Hari Thalapalli, CEO, CallHealth

Tech adoption in India has seen exponential growth over the last 5 years. From a nation that was once petrified of even buying books online, to one that now buys everything from holiday packages to homes online, India has come a long way.

One company that saw this trend early was CallHealth, a ‘technology-powered healthcare company that has built the world’s first integrated virtual-and-mobility platform to bring "Everything about Health" to the doorstep of the customer in and outside India.’ We catch up with Hari Thalapalli, CEO of CallHealth to get a brand perspective on the business he leads.

Having begun his career in Human Resources (where he spent 25+ years), Hari led functions such as Marketing and Business Consulting, before taking on the leadership role at CallHealth.

Q. You have had extensive experience in the field of HR (25+ years). How has it shaped your perspectives and approach w.r.t. marketing and brand-building?

Organisations often tend to enforce a particular style or cultural values on their workforce. Quite often that fails, because while people will believe in the essence, the way each individual manifests it would be different. Organisations need to be cognizant of this. Similar principles apply to a brand as well, where diverse opinions of multiple stakeholders who engage with the brand must be respected.

I also recall conducting FGDs with employees, and linking the behavioural insights gained from those meetings to improve our services. When I moved into Marketing, I continued this practice and had multiple opportunities to refine our offerings and services.

The role of HR in an organization is no longer functional; it is transformational. As the head of HR, you are responsible for building your employer brand so that you attract the right talent; you deliver value for your company by understanding and using data driven insights. To improve efficiencies, you hire the right talent by connecting with the right people. You are a brand builder, an analyst, a communicator, a motivator and a collaborator – all of which comes into play in most such functional roles.

“Over the long term, the market differentiator is no longer the product or the service;
it is the experience and other related intangible aspects surrounding a service.”

Q. Healthcare, till recently, has been a loyalty-based business. People usually visit the same doctor, hospital, diagnostic center & pharmacy for years together. How does CallHealth plan to overcome this hurdle? What is your plan to enhance people’s trust in your brand, and change their habits?

A. You have touched upon a pertinent aspect. Loyalty is essential, and the ultimate destination for any business. The consistency in delivering what you promise to your customers is what drives maximum loyalty for a brand or an organization. Over the long term, the market differentiator is no longer the product or the service; it is the experience and other related intangible aspects surrounding a service.

From our perspective, we aim to make healthcare in India easily accessible and more affordable. We have cases where a customer continues with his family doctor, but appoints CallHealth as his health manager. We provide the platform for easy access and an integration of services, that has been missing for so long. Clearly, we are not changing their doctor, but helping them reach their doctor as per their convenience. With our ability to string together the dispersed entities within the healthcare ecosystem, we are better placed at bringing convenience and consolidation that customers were missing earlier.

Q. CallHealth is positioned as ‘a virtual-mobility platform that unifies the virtual and real worlds’. How does CallHealth offer a consistent brand experience across virtual and physical interactions?

A. We don’t see the online and offline worlds as two disparate entities in today’s world, as they are natural extensions of each other. Providing a seamless experience across both spectrums is the key to any service delivery model in today’s digitized world.

Which is why, CallHealth’s integrated 3-Dimensional Platform consisting of the Virtual, Physical and Data Innovation platforms, facilitates end-to-end integration of health, medical & wellness services, and information gathered with every transaction – with the patient at the center of the ecosystem.

“Providing a seamless experience across both online and offline worlds
is the key to any service delivery model in a digitized world.”

Q. CallHealth integrates all constituents of the healthcare eco-system (doctors, diagnostics, pharmacies, physios, hospitals, insurance providers, etc.). How does CallHealth make sure that a negative customer experience at any of these customer touchpoints does not have a negative impact on the CallHealth brand?

A. At CallHealth, ‘how’ we deliver our services is as important as the service itself. In our endeavor to make healthcare affordable and accessible, the patient-doctor relationship takes centerstage. Our network of doctors and medical professionals are people who share a similar sense of commitment towards service quality and patient-centricity. Each interaction of our customers with the doctors/consultants/health experts is facilitated, monitored and nurtured by CallHealth. Through these tight controls, we have been able to reduce customer dissatisfaction to well under 2%.

We are extremely responsive and constructive about customer feedback. For us, ‘Customer First’ is not a framework we adhere to, but the only way of functioning we know, understand and practice.

Q. CallHealth’s business model is quite unconventional, refreshing and technologically advanced as compared to other players in the market. How did the company achieve its objective of communicating an entirely new concept to stakeholders (partners and customers)? Any examples?

A. Digitisation is a paradigm shift in mindset. It took e-commerce more than a decade to really crack it and enter households. To make Indian healthcare truly integrated, a fundamental shift in its structure (delivery model) and mindset is required. The major challenge lies in attaining the trust of customers, who have traditionally used the brick and mortar model.

To drive acceptance and adoption, we organize comprehensive educational initiatives regularly for key stakeholders like customers, diagnostic labs, doctors, clinics and pharmacies. Some recent initiatives include:

We see fruits of our efforts being translated into outcomes now. Over time, we have been able to strengthen our repeat customer base that is seeing value in our technologies. Patients attuned to sitting for long hours at doctor’s clinics, are now experiencing the benefits of CallHealth’s virtual technologies that allow patients to consult doctors online and request for services and products.

Overall, our ability and efficiency to reduce the overall healthcare expenditure incurred by customers, combined with a superior and seamless service experience across touchpoints and channels, is the single most powerful aspect that is powering our growth.

“To make indian healthcare truly integrated,
a fundamental shift in its structure and mindset is required”

Q. As many more tech-enabled service providers enter the industry, do services of this nature run the risk of becoming commoditized? If so, how does CallHealth plan to sustain its first-mover advantage through branding and communication?

A. Glad that you have brought such an important part to this discussion. As business leaders, marketers and brand custodians, we are taught to build organizations and propositions that help us avoid commoditization. Healthcare technologies, or healthcare as a sector, on the other hand, should embrace commoditization and not avoid it, because the central idea is to provide better defined, consistent and affordable care to patients.

What will then differentiate CallHealth from the competition are our:

While scale is a differentiator for us, our salience stems from the fact that we are relevant, real-time & seamless.

Q. In recent years, what is the No. 1 change in the field of marketing or brand-building that you see as the most positive, and which is that one change or aspect that we need to be wary of?

A. In my view, the single most dominant trend in the marketing landscape is the change we see in a marketer’s outlook to brand-building. It is no longer intuitive but data-driven. This is central to so many other transformations, such as marketing becoming increasingly contextual, targeted and personalized. Also, we see a great progression in the accurate and effective measurement of marketing & brand-building practices.

I believe that with the digital age comes a smaller span of customer attention and patience threshold. You may have an excellent proposition to offer to these hyper-connected consumers, but if you cannot get their attention in seconds, then you are already out of the game, and needless to say, their mind space.

With the speed at which consumer preferences are shifting, their expectations from brands have become a complex puzzle. There is no one single winning formula. Brands have to constantly explore innovative models and channels to keep them engaged. And this, in my view has led to a growing demand for experiential marketing where marketing campaigns are rooted in reality, live and give customers the control of what they want to see and experience.

On a lighter note, at CallHealth, we like to call the people behind our marketing efforts as marketing technologists & data scientists. They are geniuses of a different kind, and will amaze you with their creativity supported by data!

Our take

Tech-enabled services in India are at a crucial juncture today. While tech-enabled businesses have been around for a few years, it is only now that they are seeing mass adoption at a scale that makes it viable for such businesses to operate.

Yet, understanding of technology varies person to person. Trust levels in technology-enabled businesses vary significantly. Brands entering this space have both a huge responsibility and an opportunity – a responsibility to further build and sustain consumer faith in this emerging space, and an opportunity to benefit from being one of the early-movers.

CallHealth finds itself precisely in this position. Health and healthcare are highly sensitive areas anywhere in the world, and India is no exception. Maintaining data privacy, assuring customers of their long-term commitment, building trustworthiness, delighting across touchpoints and consistently educating prospects and customers about their offerings is the way forward for CallHealth.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed by the interviewee are purely from a knowledge-sharing perspective, and are not to be seen as an endorsement of White Cloud Brands or its services.)