transformation across many industries. We have seen a movement away from brick and mortar interactions, with a lot of growth in the telehealth area. We have actually seen our customers engage a lot more with us now using our websites and mobile app. 

We’re seeing movement in highly regulated industries, where both consumers and regulators are rethinking how interactions can be digital-first in the new world. 

More consumers have moved toward virtual health services, and we’ve been helping drive that adoption. A lot of consumers realized that basic needs can be met this way and so we’re hoping that that’s actually sustainable. We’ll need our leaders and regulators to work together to sustain this digital transformation and drive safer health care.

Q. How is Salesforce Marketing Cloud helping you deliver personalized member experiences?

Our partnership with Salesforce Marketing Cloud is really exciting. Our team is using emails to engage members in a lot of different ways to improve their health outcomes. We’ve also been able to redesign our welcome experiences in time for open enrollment.

And I will say, this is the first time we’re actually using true personalization. In the past, we recognized people through their plan IDs, and now Salesforce Marketing Cloud is helping us recognize them as people with everything that we know about them available. So, this is the beginning of a journey for us, for better personalization, and we’re super excited to have Salesforce as a partner.

Q. What do you think are some of the major challenges facing Blue Shield today?


I think the challenges probably face Blue Shield as well as the industry. We have to maintain proper working relationships with our providers. If Blue Shield is operating as a digital company, but our providers are lagging, you’re going to have a situation where members are going to actually be experiencing two different experiences. The challenge for us is to actually drive change across the system in partnership with our providers. 

One of the stories I like to tell people is that when I first joined Blue Shield everybody told me that the most important thing is to launch the mobile app with an ID card in it. Once the app was available, I observed members going into doctors offices and the doctor’s office taking the mobile phone to make a printed copy on a copier. 

Modern tools like Marketing Cloud have helped us change our team’s mindset. It’s opening up our options and imagination on what we can do to engage our members and drive better health outcomes. 

Q. What have you heard from customers during these uncertain times? How are you addressing their needs?

Our customers are very vocal with us right now in their need for support. I think the industry and the company especially has really jumped to that challenge where we are doing a lot of things to help our employees and our customers through this crisis in terms of payment plans, premium forgiveness and premium rebate programs. 

Blue Shield is a not for profit, and we want to give back to the community. We’re assisting our customers who need help with their financial situations. We’re also offering different service options, education and tools to manage their health if they can’t get into a doctor’s office. 

Marketing Cloud has helped develop campaigns to get the word out on our virtual health offering. That has been a big step forward for us.

Q. What do you believe is the future of customer engagement in healthcare?

I actually think that consumers are very much ready for a much more retail-like experience where they are a lot more empowered. People might remember a day when it wasn’t possible to book an airline ticket without the help of a travel agent. We could not imagine it because nobody could use a travel agent’s system. But now, you can’t imagine booking an airline ticket with a travel agent.

We are moving to a world where consumers are entirely empowered. They don’t only rely on providers or a health plan. Instead, they are empowered with information. Everything is tailored for their needs. And I think that’s what it’s going to be we’re not going to be able to imagine a world where people only had information from a doctor. Consumers are going to have a lot more data at their fingertips. We believe an empowered consumer is a good consumer.

Q. Any lessons learned from this initiative that you can share with other companies in the healthcare space?

One important lesson is the importance of data. We have a tremendous amount of data in healthcare, and we don’t always know how to use it in the right way. That’s partly because this is a very highly regulated industry, but also because we have to start experimenting with how to use data to drive personalization and help influence behavior.