Before I get started, I have to emphasize how great of a time I had at the EBN Expo. It was fantastic meeting with both brokers from across the country and prospective partners. Even though the first night was capped off with an incredible performance by the New Orleans Street Band, The Jaywalkers, the real highlight was connecting with so many benefits experts and sharing thoughts on the industry. I want to share a few of the key themes from the event.
Speaker Highlights: Capture and Captivate
One of the big themes I heard throughout the Expo was how to best capture the attention of a changing workforce and make benefits easy to understand.
Monday wrapped up with a Keynote from Bernie Knobbe (Global Benefits VP at AECOM), Vlad Gyster (CEO at Airbo) and Pam Little (Practice Leader at Blue Communications). The group discussed how to break through a TON of noise to grab the attention of a tech-fueled employee base to bring awareness to their benefits and get them to engage.
Bernie explained AECOM’s two-fold challenge (which is the same challenge most employers are facing). First is that employees, many of which are Millennials, who officially make up the largest portion of the US labor market, have endless communication channels at their disposal, yet they’re harder than ever to truly reach. Second, to further complicate things, most employees don’t understand their benefits to begin with. In fact, they said that 86% of people can’t define deductible, copay, coinsurance and out of pocket max.
So, how did AECOM tackle this challenge? They focused on 5 key things:
1. Creativity. When something that had always worked, like traditional open enrollment meetings and printed benefit materials, finally stopped being an effective benefit engagement tool, it became imperative to do something different to engage employees. Creativity is all about “breaking out of established patters to look at things in a different way.”
2. Creativity + Data. “It’s one thing to think a creative idea is working, but it’s quite another to have proof points to back up your assumptions.” AECOM introduced an interactive monthly benefits newsletter. Employee behavior (opens, clicks, interactions) could be viewed on a dashboard allowing the benefits team to shift on a dime when engagement dips.
3. The Attention Pyramid. I love this! The team took a layered approach to employee engagement. Rather than shoving a ton of information at employees all at once, they leveraged this pyramid which starts with scanning and expands out to a deep dive. Communications start with a short email (a few bullets) or even a message on chatter. The email will include an embedded link to a short article on the company intranet. That article then links out to the company’s open enrollment guide.
4. Gamification. Once we get to the open enrollment guide, rather than taking the old approach of linking out to a huge PDF, AECOM gamified it to make the benefits digestible and easy to understand. They made it short, visual, interactive and MOBILE!
5. Social Media. 1-4 were all about breaking through the noise and educating employees about their benefits, but social media was really the catalyst to driving ongoing engagement with their wellness program. AECOM developed a campaign called #myreasontobewell where employees would post personal photos with the hashtag. Engagement was high, but it skyrocketed when the company then used some of these posts in company-wide benefit communications and employees saw their photos being used.
Tuesday was all about smaller sessions that focused on everything from retirement to employee engagement to trends in the digital space. The common theme across the digital discussions was navigating new waters, from how to better engage employees to how to find and work with emerging vendors.
The day concluded with a panel discussion with Dave Dickey (CEO, Second Story Sales), Emily Eskew (HR Consultant, Duke Energy), Barb Flitsch (Principal, AMP LLC) and Joe Miller (President, Shortlister). The team likened searching for a new, innovative benefit partner to the new world of app-based dating and how to know when to “swipe right” on a new partner. Much like in the “old way” of dating when couples met through friends, the “old way” of finding the best new products was by turning to online search engines, yielding a ton of clutter to dig through. BUT the panel promised that there is a better way to find true love in three easy steps.
Step 1: Know what you want. In the dating game, it’s important to know exactly what you’re looking for in a mate. It’s just as important to define your needs as clearly as possible when searching for a new benefit partner.
Step 2: Set accurate expectations. For those seeking out a new provider, keep in mind that “it’s not cheating to let providers know a lot about you.” What are your must haves, nice to haves and deal killers? Setting those expectations clearly in the beginning only helps vendors tailor solutions/plans to your needs. For providers, when a client provides in-depth information for you, make an equal effort to provide an ultra-custom solution.
Step 3: Ask the most important questions first. Just like a first date, you want to get to the right info to rule out a bad fit early on. Joe had a great example here. If half of your employee base exclusively speaks Chinese and your find a great innovative benefit solution but its platform isn’t bilingual, that’s a relationship killer. It’s better to break it off early before becoming too invested in the relationship.
The message to new innovative, emerging vendors was clear as well: poke to understand needs, connect quickly and show your uniqueness.
How are you helping your clients capture their employees' attention?
Given the themes we heard this week, it’s clear that to drive employee benefit satisfaction, the program needs to be different, engaging and easy to understand. Are you working with the right partners to bring innovative benefits to the table? Are you using tech tools to make administering these benefits easy for you AND your clients? I encourage you to think a bit more creatively and look for partners who can provide you with something new, innovative, simple to bring to your clients.