High-tech vs. high-touch: the best ways to help with enrollment decisions
As brokers and employers gear up for another busy open enrollment, chances are many of them will rely largely on traditional communication methods, like enrollment meetings and benefit fairs, to provide benefit and enrollment information face-to-face.
“High-touch” interactions like these certainly have value as a communication channel during open enrollment. But to complement that, many are exploring more high-tech ways to reach an increasingly mobile, more “on-demand” audience that support their benefits decision making.
Maximizing technology at the “point of impact” and beyond
For brokers and employers, it's critical to take a closer look at that decision process, including the “point of impact”: the window of time in which the employee is actually selecting which benefits he or she wants. Keep in mind, the average employee is only going to spend a grand total of roughly 15 minutes selecting all of their benefits for the entire year — decisions that will impact their whole family. The question becomes how to help prepare employees for that pivotal final enrollment decision, effectively extending the point of impact.
Employers find themselves trying to communicate with a diverse workforce that has equally diverse communication preferences. Different technology skills and mobile adoption rates are driving HR to modify employee communication based on age demographics. For example, 85 percent of millennials say they use social media, compared to only 57 percent of baby boomers who, while increasingly digital, still like print. And the newest entrants to the workforce, Gen Z employees born in the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, want information on-demand and have a tendency to use multiple communication channels and tools simultaneously. It all suggests that for today's employers communicating with employees, no single channel or medium will cut it.
To extend both the communication moment of impact and employee reach, employers are offering a combination of the tried and true communication (newsletters, flyers and face-to-face meetings) and the integration of emerging tech-enabled and on-demand solutions such as portals, comparison tools, social media, text messaging and mobile apps. These can all help educate employees and prepare them to make benefit decisions in the ways that work best for them. The challenge is striking the right balance for your organization.
Employers are exploring technology
To learn more about how employers balance that mix between high-tech and high-touch employee communication during open enrollment and beyond, we conducted a qualitative survey of 35 human resources professionals to get their take on the types of communications they employ during open enrollment. Here's what we found:
- Not surprisingly, almost all the respondents use an online platform for enrollment — and the majority enroll all their benefits (including voluntary) on the same site.
- Calculators were cited as a popular tool, and employers also used videos and microsites.
- Some employers cited benefit fairs as a communication channel.
- Although most of the respondents cited the use of traditional communication methods (e.g., emails, intranet articles, postcards, etc.), several mentioned the use of video chat options, like Skype, Google Hangouts or webinars.
While the use of online enrollment platforms and supporting technology are widely used, respondents' comments ranged from using an online portal as a repository (“Through our health insurance provider, we have an online portal called a health digital access platform that houses all of our information”) to those who have not fully embraced technology (“Our online presence is basically non-existent now. We normally have a brochure that we distribute to our positions.”)
Engage employees beyond enrollment
Employers have gotten comfortable with giving employees more products to choose from and enabling them with the technology that makes it easier to enroll in those products in the benefits choice process. And technology providers that build the benefit administration systems are enabling HR to do a better job of communicating to employees, educating them about the benefits and providing choices among products. Here's how you can you look for those kinds of opportunities to provide the right types of communication, in the right medium:
- Review what technology is in place (or not present) to guide the decision-making process during the employee's benefits-decision time frame. Start by looking at your existing technology and determining if you are taking full advantage of its functionality.
- Gather information and learn. Form employee focus groups, talk to other human resources professionals and industry experts.
- Look at social media and text messaging as potential channels. Now that most of the U.S. population owns a smartphone, this represents an additional — and often direct — line of supplemental communication.
- Consider the potential for applying artificial intelligence — like a few of our survey respondents have done by including a chatbot as part of their enrollment communication.
- Look at ways to guide and personalize the employee enrollment experience. For example, offer an online quiz that guides employees, based on their responses, toward what types of benefits will best help them.
- Our research also suggests employers should work with plan providers and brokers. These product experts have researched different ways to reach employees with different communication methods.
Finally, realize that face-to-face communication is still a very viable way to add value by providing employees the chance to ask questions of benefit plan experts. But also look at the costs and time involved versus the level of exposure and engagement it delivers to ensure a return on the investment of time and resources. Maybe face-to-face communication continues to be a part of the communication mix, but just delivered with a new look, in a digital format (e.g., Skype or webinars), that better meets employees' on-demand communication needs.
Overall, ask if current benefit communication methods are changing employees' level of understanding of how their benefits work — and more importantly, are they effectively guiding them toward an informed enrollment decision.
Asking these questions will help you balance out the human aspect of benefit enrollment communications and the technical aspects of it, as for many employers it remains a combination of both.