Reimagining the Employee Benefits Experience  

How AI-enabled, data-driven and mobile-first technology and services support today’s multi-generational workforce.
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The business imperative around benefits

Benefits are a big-ticket item. Employers spend a significant amount of money to provide them. They also play a key role in both recruitment and retention. Offering a strong benefits program can be a big part of organizational culture, and it supports workforce strategy.

With a dynamic economy at play, the workforce is constantly changing. Korn Ferry projected labor shortages in the US will result in over $1.7 trillion in unrealized revenue by 2030.

That’s why benefits are vital to organizational success. Most employees place a high value on their benefits, and many won’t consider a job without them. Employees view their benefits package as a proof point for taking a new job or staying where they are. Even part-time and gig workers are looking for opportunities that include access to benefits, and more organizations are finding creative ways to extend benefits to these workers.

With so much riding on the design and delivery of benefits, understanding how to create the best employee experience has never been more important.

Changing employee expectations

These days, smartphones put more computing power in the palm of our hands than NASA had when they landed the first man on the moon. Now, technology is affordable, portable and evolving so quickly that work tools can become outdated before an organization has budget to replace them.

This means that employees’ everyday use of technology outside of work is likely delivering a better, more comprehensive experience than what they have on the job. So, expectations are shifting about technology and employee experience at work. And it’s no wonder. A mobile device offers people a single access point for managing much of their lives, connecting them to communication and entertainment, social networking, shopping, banking and access to just about anything, 24/7.

Some of the expectation shift is generational. Millennials and Gen Z, who grew up with more access than previous generations, look for convenience. They want easy, fast connectivity. In a recent study of consumer expectations, 21.7% of those aged 35 to 44 expected an immediate response to an email. By contrast, only 11.7% of people age 65 or over had the same expectation.

Younger employees also want personalization based on their unique interaction habits and preferences. People are frustrated by non-integrated technology touch points that don’t address who they are.

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From customer service to customer experience

There’s been a significant revolution in the retail world, shifting the focus from providing excellent customer service to delivering a great customer experience (CX). That means a larger landscape in which interaction and transaction are no longer the sole domain of humans.

In some cases, CX might have no human component at all. (Consider your Netflix subscription.)

In other cases, the human component is just one of many possible touch points. You research and buy a plane ticket at your desktop; you download your boarding pass to your mobile device; a person scans it; another person offers you pretzels on the flight.

Today, much of our transactional life is based, at least in part, in technology.

In fact, emerging technology is what underpins and enables the support and interactions inherent in a modern CX—an end-to-end system that enables and delivers interactions with a brand. It plays out in websites, mobile apps, on social media, via email or chat and in physical locations. And, it’s the sum total of a customer’s interactions.

KPMG describes the optimal CX as having these six characteristics:

Personalization

Greet me, know me, recognize our history.

Integrity

Do what you say, be competent, be likeable.

Expectations

Set my expectations, guide me, exceed your promises.

Resolution

Give a sincere apology, go the extra mile, own the resolution.

Time and effort

Minimize my effort, provide the answers, make it simple.

Empathy

Listen to me, show you care, take ownership of my issue.

While some of this can be accomplished by people, it can be extended and deepened with data-driven technology, user-experience design, artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, algorithms and other tools that have converged to enable leading-edge retailers to create CX that drives business success.

Today’s retail CX offers a deeply personalized set of interactions that leverage data, analytics and technology, much of which is delivered via a mobile device. While people are often part of the experience, technology plays a significant role.

It’s in this larger context that we need to consider and measure the effectiveness of benefits delivery.

“Customers want experiences that recognize their unique selves. At their core, they are seeking solutions to their personal circumstances and life challenges.”

— Julio Hernandez, KPMG Global Center of Excellence Lead & US Customer Advisory Lead

The new benefits landscape needs to reflect great CX

Employers continue to offer more benefits choices, and cost continues to be a central challenge. While choice and cost can create decision-making challenges, employees consistently say they want a wide range of options to personalize their benefits experience. But employees also indicate that their benefits knowledge is limited.

At the same time, employees demonstrate high risk aversion when choosing benefits. Add to this that many are struggling financially, and it’s clear that there’s room for improvement in the way benefits information and decision support are delivered.

The challenge is striking a balance between the customer experience employees expect and the foundational benefits knowledge and support they need to make informed choices.

What do employees want and need?

People want and expect to interact with technology and services inside their organizations the way they do outside them. While employees don’t necessarily like to “shop” for benefits, they want the benefits equivalent of a retail consumer experience with easy-to-use, sophisticated tools that make it easier for them to choose and use their benefits.

A MetLife study on what employees are looking for in their benefits showed:

 

Personalization & Customization

93% of employees say that the ability to customize their benefits is a must-have or nice-to-have option. Only 37% of employees strongly believe their employers’ benefits communication is customized to address their personal situations.

Financial protection

2/3 of employees say their benefits package helps reduce their financial stress.

Decision-making support

Only 4 in 10 employees strongly believe their employers’ benefits communication is simple to understand. As a result, only half are very confident that they made the right decisions during their last annual enrollment.

 

These perceptions are even more important to consider against the backdrop that just 67% of employees are satisfied with the benefits they receive through their employer, down 4% from MetLife’s results just a year earlier.

While employees aren’t customers in the same way they are consumers (that is, they generally don’t have many choices about where they buy their benefits), they are still spending a sizeable amount of their income on health care. In fact, a family with employer-provided health care coverage spends $7,726 on premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and that amount will likely continue to rise.

Health care costs are often financially challenging, and employees aren’t always prepared to meet them. Even when they have resources for out-of-pocket costs, employees prefer not to spend them. The choices employees make about how they use their benefits can have a profound effect on employees’ financial well-being, and even their productivity at work.

What do employers want and need?

Employees aren’t the only stakeholders when it comes to benefits, since employers are making a weighty financial and resource investment in these programs. Organizations want to derive the most value from that investment, including support for recruitment and retention.

To meet the changing expectations of today’s workforce, employers need to ensure that they are building benefits plans that meet their employees’ wide range of needs. Equally important, employers should ensure that employees fully understand the value of their benefits options.

Better benefits delivery can also support cost-containment goals by engaging employees in lower-cost care options like telehealth and preventive care. The more informed employees are, and the more confident they are about navigating the benefits CX, the more HR and benefits teams can be freed for more strategic work.

CX also extends to employer users. Modern benefits administration platforms contain valuable analytics and reporting data, which helps employers understand employee behavior and engagement through any number of filtered views. Employers want easy, self-serve access to this data, and they want it delivered real-time in a way that’s easy to understand and actionable.

This self-service orientation extends to communications and engagement tools. Employers are looking for easy-to-customize functionality that enables them to deliver just-in-time information and education to employees to support benefits education, enrollment and year-round engagement.  

What does CX look like in a benefits context?

Traditionally, benefits interactions have happened in one of two ways, or a combination of both—through employee self-service or with service center support. The term “high touch” has included concierge services around specific events like retirement and has generally referred to a more personalized customer service approach when employees need specialized support.

However, technology has expanded the possibilities associated with benefits delivery, and we’ve already seen advances in employee and employer support among state-of-market providers. Benefits CX provides a new approach to making important choices easy with a helpful, curated experience.

In the retail world, CX creates omni-channel environments in which people can shop and buy more easily. CX for benefits doesn’t mimic an online shopping experience, but instead focuses on supporting engagement and employee behavior change. Although employees appreciate benefits, they don’t really like to shop for them, in part because they don’t feel confident in their decisions. Unlike researching and buying a car, vacation package or new phone, employees don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to compare multiple benefits options and figure out which ones are right for them. And, they shouldn’t have to.

CX in benefits takes the most relevant aspects of retail CX and applies them to support decision-making in choosing and using benefits. The best benefits CX provides a guided experience that’s easy for employees and helps them make informed decisions quickly and painlessly. It offers not only multiple touch points but omni-channel support as well. As with retail CX, that means using channels that work not just in parallel but in cooperation with each other. This omni-channel approach leverages technology and personalized data to deliver an experience that meets employees wherever they are in the delivery of benefits information, enrollment guidance and other transaction support.

With this approach, a robust benefits CX can help address diverse workforce needs, in terms of benefits knowledge, language preferences, access needs, generational differences and life stages.

The CX “ecosystem”

An effective benefits CX requires the seamless integration of technologies and tools that together represent an end-to-end “ecosystem” of engagement, enablement and delivery. Retail CX uses these ecosystems effectively to create rich experiences for buyers, meeting them where they are, guiding them, valuing their time and respecting their individuality. These are the same expectations that modern employees have for their benefits.

An intuitive, easy-to-use system

The administration system platform is the engine of the customer experience in benefits. It drives all interactions and transactions, presents actionable and educational content and offers real-time support. For the best experience, the platform needs to be clear in functionality and easy to navigate, leveraging modern user experience techniques.

An important user experience principle is to help the user focus on one key concept at a time, and to create conversational prompts for support throughout the transaction. Instead of offering an experience that’s too complicated or technical, a modern benefits experience looks and feels like a conversation with a trusted advisor or friend. This conversational approach leads employees through benefits selection via a step-by-step process that clears away distraction and confusion, while enabling them to pause for help at any time.

This approach makes the process more user-centric. As employees go through the process, they can easily adjust the experience to meet their needs.

Mobile is crucial

Effective benefits CX acknowledges the importance of mobile access. Nearly every benefits learning, enrollment and ongoing engagement opportunity an employee has with a desktop computer needs to also be available via a mobile device. Mobile functionality and design should offer the same level of support and ease of use as the desktop experience, including the options to link easily to a virtual assistant or a service center in real time via chat.

Retail consumer experiences have already made this an expectation and employees expect the same when managing their benefits.

Access is an issue too. Not all employees use a computer regularly in their job. And, while remote access may work for some, mobile technology has become the equalizer. For many people, it’s the preferred access point.

In fact, mobile works best for certain benefits transactions, like providing documentation for dependent verification or an eligible flexible spending account claim. It’s easier to scan and upload a mobile image than complete the same transaction via desktop.

When the benefits experience looks and feels like the rest of someone’s life, it reinforces the value of benefits and the ease of use, which helps drive appreciation.

AI enables highly personalized, accessible, just-in-time support

Artificial intelligence is a vital component of a meaningful benefits CX, since it can power a deep, personalized interaction.

Machine learning technology makes the experience even more human-like. An AI assistant can respond in the user’s preferred language, recognize speech and talk back. Because of its scalability, AI can support multiple users concurrently with no wait times, and it’s always ready during the busy annual enrollment season and throughout the year.

During 2021 annual enrollment season, Businessolver’s AI powered personal benefits assistant, Sofia, was able to provide employees with just in time assistance.
  • 97% increase in chat volume during 2020

  • 87% of chats resolved

  • 31% of chats after-hours or on weekends

Individualized decision guidance

With the range of benefits options available that enable employees to create a personalized suite of coverage, there is a clear need for meaningful decision-making support. That support needs to be both simple and data-driven. People generally don’t spend a lot of time shopping for benefits, but they are often spending a lot of money—both their own and their employer’s. They want and expect personalized recommendations that consider their specific feelings and preferences about health care needs, finances and risk.

Guidance tools should reflect that employees aren’t benefits experts and, when they make decisions, they may not know how to factor in their emotions and financial needs. These decision support tools should connect the user to a package of benefits that works best for their individual circumstances, in a way that’s intuitive and doesn’t take a lot of time.

When it comes to benefits delivery, expect more

HR and benefits pros need to adjust their expectations about what employees want when it comes to benefits delivery. The definition of self-service is evolving to embrace new technology and ongoing innovation. A modern employee CX leverages emerging technologies, including AI, to provide a rich omni-channel experience that offers choices about access and interaction at all stages of the employment lifecycle. Technology is the driving force for delivery solutions that provide all types of people—part-time, full-time or retirees—a personalized, relevant experience.

To maximize their substantial investment in benefits, employers must reimagine how those benefits can be delivered, making the most of technology to provide an end-to-end, personalized and data-driven approach.

Technology enables and supports a CX that offers an intuitive enrollment with access to real-time virtual assistance. The solution must be mobile, make transactions easy and secure, and deliver functionality and assistance that employees are familiar with in their daily lives as consumers.

While enhancing employee engagement, and delivering better return on investment for benefits spend, this approach can also free up time that HR teams previously spent on transactional support and shift it to more strategic priorities.

When evaluating benefits administration and delivery solutions, employers will likely see the best return on investment through technology and partnerships that enable true employee self-service, omni-channel support and meaningful analytics and reporting for ongoing refinement to program design, delivery and employee engagement.

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